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Thread: Breathing & Keeping to Strict Metronome Tempo

  1. #1

    Breathing & Keeping to Strict Metronome Tempo

    I've been practicing Arban's with a metronome lately and something that has been kind of bugging me.

    Been playing with two of the variations in the Art of Phrasing section: Blue Bells of Scotland and Yankee Doodle.

    I found it almost impossible to take in decent amount of air WHILE keeping in tempo with the metronome. I find myself taking really shallow breaths to keep up.

    Is it unrealistic to keep to the metronome's tempo strictly? Does that really reflect actual performances with a conductor?

    Should I actually devote maybe a beat or something to ensure I take in a deep breath during practices so that I do not compromise on air support and making it a habit?

    Or am I just doing it all wrong and I should be able to take in adequate air fast enough to keep in tempo?
    "Never over complicate things. Accept "bad" days. And always enjoy yourself when playing, love the sound we can make on our instruments (because that's why we all started playing the Euphonium)"

    Euphonium: JP 274 MKII - 千歌
    Mouthpiece: K&G 4D, Denis Wick 5AL
    Gone but not forgotten: Yamaha EP100 - Euphy (May you serve the children well in the hands of your new owner. Thank you for the past 15 years)

    https://soundcloud.com/ashsparkle_chika
    https://www.youtube.com/user/AshTSparkle/

  2. #2
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    I don't think you would want to add extra beats to get a good breath. That would be the wrong approach, in my opinion. But, what you detail is a perfect thing to work on. There is a lot of music where it seems there are no places to breathe. The challenge is to find appropriate places (ones that make the most sense) to breathe, then learn how to take quick breaths. That ability should be an item of practice. Just play a series of whole notes in 4/4 time. Decide ahead of time where you will breathe, i.e., after every 4 measures. Then work on doing just that. Try to keep the whole notes full, don't shorten them to breathe. Learn how to take quick breathes. Then play a series of shorter notes, say eight notes. Continually. Breathe after every 3 or 4 measures. Keep the notes going. Sometimes when you don't have good places to breathe, you have to study the music and predetermine where the best places are. When you have ample time to breath, sure, take a full breath, but you should really learn how to take quick breaths when necessary, and to study the music to find the most appropriate places.

    When actually playing in band, sometimes you don't have the luxury of breathing when you want. The music may dictate where and/or the conductor might. In those circumstances, you just have to try to do what is required. But you don't want to slow down or skip stuff or add extra beats. Because the conductor and band won't!

    I am sure there are books written about this or at least articles. Search the Internet.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  3. #3
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    I have a little more time to respond to your post. I looked up the Blue Bells of Scotland in The Art of Phrasing section. Of course, if you have the lungs, you can easily play the first 3+ measures then breathe during the 2 quarter rests. Same for the next 3+ measures. The second line would be tough (for me anyhow) in one breath. I would, first choice, breathe after the concert Bb doted half note in the 4th full measure. Here it makes total sense to shorten the length of that note a smidgen (little) in order to take a good breath for the final 4 measures. But you would keep strict time, just play the doted half note perhaps as a "long" half note. Or stop the note right on the downbeat of the 3rd beat of the measure to give you time to breathe.

    I smoked my whole life and only quit 7 years ago. So I have diminished lung capacity. I am constantly figuring out how to effectively breathe whenever I play. In this same piece, there are other points where you could breathe (quickly). On the first line, in the 3rd measure after the concert G you could sneak a quick breath. Same thing on the 2nd line in the second full measure after the concert C quarter note.

    It is really useful to learn the piece (any piece you play), really know the melody or the flow or the countermelody, then you can make "intelligent" decisions on when to breathe to have a minimal negative effect on the flow and phrasing of the music you are playing. Some people know this instinctively, and others may need to work on it a bit more. Some music marks the breath places for you and then some conductors tell you when to breathe and when not to breathe. It is hard to get around those, but if you need more breaths, then you have to learn to sneak those breaths very quickly.

    Phrasing and breathing kind of go hand in hand. You even find some string players who "breathe" as they play their pieces, as if they need the breath for the next line in the piece.

    For practice, try blowing out of your mouth with your lips forming your normal embouchure. Just easily blow out. Then take a very, very quick breath (gulp) through your mouth and then continue blowing out. You will find that you can take a very quick breath and get enough air to go for a ways more. Some people do this by taking what is called "sniff" breaths. These are quick breaths through the nose so that you don't disturb your embouchure. I have seen people do this very, very fast.

