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Do you have a breath plan?

Last week was my first week back at teaching from my June vacation. At the end of the week, I had a lesson with a student who told me “I’m super bored” with the music I had assigned. I expected the music to be prepared really thoroughly with great dynamic contrast, accurate articulations, and planned out breaths, but when I heard the assignments live, they were missing all those details!

Fast forward to yesterday as I was listening to nearly 10 recordings this same student had sent me. Each one was a slight improvement, but I still wasn’t getting dynamic contrast (at all), fully accurate articulations, or a clear breath plan. So during the lesson yesterday, we listened to a couple of the recordings together, looked at the parts, and identified what was missing. The one thing that would have made each recording better was planned places to breathe.

We know from our time teaching that many students don’t think about their breaths until we ask them to. And we know that having planned breaths, whether in unison with the section or staggered, make all the difference in playing with well-supported sound. Let’s also consider the details that are sometimes missing when our students play - dynamic contrast, vibrato, accurate articulation, mental subdivision - and that the missing details are often a direct result of not having enough air to process the task.

I think about having enough air all the time. The problem I and other oboists always have is too much deoxygenated air (I call it “dead air”) in our lungs so we can’t get a good breath in. That leaves our brains starved for air, and unable to process tasks at the speed we normally would.

I know different wind instruments experience the lack of air differently, so I’ll leave you with this idea: when your students are missing a lot of details that you’ve talked about previously, that they’ve achieved previously, consider whether they’re out of air. Help them make a breath plan that suits the piece, and see if that enables them to play with greater detail.

Until next week,


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