You Should Never Breath Through Your Nose…unless.

How many times we have heard this mantra about inhaling before playing a note on a brass instrument? Until recently, I have been one of those practitioners. Lately I have begun to waver in my staunch attitude towards this practice.

Now before you get all hot and bothered and start ranting about, “You can’t get enough air in if you breath through your nose” or “your sound is darker and more improved if you breathe through your mouth” or “breathing through your nose is too slow”, let me explain a couple of instances that taking a breath through your nose may have some benefits.

Recently I have been pondering my playing practices as do many elderly players my age (75). One such topic I have been looking into is the advantages of sustaining the same embouchure setting before and after taking a breath. More precisely is the situation when playing from a low note to a high note. The openness of the lower range almost always guaranties that your lip will be more open than when starting a high note. To sustain the same openness in the embouchure through-out the full range of the instrument becomes difficult as you open your mouth to take air in. Regaining the same openness is a matter of chance, while taking air in through the nose gives you a much better chance of the same aperture. I have been practicing this “break from tradition” breathing practice and have been very pleased with the change. My tone quality has been more consistent and the sustained opening of the embouchure has improved my top notes a little. Obviously the amount of time to take air in has to be increased for the reasons given above but in the appropriate setting, I have started to convert to this breath through the nose routine.

Another use of nose breathing can be best illustrated from the practices in Yoga and Tai Chi. All breathing exercises in these traditions begin with slow deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. This slow, even and relax inhalation practice is one of the most important techniques in improving relaxation. The slow intake of air flowing into your lungs is not only calming to the practitioner but also beneficial when working to increase your lung capacity. Each intake of air is done in a more relaxed environment than with open mouth breathing and this added relaxation can actually increase your total intake capacity…..when you have time to do so. How often have we heard, or even said “relax and take in a big breath through your mouth”? Is that even possible? A more beneficial instruction would be to “relax and take in a slow, deep breath through your nose”.

Take the time to re-read this post and tell me how I’m incorrect so far.

Thank you and now for the rest of the story.

I have to admit that speed is the one thing that causes a problem with nose breathing and when time is short for a quick breath, the nose loses. Or does it?

A young trumpet player challenged me on this very idea a couple weeks ago and after he left, I thought more about it. After mentioning to him that he needed to change from nose breathing to mouth breathing his defense was this, “but you can breath faster through the nose” and he demonstrated his argument. After many decades of teaching trumpet, I was caught by surprise to realize he was correct. Short breaths through the nose are faster than breathing through the mouth. Of course I responded to the young upstart with the usual, “but you can’t get enough air in through your nose” and silently congratulated myself on such a quick and pontificating response. Later that day I rethought his challenge and had to admit he was correct. For extremely fast intakes and for very short periods of time to sustain your phrase, breathing through you nose would be beneficial. This is especially true when resetting your embouchure could be an issue for accuracy.

So…. What do you think? Blogs are much more interesting to their readers when there is controversy and this post should bring those many diehards who teach as I have taught, out of the woodwork.

So……bring it on.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

6 thoughts on “You Should Never Breath Through Your Nose…unless.

  1. Jen Houck

    I only wish I could breath well through my nose because I too believe that quickly inhaling through the nose is more effective at keeping your mouthpiece set for an upcoming high note. My deviated septum many times prevents me from doing so. I keep a small vicks inhaler in my case to use before and during rehearsals but still it is a definite problem. As a mature musician, I also struggle with the weight of my horn because of shoulder issues. Getting the ergo brass support has helped with that but I find it a hindrance at times because I am not the type of player that holds my trumpet still constantly. It does help me with keeping the horn steady for breaths though.

    • Bruce Chidester

      What do you mean by mature player? 22 is not old…..

      • Jen Houck

        Ha ha

  2. Dave Buckley

    I’ve always done an air intake thru my nose when it felt necessary. Think Carmine Caruso. It’s just a natural thing that doesn’t need overthinking does it? Just feels natural.

  3. Les Rogers

    Sometimes you need to take a “quick breath” when you have to play a passage were there’s little space to catch a breath.

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