Day 10, Air

I met my half-day goal of practicing for half the full amount, so that’s 2 hours.  I left Cedar City, UT around 9:30am and arrived in Aspen at about 5pm.  After settling in, it felt wonderful to practice again.  I’m staying at a new place this year (my third summer at Aspen) and like any new environment it can feel a bit unsettling for the first day or two.  Filling this not-yet-completely-cozy environment with something that was extremely familiar to me (practicing) put me at ease in more than one way.

Almost immediately after starting I knew what my mental theme of the day was going to be.  Playing just a couple notes at an altitude of almost 8,000 feet reminded me that the reeds I use are meant for sea-level!  Up here there’s less oxygen so it’ll take some adjustment, physiologically.  Today’s practice was all about air.  Wind.  Exhaling through a wooden pipe with bits of metal on it.

  • First of all, let’s consider the location of the lungs in the body.  Those things are all the way up behind your pectoral muscles.  This mystified me when I learned it embarrassingly late in life because so many teachers told me to expand my belly when I inhaled.  So, I just assumed my lungs were down there with the rest of my guts!  Now when I breathe I’m not thinking “move your belly out” or, to the other extreme “lift your shoulders.”  Both of these things may occur as secondary results of your lungs expanding, but they are not where primary movement should occur.  You shouldn’t even be thinking about “moving” your body but just taking a deep breath.  Anyway, knowing where my lungs are is kind of useful.
  • I still remember when a friend in college told me about taking really big breaths before starting anything.  This sounds so rudimentary and it is!  See how your sound changes when you take a breathe twice as big as the one you normally take.  Today it was a great quick-fix for the scarcity of oxygen.  It’s kind of like when women’s magazines have “one quick tip for appearing to be 10 pounds lighter!” and that quick tip is “stand up straight.”  Well, taking a bigger breathe is the no-brainer quick fix to better tone. :)
  • Thinking of using air generously.  This one speaks for itself.  Spread that air on THICK.
  • Don’t let fingers/tongue dictate what the air does.  At the point in my practice when I momentarily forgot about taking awesome big breaths all the time, I let the fact that my reed felt hard upset the flow of air.  The inverse of this is great: let awesome air make okay-tonguing better.
  • Take tension in the tongue and give it to the air.  90% air, 8% fingers, 2% tongue
  • Treat notes in different registers (with different levels of resistance) similarly, accommodating to those with the most resistance.  Don’t adjust air for non-musical reasons.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Don’t follow the metronome, use it as a diagnostic tool against your own sense of forward motion.  Record it and see how it measures up.
  • Translating time into tasks.  Sometimes you really have to think “I need to practice for the next 30 minutes.” in order to fit your day together.  That’s cool, and I’ve found that if I immediately translate “30 minutes” into “Firebird and Daphnis” (or whatever) the time really sails by.
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