It is commonly known amongst players of brass instruments that controlled “support” for breathing leads to better tone quality, something that every musician aims to achieve regardless of their performance level.
The question that has to be asked is: “Where does this support come from and how can it be maintained day to day, particularly when playing in a sitting position?” To answer this we must firstly consider what breath control is and which muscle groups are responsible for this: Effective breath control comes about by the balance between inhalation and exhalation. When a player inhales through the mouth, the glottis should be open, the tongue should be down and out of the way ensuring that the incoming air can take the path of least resistance.
Inhalation should be rapid and relies upon the effective simultaneous contraction of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles. If this is working effectively the player should feel that their lungs are filling up from the bottom to the top. Following inhalation, exhalation should follow immediately, the brass player projecting the air into the instrument in a steady column in order to produce an unwavering tone.
This is brought about by the player relaxing the diaphragm and intercostals muscles in a controlled manner, controlling the speed at which the air column is released, regulating the volume of tone and the speed of vibration of the lips. However it is worth noting that that the diaphragm can only fill the lungs to about 75% capacity, the remaining “fill” is brought about by additional use of muscles that surround the rib-cage. To enable a brass player to improve their tone and level of competency, the development of good posture when either standing or sitting is of paramount importance.
If the player slouches, whether when sitting or standing, the body forms a rigid position and the lungs, diaphragm and intercostals muscles cannot function in their most efficient way. When standing the player should avoid tensing the chest and abdominal areas as this reduces the air capacity of the lungs. When sitting the brass player should ensure that their back does not touch the back of the chair, their feet should be flat on the floor and the spine should be upright, something that can be assisted by the use of a slim-line seat wedge, creating an appropriate forward tilt on the hips.
Clearly good breath control is assisted by much more than just strong intercostals muscles and muscles around the ribs but also from having good core body strength, something that can be developed through a series of home exercises. For a comprehensive list of Breathing Exercises for Brass Players visit the link below to windsongpress. Exercises used to strengthen the core muscles include those using Medicine Balls, Kettleballs, Stability Balls, Balance Products such as the Bosu Ball, balance boards and wobble boards.