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 chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 09:53

Hi,

I wondered if I could ask a question about breathing while playing above the break?

I am an adult beginner and I have just started ABRSM Grade 3, which means that all of the tunes that I'm playing involve repeatedly crossing the break legato.

In my grade 1 and 2 pieces I was mostly playing below the break and I found it very intuitive to use slow, controlled diaphragm breathing.

However, now that I am playing above the break I find that I instinctively move to upper chest breathing. I think this is a habit I have brought from soprano singing in which I use my head and upper chest to form the sound (possibly I shouldn't have been doing that, I'm not sure.) The result of that is that I am getting hyperventilated when I play these high tunes.

I have a feeling that I ought to change this habit so that I am still using diaphragm breathing even for the high notes but I just wondered if I could ask if that is right?

I'm really keen to get this right, because I am partly learning the clarinet to cure habitual hyperventilation, so if I could get the breathing really right that would be fantastic.

Thanks so much for thinking about it :-)

Sunny

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2019-04-17 13:36

I took a quick look at what hyperventilation entails and I believe that just maintaining deep, deliberate breaths would be key. Playing in the upper registers is facilitated by focusing the air more, or rather, creating a bit more air pressure in the aural cavity. Also using a bit more "energy" in the embouchure is part of it. I like to tell students that we always walk a tightrope between the amount of air we use and the control used in the embouchure to create the best sound in the moment.


Perhaps you begin mistakenly taking more breaths to compensate for these adjustments, but there should be no adjustment in how you breath amongst registers. The only situation I can imagine where you may come to such a line in breathing would be during extended periods of playing as loud as humanly possible. But this is usually precluded by good ensemble playing and the usual practices of sensitive, musical performance.




......................Paul Aviles



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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 13:56

Hi Paul,

Thanks, that's really helpful to know.

Chronic hyperventilation is largely just a habit of taking frequent small chest breaths instead of infrequent diaphragm breaths. It causes all sorts of health problems. I've been to see physiotherapists about it before, but in the end turned to playing a woodwind instrument instead, because I get the strong impression that the musicians know most about how to fix the problem.

I came to the idea of playing the clarinet partly because I have a friend who is a classical clarinetist and who has really good diaphragm breathing, and I wondered if I could learn to do the same by playing the same instrument. As I work my way up the grades, my own bad breathing patterns seem to be creeping in and being amplified by the more difficult music.

It sounds as though grade 3 is the place where I have to challenge the bad habits and start to be really disciplined about diaphragm breathing. I tried again earlier and found that when I am playing these faster pieces, I start taking very frequent chest breaths, and much more frequently than I need to. In fact if I take diaphragm breaths very infrequently, the music sounds much smoother.

I will try doing that. Thanks so much for confirming that my breathing should be staying the same in all registers. It's really good to know that.

Sunny

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2019-04-17 16:49

Chest breathing is not good way on any wind instrument. Diaphragm breathing from the bottom of the lungs is most successful. Chest breathing may tighten the throat muscles when they must be relaxed as part of tone production. Diaphragm breathing expands below the rib cage to be able to inhale a larger capacity of air. The clarinet and other wind instruments need 'fast air' to play the full range of the instrument easily. "Blow harder but don't play louder" is a good way to think of it. This is best produced by using the stronger breathing muscle below rather than the weak rib cage muscles above.

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Katrina 
Date:   2019-04-17 17:01

I would encourage you to see an Alexander Technique teacher. I worked with one for about a year and a half and my breathing has never been more relaxed and physiologically better!

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 17:01

Thanks, that's really good to know. I have started practising my scales really slowly. I'm just thinking about diaphragm breathing, and aiming to go for as long as possible without taking a new breath. I reckon I will get there that way.

Thanks for your help. :-)

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 17:11

Thanks Katrina, I will ask around if there is one near here. :-)

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2019-04-17 17:17

The diaphragm has an inverted bowl shape below the lungs and above the intestines. By shrinking, it pulls the lungs and intestines down and the stomach has no where to go except out. when the stomach comes forward, the diaphragm is working properly. On deep breaths, you can feel lower back muscles straining.

