Winter 2009 Pedagogy Articles:
“Strategies for Music Learning” by George Palton
“Circular Breathing Defined” by Paul Nobis
Tips for Tuba: “Downbeat, upfeet!” by David Porter
Stepping Stones to Success: “Don Haddad’s Suite for Baritone (Tuba)” by Pat Stuckemeyer
Circular Breathing Defined
by Paul Nobis
Wind instrumentalists and vocalists: you can enhance your performance by modifying your breathing (appendix 1).
In contrast to breathing normally by contracting and relaxing muscles in unison, modifying respiration for the purpose of enhancing musical performance requires contracting and relaxing groups of muscles independently of each other.
Effectively controlling flow of air requires concurrent expiration and inspiration—accomplished by sequentially activating four groups of respiratory muscles. Smoothly merging these sequential actions produces continuous inflow of air while at the same time enabling outflow of air as needed for musical performance.
Regulating rate of inflow to intermittently exceed rate of outflow provides sufficient volume of air to maintain continuous lung inflation.1
See appendix 2 for preparatory instructions applicable to wind instrumentalists.
Though the tempo and intensity of your performing and the necessity to sustain tones will ultimately entail frequent rapid repetition of exhalation/inhalation cycles, initially reinforce your learning by practicing slowly.
Simultaneously exhale and inhale and concurrently maintain a full reserve supply of air in your lungs by sequentially activating four separate groups of muscles situated in your trunk and thorax:
Contract muscles situated in the middle part of the right side of your abdomen.
As you get underway with this contraction, expand the left side of your chest.2
Gently contract muscles situated across the breadth of the lower half of your abdomen. Contract your diaphragm to inhale deeply.3
Contract muscles situated in your epigastrium (central region of the upper part of your abdomen). Forcibly expand your entire chest.4
Repeat phase 1 through 3 sequence, modifying phase 1 by initially contracting muscles situated in the left side of your abdomen, and following with expanding the right side of your chest.
Continue repeating. Omit modification of phase 1 on alternate repetitions.
As you merge and progress through the four described inhalation actions note that you are maintaining the induced continuous inflation of you lungs.
MANUEVERS FOR INTEGRATION
While producing tones of low intensity or short duration, control your respiration by selectively omitting or attenuating muscle actions that precede chest expansion of phase 3.
As you practice focus your attention on sites of muscle action (see letter indication of phases) and visualize the functioning activated muscles.
Utilize a medical library to study the listed muscle functions and references (appendices 4,5).
Reinforce your learning by practicing concurrently with a physical conditioning program such as lifting barbell weights or while swimming. Swim on your side or back to facilitate inhalation.
Thoroughly practicing these outlined sequential actions will lead to automicity and enable preferential use for your performance.
Modify your breathing in order to supply copious air, which facilitates shaping of melodic lines and phrases and which enables you to power counteraction of periodically occurring dysharmonic overtones.5
Preparatory Instructions for Instrumentalists
Initially practice without using your instrument. Tighten your lips and close the corners of your mouth to maintain pressure in your reservoir of air. In order to stabilize you embouchure avoid inspiring through your mouth. Inspire through your nose exclusively.
Do not depend on storing air in your cheeks. Utilize air that you are supplying by ongoing inhalation and storing in your lungs.
Facilitation of Learning
Beginners will benefit by using this protocol exclusively from the outset. Others may develop proficiency by methodically practicing the prescribed technique.
List of Functioning Muscles
A. Inspiration at Rest
3) Levatores costorum
4) Serratus posterior superior
B. Forced inspiration
1) Scalenus, anterior and medius
4) Pectoralis major and minor
5) Scapulae are fixed in position by trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and when arms are taut, by sternal origin of pectoralis major
6) Erector spinalis
C. Quiet expiration
1) Anterior abdominal wall muscles
2) Serratus posterior inferior spinalis play a major role in pushing down lower ribs. Abdominal muscle contractions push diaphragm upward
D. Forced expiration
1) Abdominal muscles, anterior and lateral walls:
2) Quadratus lumbrorum, serratus posterior inferior and latissimus dorsi pull down the 12th ribs
3) Lower intercostals –attached to ribs 10-12 –pull chest wall inward and downward (see ref #1)
4) Transversus thoracis
5) Erector spinalis
Gray’s Anatomy, Ed. Susan Standring PhD DSC 39th ed. 2005: 1081–82, 1084–86.
Snell, Richard S. MD, PhD. Clinical Anatomy. 7th ed. Lippencott Williams & Wilkins, 2004: 102, 106.
Palasta, Field, and Roger Soames. Anatomy and Human Movement. 5th ed. Butterworth Heinman Elsevier, 2006: 493–511.
Comroe, J.H. Physiology of Respiration. 2nd ed. Chicago Yearbook Medical Publishers, 1974.
Handbook of Physiology, sec. 3; the Respiratory System Volume III Mechanics of Breathing. Part 2. 1986: 443–80.
Taylor, A. “The Contribution of the Intercostal Muscles to the Effort of Respiration in Man.” Journal of Physiology 1960: 151, 390–402.
Gasell, R. “Individuality of Breathing.” American Journal of Physiology 1936: 115, 168 180.
1 Compare to pumping air into a balloon and need for pumping compensatory air if the balloon has a leak.
2 You are inhaling to replenish air while at the same time maintaining outflow by contracting muscles situated in your abdomen. This chest expansion augments inspiration by activating muscles situated both between your ribs and in close approximation to your ribs. (See appendix 4A: 1,3,4)
3 Partition-like muscle situated between your thoracic organs and abdominal organs.
4 This action activates accessory respiratory muscles—muscles that pull your ribs toward adjacent skeletal structures (see appendix 4B).
5 Performers to modify vibratory rates within individual tones as necessary to dampen or obliterate dysharmonic overtones. Listeners do not perceive the resultant recurring slight alterations in pitch. Contrast to audible overtones produced by a ringing bell.
Dr. Paul Nobis studied tuba playing in public schools in Ohio from 1938 until 1945 and has played in community bands in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1973. Study of anatomy and practice of medicine and surgery from 1948 through 1998 led to analytic research and formulation of procedure for circular breathing.