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I Forgot to Breath


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When I am playing the keys and concentrating very hard, I tend to hold my breath. So last nite, I am practicing minor 6-2-5-1's in different keys, and I notice I am holding my breath. Or if I am playing a difficult passage in a composed piece of music, or if am playing a keyboard solo with the soul band, I notice I am holding my breath.

 

This is uncomfortable, and I think my playing is uneven when I do this. I think I do this because I am tensing up and am not relaxed enough physically in too many playing situations.

 

Any suggestions? Any suggestions on keeping myself relaxed while playing and eliminating muscle tension in my body when I play?

 

J.S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier

The collected works of Scott Joplin

Ray Charles Genius plus Soul

Charlie Parker Omnibook

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Weather Report Mr. Gone

 

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Seems to me this is a pretty big question that could go much wider than your practice regimen - is it accurate that this may be connected to the flying 5 thread you posted before?

 

My suggestions might include:

 

1) deliberately take passages significantly slower, in order to make relaxation, steady breathing and tension release the focus whilst still executing without playing errors.

 

2) only increase tempo veeerrry gradually over time, and even then only 2 ticks on the 'nome at a time.

 

3) consider if posture or other contributing factors result in unnecessary tension elsewhere in your body.

 

4) consider if stress or other contributing factors are imposing tension upon you even apart from the keyboard.

 

5) if you do a fair bit of ensemble gigging, focus on feeling the 8 and 16 to mentally embrace the larger time feel.

 

Hope some of this helps.

 

Tim

..
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First, and apologies for this, the word is breathe. With an e at the end. ;)

 

Okay, now that my OCD is addressed, if you don't have a vocal mic when you play with the band, hum or sing the vocals quietly while you play.

 

When you're soloing, hum your solo. The benefit to this will be more musical and conversational solo passages, as opposed to just an unending flurry of notes. When you run out of air, stop playing, inhale, and play your next passage.

 

Also, you might want to check out the meditations found in Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. They went a long way to helping me shed some of the tension when I play, especially in new musical surroundings, or with more complex pieces.

 

Good luck!

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I sing the rhythm of my phrases quietly when I play, as do many jazz players like Jarrett, Errol Garner, Monty Alexander... and I find even that is a huge burden on good breathing. On long gigs I get light headed and fatigued. It sure is fun though, it a kin to tapping the left heel, also like the majority of the greats do. It connects you in the moment. It has pluses and minuses (not enough O2, too much CO2).

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

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Remedies... so I remind myself to breathe. I allow myself to sing a few bars as I play and then I take a long slow inhale and exhale to make sure I am getting enough O2, I imagine I am still singing and I can hear my rhythmic phrasing in my head accompanied by the sound of measured and generous and steady breathing . Then I allow myself to sing a bit then back to real breathing, etc...

By the way, My left heal tapping never gets tired and is in sync with my left can engine. My right hand is totally independent if my left side. I play a lot of solo piano jazz and organ.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

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Very perceptive, Tim. Yes, as I see it, the breathing issue is related to my previous thread about my "flying" 5th finger. I think I tense up (physically and mentally) while playing. That tension is expressed in a couple of different ways: holding my breath, the extension or "flying" of my R 5th finger, and also my tendency to curl the toes in my L foot (I'm not kidding - I will finish a gig and notice that I have a cramp in my L foot from curling my toes so much).

 

I think these are all manifestations of the tension I experience in my body and mind as I play.

 

And it is not just about tempo. As I am practice my minor 6-2-5-1's in different keys, I am going very slowly to make sure I get the voicings correct in the various keys, and yet there I am holding my breath.

 

I appreciate your first suggestion: it seems that ALL my practice should be about being relaxed and releasing tension. When I play Hanon's or scales/arpeggios, I focus on going slowly and being relaxed and don't worry about being fast.

 

Of course, doing gigs there are lots of opportunities for me to tense up (physically and mentally).

 

is it accurate that this may be connected to the flying 5 thread you posted before?