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 17:25

Hi Ken,

Thanks, yes I'm pretty good at doing diaphragm breathing when I put my mind to it. I've had lots of lessons from physios. It all just goes a bit wrong when I don't concentrate and remember to do it.

Thanks :-)

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2019-04-17 19:25

I appreciate the fact that some of the metaphorical descriptions of breathing and the functions of the diaphragm can be helpful. But I also feel that a solid visual of exactly what is happening can be a bit more helpful........



hence:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhiPrjcC7Kk



Your body is no more sophisticated than this plastic bottle model. Your diaphragm does nothing more than the red balloon (it is a bell shaped muscle whose only job is to increase the volume of the chest cavity when it contracts). Your abdominal muscles can be thought of as the hand of the demonstrator as he helps push the red balloon even further into the bottle (squeezing even more out of the lungs). We use the diaphragm and abdominals in conjunction to regulate the FLOW of air when we play (or swim or whatever).



hope this helps




..................Paul Aviles



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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 19:45

Hi Paul,

Thanks, yes, I understand the principle of it. Getting my lungs to actually do that is a whole other problem. It's to do with the effects that hyperventilation have one steady state blood chemistry, which is complicated and unwieldy to change or explain.

Sunny

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-04-17 22:24

SunnyDaze wrote:

> Chronic hyperventilation is largely just a habit of taking
> frequent small chest breaths instead of infrequent diaphragm
> breaths.

Are you sure your lungs have actually emptied when you take those frequent small chest breaths? Some players take frequent breaths without using up the air that's still in their lings. The result is an amount of stale (oxygen-depleted carbon dioxide rich) "air" taking up space in the lungs but incapable of supporting the player's oxygen needs. You can feel out of breath because you are in an important way lacking oxygen. This isn't, as I understand the term, strictly "hyperventilation," which involves actually hyper-oxygenating the blood.

In any case, whatever you call it, your first task probably needs to be an analytical one: why is playing in the clarion register causing you to change your breathing in any noticeable way. When I studied voice as a college student, I was taught, as you describe, to produce "mask" resonance, which involves something similar to the idea of "voicing" on a clarinet. But resonating my voice was separate from "supporting" it - i.e. providing the air flow to move my vocal chords. You probably need as you play the clarinet to consciously separate the production of air flow ("support") from the shapes you form with your mouth (embouchure) and oral cavity (including tongue position and relaxation of the soft tissues inside your mouth) to influence the quality of the sound you produce.

Maybe if you play clarion register music that is more lyrical and sustained (and/or legato scales) as a bigger part of your practice routine, you'll be able to keep more focused on breathing less shallowly as you go higher.

Karl

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Nessie1 
Date:   2019-04-17 22:58

I wonder - are you practising long notes at all? If not, this may be a way of training yourself to breathe less frequently without the distractions of notes, rhythm etc.

If you're not used to doing long notes at first, they don't have to be incredibly long - if you have a metronome you could use that to help you count. YOu could start by doing some long notes below the break and then try above or try adding the speaker key in the middle of a long note - what changes? This may help you to work out why the upper register bothers you.

Also, a good exercise for expression is to make the dynamic shape of a phrase on a long note (crescendo/diminuendo/accents etc) before trying to play the phrase as written. This way you can kill two birds with one stone - work on the breathing and interpretation at once.

Hope this helps.

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-17 23:57

Hi,

Thanks, yes I think long notes with diaphragm breathing is absolutely the way forward.

The currently established theory of the chemistry of chronic hyperventilation is a bit tricky to understand. Here it is (below) in case you are interested. I think it might be quite useful for musicians to know about I think, because I gather it's one of the major medical causes of stage fright.

First, a person breathes high in the chest and too frequently, usually while under stress. This causes them to breathe out too much carbon dioxide. They still get plenty of oxygen, but the body does not measure oxygen in the blood, only carbon dioxide.

