I work with all of my students on breathing because of the many benefits they gain. Here are some:
- Breathing provides oxygen to the brain so the musician can focus better and think through any performance problem-solving they need to do.
- Breathing provides oxygen to the muscles, which can then relax. Relaxed muscles simply work better than tense ones. This will make pretty much any technique easier to accomplish.
- Breathing relaxes the player, which especially helps with any performance anxiety, or "nerves."
- A breath can be used to help with rhythm, especially in counting rests appropriately.
- A breath is often used to cue other players in an ensemble, for example an accompanist or other members of a quartet. This technique is incredibly useful in having an ensemble start and stay together.
- A player that is breathing well will, indeed, sound better.
These reasons for learning to breathe while playing a string instrument are my favorite and they ought to encourage any string student to apply the following ideas.
- Breathe before you start to play.
- Take the opportunity to breathe on almost any rest in your music.
- If there are no obvious places in your music to breathe, find a longer note, an open string note, or a good up bow note (it's easier to breathe in on an up bow and out on a down bow - try it and you'll see what I mean) and plan to breathe there.
- Write the reminder "breathe" in your music in planned places.
- Practice intentionally breathing while you work through learning your piece and then evaluate how you physically feel.
Because performances are when students need to breathe the most, mainly to help them focus and to calm performance nerves, I highly recommend breathing very intentionally before playing. Here is one method that helps with stress. While doing this, focus on counting, how your breath feels, and relaxing your entire body. You can do this for as many repetitions and counts as needed.
- Slowly inhale, counting one. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting two.
- Slowly inhale, counting two. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting three.
- Slowly inhale, counting three. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting four.
- Slowly inhale, counting four. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting five.
- Slowly inhale, counting five. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting six.
- Slowly inhale, counting six. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting seven.
- Slowly inhale, counting seven. Pause. Slowly exhale, counting eight.
Happy breathing everyone!