2. Breathing - When and How

What about Breathing ? - When to Breath - How to Breath - Song - Practice Material
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IF 2.1 - What about Breathing ?

In music breathing is obviously very important for singers and wind instrument players, but what about keyboard players, guitarists, bass players, drummers, etc.?
Let me tell you about my daughter Babette.

../1focus/if021.jpg Years ago my daughter Babette used to be a health care counsellor. Her job was to bring injured and sick employees back into the work force. Babette's specialty was dealing with overstressed patients.

Every time she sat down with a patient in her office the first thing she would do was start matching her breathing pattern with that of the patient.
Immediately the patient would calm down, any aggression would melt away and a harmonious feeling would emerge in the room. This approach worked every time.

(Babette Furstner is at present the very creative Director of a successful 'English as a Second Language' school, PGIC - Brisbane in Australia.)

Breathing is of course closely connected to our heart beat. They are inter-dependable, one can not exist without the other. Together they form the unique rhythmic pulse of each individual. Be aware of this subtle but quite influential force and use it whenever you can.

The recipe is quite simple :

Synchronise your rhythmic pulse to the forces around you

and you induce strength and a harmonious environment.

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IF 2.2 - When to Breath

From above perspective it becomes clear that breathing has a much broader function in music than singing or blowing a note, or producing a better tone resonance.

For optimum performance you must synchronise your breathing to the breathing pattern of the music, and when playing in a group all players should breath together regardless of their type of instrument.

The musical phrases of most popular, blues and Jazz songs are 4 bars long, and the end of each phrase is always a natural breathing point for the melody. This is where you must breath.

Over-zealous wind instrument players sometimes play across these phrase endings without taking a breath, to show off their lung capacity. This creates unease to the listener's ear and invariably stifles the flow of the music.

The end of the phrase is not always exactly at the end of a bar, as shown in the song below.


Many phrases have a musical 'comma' at the half way point, after about 2 bars (marked by arrows above).
In slow ballads singers and wind instrument players may need to take a breath here. If so, all other band members should also breath at this point. This maintains the pulse of the performance.

In the second line above you should breath before the Eb. Taking a breath after the Eb destroys the second half of that phrase.

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IF 2.3 - How to Breath

Singers and wind instrument players breath from the diaphragm. The action is similar to Yoga breathing, except that musicians need to inhale rather quickly to fit in with the music.
This type of breathing is beneficial for all musicians as it relaxes the body and helps to create a state of active meditation, the ideal state for playing music.

The diaphragm is a muscular membrane that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. In its natural position the diaphragm assumes a dome shape.
By pushing the abdominal muscles around the stomach and lower back outwards the diaphragm is flattened. This creates a vacuum in the chest cavity, which is quickly filled by fresh air rushing into the expanding lungs.
When breathing in your waist line should expand all around your body (not just your stomach).
Do not suck in the air, just keep your throat wide open. The air will flow automatically and quickly to the low pressure area at the base of the lungs.

Practise the breathing action when walking.
Count with the steps of your left foot.

In this action the lower part of your lungs fill up first, expanding the 'stomach' area.
Then the upper part of the lungs fill, which gently raises the shoulders.
Do not lift you shoulders deliberately and do not suck in the air. Just let the air flow into your lungs naturally.

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IF 2.4 - Song : What might have been

First listen a few times to the melody of What might have been while reading the music and breathing at the indicated breath marks. Then play the song while again taking breaths as indicated.
You will probably get a better perspective of the shape and format of the song and also experience a much closer personal involvement with the music.

Use this approach for the other songs you play, especially ballads. Determine where the correct breathing points are and mark them on your score. Then practise playing the music that way.

The song start with three 'pick up notes'. In Classical terminology this called and Anacrusis.
When a song starts with an Anacrusis the final bar of the music is shortened so that the Anacrusis and the final bar together form one complete bar. This allows for the song to be repeated smoothly without disturbing the regular pulse of the time signature.


What might have been contains many syncopations. If you are not sure of the rhythm of a song it is a good idea to write (in pencil) the beats underneath the notes as shown above.
Down beats are written as numbers, off beats are written as + signs.

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IF 2.5 - Practice Material

File NameContents
ifx01.gifManuscript Paper
ifx03.gifCircle of 5ths
if02soc.gifC instr. - Lead sheet
if02sob.gifBb instr. - Lead sheet
if02soe.gifEb instr. - Lead sheet
if02socl.gifClarinet - Lead sheet
if02som.midAudio Demo (song)
if02so.midPlay-a-Long (song)

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