The carbon dioxide is meant to be in the blood, dissolved as carbonic acid. When there is insufficient carbonic acid in the blood, the pH rises (becomes more alkaline) which is really not a good thing. When there is not enough carbonic acid, the oxygen in the blood cannot be effectively released to the organs, even though the oxygen is there to be delivered so the body becomes short of oxygen.

The body responds by breathing faster (I think to try to get more oxygen to the organs, but I can't remember). This additional hyperventilation then gets rid of even more carbon dioxide, which is not that helpful. This can then become habitual, especially if a person is under stress long-term and so habitually hyperventilating.

In order to sort the blood pH-imbalance out, the body excretes bicarbonate ions in urine (sorry TMI) which makes the blood more acidic again. The bicarbonate has to go out as magnesium bicarbonate salt, so the person is then also excretes a lot of magnesium, and ends up magnesium deficient. So all of this together throws the body all out of whack in lots of ways.

Hyperventilation is triggered by stress, but one of the major symptoms is anxiety, which is why it is useful to know about for people who might need to avoid stage fright. Without knowing how to stop it, a cycle can take hold. It turns out that knowing the right way to breath in stressful situations is a really good idea.

The answer, ideally, is to take slow diaphragm breaths, and not fast chest breaths. It is thought that people like me who have got into the habit of hyperventilating can struggle to adapt back to the right kind of breathing, because the body gets a steady equilibrium state of having the wrong carbon dioxide level in the blood and resists being reset.

One of my missions in learning to play the clarinet is to sort out my breathing so that instead of habitually hyperventilating just a little bit all the time, I will get really strong diaphragm breathing. My hope is that if I practise my scales like a good citizen three times a day, I will be able to reset my blood chemistry, which is a little off-whack from having been under stress for a long time. That's the plan. This means doing it right though, and using my diaphragm, rather than getting in a big fluster and using my chest breathing.

I hope you don't mind my spouting biochemistry detail like this without being asked. I'm a biomedical research scientist in my proper life, and also a bit of a talker. I'm just a beginner clarinetist.

Thanks so much for all your good advice on breathing and clarinet playing. It's helping me such a lot in my small mission. :-)

Sunny

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2019-04-18 00:58

I had never heard of the cause and effect. This site is a great two way street of clarinet information.

Thank You, Jessica for this information.

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2019-04-18 06:47

We first have to understand the diaphragm. For example most people, just a random number here, 90 percent or more people/players have no idea where the diaphragm is, what it does, and the location of it and the size. Please don't get into a debate with the above numbers here. It's not the true issue here.

The Alexander Technique is surely worth taking, but very hard to find a qualified instructor so you may wish to find a video or book.

I said this before and it's just an opinion, but one of the best ways is simply to blow into a balloon. Not when it's new as there is too much resistance. But after a few times when the resistance fades away. If you do this for a few weeks you will get the idea of what's going on and that is pretty much your diaphragm muscles working well along with everything else. Look into a mirror when you do this study. Sorry folks I disagree that breathing from the diaphragm is the correct answer, but it is surely part of the answer.

Something I've done for I don't know 40 plus years is warm up playing long tones. Stay with low E softly then get as go to forte then back to ppp (soft) Then F, I can pretty much hit the 45 second mark on each note, but that's NOT what my objective is. It's balancing the note so it sounds the same going from P<F>P. Nice and smooth, the sound the same, very pleasant to hear. You will probably have embouchure pressure, meaning the muscles will be getting tired. GREAT! I prefer that you use a double lip embouchure for this but if you don't want to that's fine. The reason for saying this is your upper lip may get sore or even bleed; a strong indication that your embouchure isn't adjusted right.

Doing this you will build up your breathing abilities and you will have one of the best sounds around within a year or less. The upper register will no longer be an issue. As I tell everyone, use a mirror by your stand to see what's going on when things go right and when they go wrong. It's really that easy to fix this problem.

