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Beginner Help, How do I stop becoming breathless on long pieces.

muzza

Member
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109
I've been playing for about one and a half years now, mainly self taught with the odd lesson. The lessons always picks up lots of stuff to work on. Most thing I can work out and improve on, but stuck on this one.

Background; At my last lesson, playing endurance was something I needed to work on and given a slow classical piece, a little over 3 minutes long @75bpm, mostly slurring between notes, long steady notes, very dynamic and with no rests. I have also been working on Jazz pieces a little under this length and can now play without getting breathless or tone dropping off toward the end of piece.

Problem; with this piece about 2/3 of the way through, I feeling as if I have been holding my breath the whole time. After a few breaths I can continue and complete, but the end does not sound good. I've tried playing the piece taking breaths at different points, changing size of breath, removing dynamics, focusing on air stream, working on playing long tone etc but always the same result.

There is something I'm missing and ,since I will not be having another lesson for a while, would appreciate any advice on how to play this type of long slow pieces, without becoming breathlessness.

Thanks
Murray
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,947
Breathe out before you breath in. Probably means taking more, shorter breaths than you're already doing. And start the breathing earlier in the piece.
 

breathless

Member
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270
Murray, think Kevs- onto something here!
I've only been learning for 5 months and have lessons weekly and have just got onto my 1st piece of music and I'm aware that I'm encountering the same problem and find myself full of air from grabing a breath to often but not using enough of the air so end up with my lungs full and in desperate need to exhale!

This is strange as I scuba dive and am a heavy consumer of air when under water for a similar reason although the bonus is I have very strong air support (although haven't fully learnt to control it yet)!

Rgds Lee.
 

muzza

Member
Messages
109
I can see what Kevs saying (thanks Kevs) and agree is helpful advice. I will work on the piece again tomorrow.

This is a bit of a challenge as I have music but my backing track is a metronome. Most music I play has backing track and example of tune being played, which helps in lots of ways including working out when breaths are probably taken.

My diving doesn't help, as I dive for Paua ( you may call them Abalone) and it's illegal to take them scuba driving. So breathing is often not an option....
 

Fraser Jarvis

Well-Known Member
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1,910
You could try another aproach....circular breathing, i have an excellent publication by Trent P Kynaston (great name) slowly guides you through the various steps, funnily i was in town the other day and saw a bagpipe player circular breathing...not some kind of circus trick as some would have you believe but an excellent edition to your "armory".
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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There is something I'm missing and ,since I will not be having another lesson for a while, would appreciate any advice on how to play this type of long slow pieces, without becoming breathlessness.
Work out where you have to breath during the piece, mark the point with an apostrophe, and stick with that indication.
Breathing has also a musical importance (Ornette Coleman phrases are one breath long, he claims).
 

llamedos

Senior Member
Messages
431
Thinking back to when I first started playing wind instruments I can recall going through the sheet music with a pencil and putting marks at breath points, but the exercise was done with an eraser at the ready to make adjustments because, as you have discovered, it is not always possible to get it right first time. I still feel more comfortable with dots in front of me even though I might not need them and this is largely a confidence thing and over the years breathing at the right points becomes instinctive even though I can still catch myself out on an unfamiliar piece. Your diving will certainly be of huge benefit from a "quantity" point of view, though the right places to breathe needs the learning process.

Admittedly I was largely mentored in music, rather than taught, at a time when the alternative to a pencil would have been a sharpened quill and a pot of ink. Thus mistakes were almost always of my own making and solutions arrived at by blundering about with far more enthusiasm than efficiency. The best advice from my point of view would be to persevere in the knowledge that it will come right in the end and you will find yourself gasping less and less! I labour on in the hope that addiction to saxophone will extend my existence and fondly cling to the belief that breathlessness now is down to anno domini rather than musical ineptitude.

Keep believing - and best wishes.

Dave
 

BigMartin

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3,904
I second the advice to breath out (quickly) before breathing in. I used to have this problem a lot in my clarinet-playing days. Not so much on the sax, as I (and I think most people) use more air in playing sax. If you keep leaving too much air in your lungs you get a build-up of CO2 which makes you feel desperate to breathe. If you fell like the air wants to explode out of you rather than that you don't have enough to finish the phrase, this si probably what's happening.
 

Sunray

Well-Known Member
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1,708
You could try another aproach....circular breathing, i have an excellent publication by Trent P Kynaston (great name) slowly guides you through the various steps, funnily i was in town the other day and saw a bagpipe player circular breathing...not some kind of circus trick as some would have you believe but an excellent edition to your "armory".
Thanks Fraser ... :thumb:

Here is a link for anyone interested ...
 

RMorgan

Member
Messages
110
Hey Murray,

Well, think about singing. Singers never have this problem, because your body will always naturally choose the best spot to take a breath. They don´t really have to think about when they are going to breathe; it happens naturally.

So, sing the melody you´re trying to play, pay attention to your respiration and then write it down in the music score.

The saxophone is pretty much a singer; If you get used to think about it as one, your playing will improve in many aspects.

Cheers,

Raf.
 

Chris

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+1 to what Aldevis said, also a lot of classical pieces are not written for sax so some of those long notes will have to be cut so you can pinch a breath here and there.

Most jazz standards have a melody that has a vocal line, so a lot of the time the phrases feel very natural..

