Hey dummy!  BREATHE!!!

Hey dummy!  BREATHE!!!

Breathing is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of making the music sound good.  You MUST spend a significant amount of time on breathing if you want your group to play at a high level.  The great thing about breathing is that it is a natural event that our bodies do, the hard part is that almost everyone fails to breath correctly, utilizing a shallow breath.

Types of Breaths

  • Shallow Breathing= Good for sitting and watching TV
  • Deep Breathing= Perfect for playing an instrument and sounding great doing it

The "Home" Breath

This type of breath seems to work well as it opens the throat and sends air to the lowest point of the air column.  It also does well to fill up the entire air column in a short amount of time.  The reason we call it the home breath is because the creation of the word home by the mouth puts the body in the correct position to breath.  When you say home but breathe inward (I know seems counterintuitive) you will notice how the air drives to the bottom of the air column.

To teach:

  • Have everyone say "home" several times
  • Have them say home and breath in several times (take time in between otherwise a lot of people are gonna pass out)
  • While listening make sure the breath is silent (or almost silent).  If you hear any hissing or gasping this means that the throat is closed off...this is bad!
  • "Horns Up!": Have them breath and then play a concert F in the staff and hold for 4 clicks.  Then 8 clicks, then 12, get where I'm going here
  • Start incorportating the breath in the count off to get the ensemble used to breathing in time ie: 1-2 and breathe 2-3-4.  (Get it, when you say breathe it's count 1 of the 2nd bar of the count off so they breathe through counts 2,3, and 4.
  • Note: I don't like to have them set on 4, this implies to many players that they sound hold their breath for a count.  This is bad!  A good breath should flow directly into the note, there is no stop.  Think of it like a good golf swing or tennis swing or bowling toss or basketball shot.  It's continuous, fluid, and has a tempo to it.  DON'T HOLD THE BREATH!

Exercises for Breathing

Utilizing a click:

  • In for 8, out for 8
  • In for 6, out for 8
  • In for 4, out for 8
  • In for 2, out for 8
  • In for 1, out for 8

Experiment further with these tempos and check out The Breathing Gym


Spend a lot of time on breathing!  It's easy to forget to do it or feel like the extra 3 minutes not doing it will be better spent working on an extra set or 8 more bars of music   This is a bad mental place to be, when the breath works the sound of the group is WAY better and in the end this is THE most important part of the music.  If you play the right notes and rhythms but sound terrible, no judge is going to give you high points.  A good breath means a loud, full, in-tune, and balanced ensemble.  Get to work!

"Here again, air to sound"- Boyde Hood (Trumpet LA Phil, Professor of Trumpet USC)


Not the bopping we are talking about...but it's some real good bopping!

Not the bopping we are talking about...but it's some real good bopping!

Bopping is one of those exercises that everyone hates, yet is seems to yield the best results in terms of cleaning music.  The purpose of bopping is to clean up the attacks of the ensemble to ensure that the entire group is attacking together.  This covers one of the two important parts of a group playing clean, the other being releases. 

How to Bop:

Bopping occurs at a pp volume level and is achieved by playing short staccato eighth notes where each note starts.  This technique can be utilized in sectionals, hornline rehearsals, and field rehearsals.  It also is a vital tool to use before entering the competition field to ensure that everyone's ears are open and an internal pulse exists.

How to Introduce Bopping:

  • Start with a major scale (B-flat major is a good one)
  • Have the hornline play to a click (either Dr. Beat, woodblock, clapping, etc.) at a moderate tempo (q=110)
  • The group plays whole notes ascending and descending the scale tounging each note at a mf volume.  
  • Now have the group play the same scale at the same bpm but now have them play staccato eigth notes at a pp volume at what would be the beginning of the whole note (beat 1 of a 4/4 bar)
  • Tell the hornline that the goal is for everyone to attack together and they need to listen.  It will become obvious who is not attacking properly on the beat.  

Other Ways to Use Bopping

  • Before a contest, run parts of the show with bopping to open the ears
  • Have the drum major conduct without the taps and have the hornline bop
  • Run segments of the show on the field with the drill and bop the musi
  • While in and arc or circle, count the group off and have them bp without any audible or visual tempo.  This is useful to help the group internalize the beat
  • Juxtapose scales between playing long notes and boppin

Bopping is not much fun, until your group does it well, but it is a valuable tool to clean up the music your group is performing.  Make it a habit within the group's rehearsal times and you will see the difference.  Since the technique is slightly advanced it will take your group time to get good at bopping, however the learning curve of getting good at bopping seems to coincide with the music getting progressively cleaner.