Not mentioned but incredibly important is your reed and mouthpiece setup. I've seen very gifted pros struggle with this and I've seen some pretty messed up mouthpieces with chips and dings on the facings wondering how then can play. Or a leaking horn. So your air problem may not be all your fault. But every horn needs to be looked at once a year.


Designer of - Vintage 1940 Cicero Mouthpieces and the La Vecchia mouthpieces


Yamaha Artist 2015




Post Edited (2019-04-19 11:11)

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-18 09:29

Hi Bob,

Thanks, that sounds like a brilliant exercise. Aiming for 45 seconds is pretty much what the physios recommend too interestingly. I can only manage 25 seconds at the moment. I will try that. If I can get to 45 seconds, ten times, and do that 3 times day, then I'm sorted apparently. That also fits quite nicely with practising my ten scales three times a day, which is handy. :-)

I'm not sure if my mouthpiece setup is right, but it's much better than it was at least.

I've changed to my proper name in my profile now. I had a pseudonym in there before.

Thanks!

Jen

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-18 10:04

Thinking again about what you said Bob, my breathing muscles are not currently physically strong enough to blow up a balloon at all. I reckon that if I really work at this then at some point I will be able to do that, and then I will know I am making really good progress. :-)

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2019-04-19 11:24

Hi Sunny,

Remember I've been doing this for many years, so go for 20 seconds for a few weeks then work up to 25. Then add a bit more after another few week, but the sound is what I'm after. There isn't a rush. Take your time

I'd also ASK you to get a Physical from a good doctor since you are having issues with a balloon. Just to be safe. Maybe you have a minor lung issue such as asthma which the balloon therapy could really help over a period of time.

Feel free in writing. I'll be on tour for a week. But I'll check my messages. If the reeds behave and I don't have to mess with any I'll have time to write back.
savagesax@aol.com

Cheers!

B


Designer of - Vintage 1940 Cicero Mouthpieces and the La Vecchia mouthpieces


Yamaha Artist 2015




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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-19 19:23

Hi Bob,

Thanks so much for your advice. Everything that you are saying agrees completely with my own experience of what works, and what I am hoping will work in the future. It's very encouraging to hear it from you, and have my understanding of the system confirmed. I did think that the musicians would have a good idea of what to do and it's really nice to find that that's correct.

I have been checked in a lot of detail by a good doctor who understands and knows me well, and by a heart and lung specialist. I asked the specialist straight out if he thought that learning to play the clarinet would help. He said that there was published evidence of someone having resolved the same problem by learning to play didgeridoo, and he thought that my taking up the clarinet was absolutely the thing to do. :-)

I did my scales slowly, like a good citizen this morning. I'll try to remember to be patient as you say, as I think that's a very important part of it.

Good luck with your tour. I hope it goes well, and thank you for writing.

Sunny

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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: Burt 
Date:   2019-04-20 05:30

I breathe the same way regardless of the pitches I'm playing. I completely agree that short shallow breaths are not the way to go in any pitch range. I always thought that the shallow breaths don't replenish the oxygen well enough, so SunnyDaze's explanation was new info to me.

One practice to help playing across the break is to put fingers on the right hand down on the throat tones. I find the these fingers do nothing to the pitch on G# to Bb, and very little on G. What this does is make the resistance of these notes more like that of B and C above the break, so the transition can be made more smoothly.



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 Re: chest breathing and hyperventilation in the upper register
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2019-04-24 00:23

Hi,

I just wondered if I might ask - do you play either your warm-ups or your pieces from memory?

When I play at the moment, with the more complicated grade 3 pieces, I always revert to chest breathing and I'm wondering whether the thing is to memorise some pieces so I can play them without thinking about it, and just concentrate on training my breathing.

Just recently I've noticed that I've started to play my chromatic scale on reflex, the same way as I used to do with Scots fiddle music and it is a very different experience. If I lose my place in the music, the scale just carries on going. I think maybe it would be good to play more pieces like that.

Thanks!

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