Have you worked on breathing lately? While it may sound simple, there’s nothing better than breathing exercises to help get your band ready for action. The following are some teaching concepts you can use to teach dynamics and concepts of crescendos and decrescendos. All exercises are to be done by blowing air through the instrument or “airing” the exercise or passage of music. Try these at the beginning of each rehearsal. A few minutes everyday or a couple of times a week can payoff some big dividends!
Broader Range / Awareness of Dynamics:
Before beginning remind students to stay relaxed and always play from a full breath. You can do these exercises with or without instruments.
- Breath in 4 counts / exhale 8 counts at mf
- Breath in 4 counts / exhale 8 counts at f
- Breath in 4 counts / exhale 8 counts at ff
- Breath in 4 counts / exhale 8 counts at mp
- Breath in 4 counts / exhale 8 counts at p
- Breath in 4 counts / exhale 8 counts at pp
- End by taking a big cleansing breath, and relax for just a moment.
At each step of the way remind students to notice the difference in the volume and the speed of air needed at each dynamic level.
Making Better Crescendos and Decrescendos
Remind the students to stay relaxed and to always play from a full breath.
- Inhale 4 counts / crescendo 4 counts / decrescendo 4 counts
- Inhale 4 counts / crescendo 8 counts / decrescendo 8 counts
- Inhale 4 counts / crescendo 12 counts / decrescendo 12 counts
The trick is to get the decrescendo to match the crescendo. Most bands will crescendo nicely but the decrescendo falls off much too quickly. In most cases (depending on other balance issues) the goal is to have the decrescendo mirror the crescendo.
Try taking the crescendo into the first beat of the decrescendo before getting softer. This will aid in the decrescendo not getting too soft too soon.
Always play from full!
Just because something is at pp and lasts only a few counts doesn’t mean you don’t take a full breath. Let the fullness of the breath do the work for you.
Tension is the sound killer; you can never sound your best if your body is tense.
There is nothing hard and fast in the examples above:
- Change the number of counts for the inhale
- Change the number of counts for the exhale
- Mix the counts for inhale and exhale
- Change the dynamics
- Change the tempos
Anything you can think of to get them to focus and “air” and subsequently sound.
Applying to the Music
If you have a particular trouble spot in your program you want to address, develop a breathing exercise utilizing that section. Do this at the beginning of the rehearsal, and then apply it later on.
When you get to the section of the music you want to work on, have students “air” the passage on their instruments. Tell them to remember how the different levels felt and sounded at the beginning of the rehearsal and to apply that feeling and sound here.
A couple of reps here and they will get a much better idea of not only the idea of varying dynamics but also how to actually make a broader range of dynamics.
As with all things students, the next time you come to this section it may only be marginally better or maybe not at all. Simply have the students “air” through the passage again and remind them what it is suppose to sound like. Repeat as often as necessary until it becomes smooth and even.
Throughout your rehearsals refer back to the breathing exercises and have students air through sections of the music especially when it begins to sound tense or uneven.
Jon Bubbett has spent the past 38 years as a high school band director in Georgia and Alabama. He has served as the director of bands for Thompson High School in Alabaster, AL for the past 25 years. During that time the Thompson High School Wind Ensemble has performed at The Music for All National Concert Band Festival twice, has performed for the Alabama Music Educators Association 4 times and has made numerous conference appearances in throughout the southeast. Mr. Bubbett has received the National Band Association’s Citation of Excellence Award 7 times. He has also presented at The Midwest Clinic, the Alabama Music Educators Association and has been guest clinician and adjudicator in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. He has been married to Jeannie Bubbett for 38 years and they have two incredible children, Miles and Mallory!