Chris..
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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OK - I'm a "classically trained" singer and I think there are aspects of singing technique that will help. Make sure you are breathing from the diaphragm and not shallowly from the top of the chest. Here's an exercise to help get you into the right technique.


  • Stand upright, shoulders down and relaxed, feet shoulder width apart, arms at your sides, and breath out
  • Breath in deeply, slowly over a count of 4, raising your arms upwards, straight out in front until horizontal at shoulder level
  • Hold for 4
  • This will lift your rib cage. Your lungs should have inflated and pushed out your spare tyre :w00t:. Shoulders should be down and relaxed, not raised
  • Breath out slowly hissing (like a snake on a 'ssss')
  • Lower your arms as you exhale
  • Your rib cage should remain raised, your shoudlers should remain relaxed

You should vary the length of breathing out - 4, 8, 1,2 16 etc. You should be able to produce a steady continuous flow of air (that's why you're hissing). Change the 'breath in' count from 4 to 2 to 1. Eventually, you should be able to empty and fill up quickly.

Other points. Singers have to mark up their parts with where they're going to breath - composers aren't always that kind with phrase lengths (JS Bach anyone?). Usually indicated by a pencil stroke or an apostrophe. Sometimes, you have to break a tied note or chop something out of a note length to get the breath in - be musical about the choice of where you do this. When you breath out, you "push" from the diaphragm. Breathing out is imprtant :thumb:
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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Tenorviol is the usual gold mine, but please keep in mind that there are two different aspects of the same issue: WHEN to breath and HOW to breath.
Technique, not lung capacity. Pepper Adams (my favourite bari player ever) only had one lung when I met him, and his sound was HUGE.
 

muzza

Member
Messages
109
Thank you all for your advice. All good stuff and putting to good use. Haven't quite cracked this piece but definitely progress today.
 

jbtsax

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Tenorviol presented one of the most clear and concise descriptions of proper breathing habits that I have ever read. Interestingly enough I had a teacher who urged me to use up all of my air on each phrase no matter how short or long. It sounded silly at first, but it taught me to concentrate on trying to move the air rather than conserve it. The result was I learned to take much bigger breaths and my tone quality improved. It helped me to understand phrases as a stream of sound, rather than individual notes strung together. The same teacher reminded me often that I was playing a "wind instrument", not a breeze instrument---a saying I inflicted on my students when their tone lacked intensity and focus.
 

muzza

Member
Messages
109
I do work hard on phasing and using my air. I do like the analogy with the wind, by the end of this piece at present I'm producing more of a zephyr than breeze.

As to reed. I play Yamaha 21 alto, hite premier mouthpiece and just move from rico royal 2 1/2 to Rico Jazz 2M. So reed strength shouldn't be a problem.

Aside: I can produce a nice sound over full range of saxophone and practise/play from very soft to loud, f. This pieced raises and falls between pp and ff and I am finding my very loud, ff, it not sound great or very loud. Probably technique, but maybe reed is not helping. As, I don't practise or play much very loud normally, I have started practising playing a little more very loud to see what improvement I can get. I was also thinking next box of reeds I'd moving up to 2H, as I understand a harder reeds can play louder.

I know pitch changes as you change volume, that needs to be compensated for. But other than very forceful controlled air flow is there any other helpful tips/hints playing very loud.
 

jbtsax

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It would be helpful to know the style of the piece or even the name. As a music teacher I always taught that ff means as loud as you can play with good tone, pitch, and control. In other words, it is a very individual thing and changes as you get more skill and experience.

In a purely acoustic sense, more volume means more sound energy. This energy begins with the air and is transferred to the vibrating column of air inside the saxophone by the "beating" of the reed. The farther a reed travels, the more energy potential it has, so a more open tip mouthpiece will allow more sound energy to be produced. A softer reed will close off when blown too hard sooner than a reed that is more stiff.

Another component that is often confused with loudness is the intensity of the sound. A tone that is rich in overtones will sound fuller and more intense than one that is lacking in overtones, even though they both measure the same in decibels. A jazz mouthpiece with a high baffle will exaggerate the higher overtones and give more "edge" to the sound, but that sound if it is lacking a "core" is not necessarily louder, just more harsh.

Playing long tones at the highest dynamic level you can produce in all registers listening carefully to the tone and pitch is a good exercise. Remember too that dynamics are relative. Their purpose in music is to create contrast. If you can't create the contrast at the loud end to your satisfaction, you can always play the softer dynamics a bit softer.
 

muzza

Member
Messages
109
The piece is Adagietto from Symphony No 5 (lesson 29 from A new Tune of the day book 2). This is my first classical piece, apart from some from the early essential element series.

I discovered and have nearly worked my way through John O'Neill, The Jazz Method for Saxophone and recently started playing from Jim Snidero Jazz Conception.

This piece has highlighting some weakness in my playing and knowledge. So I working hard correcting this.

Thanks again for the help being provided
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
The piece is Adagietto from Symphony No 5 (lesson 29 from A new Tune of the day book 2). This is my first classical piece, apart from some from the early essential element series.

I discovered and have nearly worked my way through John O'Neill, The Jazz Method for Saxophone and recently started playing from Jim Snidero Jazz Conception.

This piece has highlighting some weakness in my playing and knowledge. So I working hard correcting this.

Thanks again for the help being provided
Mahler?
 
Saxholder Pro
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