Updated: Jun 20, 2019
My students make fun of me. It's true.
They think my obsession with AIR is hilarious (and sometimes annoying). Every response I give to any question they ask seems to begin with, "Think about your AIR...."
From there, we discuss tongue placement and embouchure and right hand position and fingering alternatives, too. But AIR has to come first. Always.
Because we play wind instruments (that includes voice) from the inside out.**
With every problem we encounter in our playing, we have to start by examining our air. The quantity, speed, and angle of air into the horn can mean the difference between hitting notes and missing them or playing with pain or without. I find that many musicians don't remember that we have to use aerobic air -- when we sit down our bodies access their muscle memory of watching Netflix and eating popcorn. But what we need is the muscle memory of running, playing basketball, swimming, and other full-body movement.
I encourage my students to start their playing routines with air warm-ups -- increasing their air intake and accelerating their air output to signal to their bodies that it needs more energetic (aerobic) air when they're playing their instruments, even though they might be sitting in a chair. I have them take in air through their nose and then blow it out through their mouth (about the size of a straw) without and then with the mouthpiece, sitting in their playing posture and holding their horn. This signals to the body's collective muscle memory that when they sit in a chair and hold their horn, aerobic air is always required. These warm-ups also stretch and energize all of the muscles involved in using our air.
We move air warm-ups right into buzzing and then playing warm-ups, but with air as the primary focus. Because if we get the quantity and speed of the air right at the very beginning of a playing session, everything else seems to go much smoother.
I begin my playing sessions this way, as well, with the added layer of using it as a mindfulness/meditation opportunity. While I'm doing my breathing exercises, I mentally close doors to the "rooms" in my mind that hold distractions; I slowly focus my mind on the feeling of taking in and blowing out air and try to be in the present moment as much as possible.
The warm-ups plus the added layer of mindfulness helps my body and mind prepare for my upcoming practice session or performance. But even if you don't actively use it as a mindfulness exercise, warming up your air has many benefits.
For a few more ideas about this topic, see the following resources:
**I swear that I used this imagery before Eli Epstein wrote his incredible book -- which I highly recommend purchasing! -- Horn Playing From the Inside Out!