 

 

Tim

J.S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier

The collected works of Scott Joplin

Ray Charles Genius plus Soul

Charlie Parker Omnibook

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Weather Report Mr. Gone

 

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Quite right, my bad. Breath is the noun, breathe is the verb. So the title should read: I Forgot to Breathe.

 

When I am at home and practicing , I sing/hum my melody line out loud. And because singing/humming requires lots of breathing out, I noticed that I would quickly get out of breath.

 

I will check out Effortless Mastery. As I get older and play more, I am realizing there is a zen to playing music: one must create a force, but without effort.

 

First, and apologies for this, the word is breathe. With an e at the end. ;)

 

When you're soloing, hum your solo. The benefit to this will be more musical and conversational solo passages, as opposed to just an unending flurry of notes. When you run out of air, stop playing, inhale, and play your next passage.

 

Also, you might want to check out the meditations found in Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. They went a long way to helping me shed some of the tension when I play, especially in new musical surroundings, or with more complex pieces.

 

Good luck!

J.S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier

The collected works of Scott Joplin

Ray Charles Genius plus Soul

Charlie Parker Omnibook

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Weather Report Mr. Gone

 

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I also sing/hum my improv exercises. And yes, I end up feeling out of breath and fatiqued - like I am constantly holding my breath.

 

I sing the rhythm of my phrases quietly when I play, as do many jazz players like Jarrett, Errol Garner, Monty Alexander... and I find even that is a huge burden on good breathing. On long gigs I get light headed and fatigued. It sure is fun though, it a kin to tapping the left heel, also like the majority of the greats do. It connects you in the moment. It has pluses and minuses (not enough O2, too much CO2).

J.S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier

The collected works of Scott Joplin

Ray Charles Genius plus Soul

Charlie Parker Omnibook

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Weather Report Mr. Gone

 

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Many years ago I took a lesson from a keyboard player in a rival band whose playing I really admired. I don't think he normally taught but agreed to give me a lesson. It was the strangest yet most enlightening music lesson I've ever received. We actually spent very little time playing piano or talking about fingering or technique or anything like that.

 

He quickly identified that I had major timing issues. (Frankly I still do, particularly during solos.) So he took out a metronome and had me clap in time with the metronome. If you're a hair early or a hair late, you can sorta kinda hear the clack! of the metronome, but if you're right. on. the. money. the metronome will "disappear" because the sound of the handclap completely masks it. So the goal is to make the metronome always disappear. Whenever I lost time he'd say "you stopped breathing" and he was right - I was holding my breath. He had a pet theory that many of the best musicians he knew either sang choir or in a church or played brass or wind instruments as a child, where breath control is learned early on and becomes natural.

 

Very much related to this topic is this Victor Wooten talk on various ways to practice with a metronome. As demonstrated in the video, if even a monster like him tenses up and rushes when playing a fill, maybe I shouldn't feel quite so terrible about my own crappy timing!

 

I've never tried singing while playing, and I'll try that out. If anyone knows of useful breathing exercises to incorporate with practice I'd love to know about them.

 

[video:youtube]

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Quite right, my bad. Breath is the noun...

Well, hopefully you don't have bad breath that is renown

"It is a danger to create something and risk rejection. It is a greater danger to create nothing and allow mediocrity to rule."

"You owe it to us all to get on with what you're good at." W.H. Auden

 

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I'm a full time musician but when I'm not I'm also a full time martial arts and health/fitness teacher :)

I've just set up an on-line training programme that covers many aspects of well-being, with a big emphasis on posture and correct breathing.

You can get more details at my website, Simply Flow

Remember - you can make a record without an organ on it, but it won't be as good

 

www.robpoyton.co.uk

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I agree that breathing is most important for pianists. I also second Sven's recommendation of Effortless Mastery. I read it last time he mentioned it (many thanks Sven!) and it is game changingly good. Highly recommended. :)
"Turn your fingers into a dust rag and keep them keys clean!" ;) Bluzeyone
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