Deep Breaths

Music Lung

Your breathing is either part of the music, or it interrupts the music. – Andrew Spang

Music to me is just like breathing. I have to have it. It’s part of me. – Ray Charles

Music has to breathe and sweat. – James Brown

Music has to breathe. Well, what does that mean exactly? On the surface it sounds like pretentious meaninglessness, yet music students the world over will hear this from their instructors, no matter what instrument they play.

Violinists, pianists, and guitarists hear it just as frequently as flutists, trombonists, and trumpeters… if not moreso. While the latter set of brass and woodwind players are constantly reminded of the breath required to make music, string instrument musicians are less likely to realize its importance. But a music’s breath is crucial to every musician playing any instrument.

I’ll show you what I mean. Take this first clip of John Coltrane playing the song “Naima” from his seminal album Giant Steps. Notice how frequently he takes breaths. He has to!:

Now check out Stevie Ray Vaughan playing “Lenny.” When he gets to his soloing, around 1:20, notice that his bursts of notes are always followed by pauses, if only slightly. If you imagine singing the notes he’s playing, you’ll notice that his pauses fall comfortably in the places where you would want to take a breath.

Listen to the solos of your favorite artists, and see if you can pick out the “breaths.” A virtuosic flurry of notes may sound impressive, but if the music’s not breathing then it’s choking your ears. For further reading, check out this method that doctors devised to treat breath shortness in their patients.

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