ARTICLES

Charlie Meacham

Breathing Exercises

Breathing is one of the most important parts of playing the trumpet. Although we breathe all day every day, in life we seldom have the need to breathe deeply. Because of this, one needs to learn to breathe specifically for playing the trumpet. Learning to breathe properly will improve all aspects of trumpet playing. A good breath will help us play higher and lower, create a good tone, and help us tongue clearly and correctly. We must develop a good breath before playing the trumpet.  

A quick disclaimer, if at any point while doing these breathing exercises you feel lightheaded or dizzy, sit down and stop the breathing exercises until you fully recover.

The biggest piece of breathing is posture. With bad posture, it is impossible to breathe correctly. 

  • Step one is to sit or stand up straight. Keep your shoulders back and puff your chest, not overextended, you should still be comfortable.

  • If you are sitting, feet should be shoulder-width apart and you should be far enough forward that your feet are flat on the ground and your back is not resting on the back of the chair. It should look like this:

  • If you are standing, feet are a little bit wider than shoulder-width and your knees are bent. Think of a less aggressive athletic stance. Like this:

There are four breathing exercises you will learn from this article that will help you learn proper breathing techniques.

 

1.) Paper Tube Exercise

The first exercise I like to try in private trumpet lessons involves learning what a good breath feels like. To do this we take a piece of paper and roll it up so that it has a hole of about one inch. (see images below)

  • Take the rolled up piece of paper and put your lips around it. Don’t bite down on the paper, it should be in front of your teeth. 

  • Breathe normally and feel how open everything feels. Imagine breathing down into your stomach and see how that feels. 

  • Then without letting your shoulders rise, breathe down into your stomach and extend it up into your chest.

  • If you are doing the exercise correctly it should feel like you are breathing with no resistance or tension and it is very easy to fill the lungs fully.

2) Sigh Breath
 

Now that you have learned how to breathe in open and relaxed, you have to learn how to breathe out open and relaxed. 

  • To do this take a breath in through the paper tube, remove the paper tube and sigh on the way out. 

  • While sighing, don’t use the vocal cords. The only sound should be air rushing out of your mouth. 

  • Sighing is the body's natural response to being tense. The sigh will help us relax.

  •  The only change we are going to make to our sigh breath in the following breathing exercises is moving the lips into a small O and blowing with intention, as if you are blowing out a birthday candle.

3) In for 4, out for 4

The next exercise I like to do is basic, but very helpful. You will need a metronome to do it.

  • Use the good posture and relaxed open breathing you just learned. 

  • Set a metronome to 70 BPM. 

  • Breathe all of your air out so that you can’t squeeze any more out. 

  • Then breathe in for four counts, and then out for four counts. 

To make it a bit more engaging, 

  • Take your hand, extend your arm, and point your palm towards your face. Like this:

  • Next, breathe all of your air out, really squeeze so that your lungs are at 0% capacity. That is how your lungs should be when your arm is in this position. 

 

  • While you breathe, you will bring your arm toward your mouth, on beat one your hand should be 25% of the way to your mouth and your lungs should be at 25% capacity, the same for beat two, 50%, and beat three and four, 75% and 100% respectfully. Like this:

  • On beat four your hand is almost touching your mouth. On beat five you begin to breathe out, you follow the same pattern but it is reversed. 

  • Your goal should be to direct the air at your hand and be able to feel it through the entire exercise. 
     

This exercise can be repeated as many times as you feel, just rest frequently so you do not get lightheaded or dizzy.      

 

The basic “in for four, out for four” exercise can be modified to keep it interesting and to make it harder. 

  • In 4 out 4, in 6 out 6, in 8 out 8, in 10 out 10, in 12 out 12.

  • In 2 out 4, in 3 out 6, in 4 out 8, in 5 out 10. 

  • in 2 out 4, in 2 out 6, in 2 out 8, in 2 out 10.

  • In 1 out 3, in 3 out 6, in 5 out 10.

  • In for 4, hold for 4, out for 4

  • And any other variation you can think of!

4) Sip Breaths

The last exercise I like builds lung capacity. For this one, it is very important that you sit down while doing it and that you rest between each repetition because it is very easy to get light-headed. 

 

  • Breathe in how we were for the “in for 4, out for 4” method, including the hand, although you do not need to use the metronome. 

  • Once you have filled up your lungs fully you are going to sip in a little extra air in one or two times. This will feel like your lungs are expanding and can be mildly uncomfortable at times. 

  • Hold this for a few seconds and then let it out. 

 

I don’t recommend doing this exercise more than three times a session and no more than twice a week. This is because overdoing this exercise can cause pain and can make breathing correctly for trumpet difficult.  

 

Personally I have gotten the most benefit from these methods when done every day before warming up. Choose a couple of different exercises and spend one or two minutes focusing on just breathing. After this, it will be much easier to warm up and your whole playing day will be much improved.

 

Next, read “Applying Breathing Exercises” to learn how to apply these exercises to playing the trumpet.

 

Charlie Meacham 

Charlie Meacham

Applying Breathing Exercises

The breathing exercises we do are not entirely like how we breathe when we play the trumpet. When we are first learning to breathe while playing the trumpet, we will likely think too hard about it. This is okay at first, but the long term goal is for trumpet breathing techniques to be second nature.

Charlie Trumpet