    But, the takeaway is:

    1. Don't add beats or time to the music to account for breathing. You must keep strict time and work your breathing into that strict time.
    2. Breathe in spots that make sense musically and phrase wise. Learn the piece. Know the flow.
    3. You will learn that there are certain spots in music where you just don't breathe, period. A whole 'nuther discussion.
    4. On impossibly long phrases or repeated notes that go on forever, stagger breathing with your section mate(s).
    5. Practice breathing exercises (look for the Brass Gym by Pilafian and Sheridan -great book to have and use)

    Good luck!
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  4. #4
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    Well, me again. It just dawned on me, that you might be talking about the Blue Bells which is number 148, not the simpler Blue Bells which is number 9, in the Art of Phrasing and Yankee Doodle which is 149. However, all of what I said above is still relevant.

    But, some more suggestions and ideas. When playing these types of pieces, theme and variations, there are certainly more challenges, and breathing is one of them. If the phrase in a barn burner is too long for me, I usually drop a note or two at an appropriate place. When playing eighth notes or sixteenth notes, if you can divide the phrase up into 4 note groups, I would usually drop the second note of a 4 note group, if that makes sense. For repeated triplet type phrases, I would usually play the 1st note of the triplet and drop the second two when I needed to breathe. Or sometimes just the 2nd note in a triplet. Here again, it would be in a predetermined place that makes sense musically. Sometimes it is almost impossible to play some of the phrases you encounter in their entirety without taking a breath and/or dropping a note or two. You can usually do it musically where no one would even know those missing notes were in the music to begin with.

    But you can imagine the chaos that would ensue if you were playing a solo, and needed to add a beat or two to take a breath. Meanwhile, the band, playing the accompaniment, would just keep on going, and end up a beat or two ahead of you. Not a good thing.

    Something that I did not mention before. If all else fails, you could learn to circular breathe and your problem is solved for all music! And people can circular breathe on fast music, not just slow notes.
    Last edited by John Morgan; 06-25-2019 at 05:10 PM.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  5. #5
    Having not the Arban’s in front of me just this instant, all the advice I can offer is that planning your breaths beforehand is what I tend to do for passages that I can’t quite get through in a single breath. I try not to break up phrases from their pick-ups, and also prefer to keep breaths evenly spaced (as phrasings usually are). If I know a particular section should be played in a single breath, I work toward that end.
    Clayton M.
    Musician for Fun
    Euphonium Newbie - XO 1270S
    Trumpet Novice - XO 1602RS

  6. #6
    Thank you both for the inputs! I haven't process through everything that was said yet (it's working hours over here right now). But yes, I was referring to the 148 Blue Bells of Scotland.

    And I probably did a terrible job trying to convey what I wanted to say by "breathing using a beat or 2". I was thinking more of the lines of, when we're playing in a band, the conductor adds in their own interpretation of the phrasing of a music, so the tempo isn't strictly as mechanical and fixed as a metronome and there's almost always a part where there's a very slight/micro delay by the conductor somewhere in a phrase, where you can take a adequate breath. While on the metronome during practice, like playing the 148 of Arban, there's no such luxury.
    "Never over complicate things. Accept "bad" days. And always enjoy yourself when playing, love the sound we can make on our instruments (because that's why we all started playing the Euphonium)"

    Euphonium: JP 274 MKII - 千歌
    Mouthpiece: K&G 4D, Denis Wick 5AL
    Gone but not forgotten: Yamaha EP100 - Euphy (May you serve the children well in the hands of your new owner. Thank you for the past 15 years)

    https://soundcloud.com/ashsparkle_chika
    https://www.youtube.com/user/AshTSparkle/

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    Sacramento, CA area
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    133
    To summarize, yes, you can stop playing for a beat or two, so you can breathe. Just make sure you keep track of the beat passing, so that you can jump right back in and at the right spot, like nothing happened. When I do this, often my fingers are still fingering the notes, just my lips and lungs are not playing at the same time (helps me to stay in the right place and reenter seamlessly). Just make sure that it is not at the same place where your section mates are doing the same thing. In some groups, folks playing the same part actually plan out when/where each player is going to breathe. Anyone could and should take advantage of any written rests or conducted pauses as places to breathe. Avoid taking your breaths in the middle of a flowing musical phrase, or anywhere the conductor explicitly says to avoid leaving gaps. It is better to grab a short breath where you can, even if it does not refill you completely, than to let your tone and musicality suffer. Unless the composer or conductor say that they want the sound of the notes dying away for artistic effect.
    - Sara
    Baritone - 3 Valve, Compensating, JinBao JBBR1240

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