Horn Pedagogy Week 5: Breathing, and a bit on Dystonia

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Breathing is a very important topic! In looking at this topic in terms of horn publications the focus is typically on the inhale and on resistance points during the exhale. This is the focus of the first readings from Hornmasters series:

Low brass teachers and players tend to be much more tuned into the physical side of breathing. Students taking this class at Arizona State will be highly encouraged to observe several low brass lessons during the semester, with a goal being a deeper personal study of breathing than would typically occur in horn lessons.

If you are reading this online only and working with a fine low brass teacher directly is not practical, I would suggest looking into two different, recent publications, as they look at different aspects of breathing.

  • The Breathing Gym Daily Workouts, a highly practical resource on DVD
  • The Breathing Book by David Vining
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These are both excellent supplemental resources. A sample from the Breathing Gym Daily Workouts may be seen on YouTube here. 

Also, turning a corner, David Vining is also a resource on the topic of Focal Dystonia. A topic not addressed in any classic horn method, it is an important one to understand as it impacts a surprising number of brass players, including Vining. There are also a number of articles in Horn Matters related to the topic, and I would suggest these two articles by Bruce Hembd as another great starting point for some initial understanding of the topic.

From the first article,

Dystonia is a neuro-muscular disorder that causes muscles in the body to contract or spasm. “Focal” dystonia is generalized to one region of the body. For musicians, it typically affects the specific area of the body that is used to play the instrument.

A failure to communicate

The connection between the specific muscles for playing and its corresponding area in the brain — for some unknown reason — short-circuits itself. Something goes awry with muscle memory.

It is not something that occurs overnight.

If you are active in brass playing long enough you will meet people struggling with this condition, it is one to be aware of.

Next week we turn to the topic of actually playing the horn.

Continue to Week 6 of Pedagogy Course

This is week 5 of a fourteen week course in horn pedagogy. The introductory article is here, and the series is presented for the educational purposes of our readers.