Lung Games for Wind Instruments

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If you teach wind instruments, you certainly know how to breathe correctly. But here are some tricks I use to help students out. Hopefully you also are able to effectively convey these techniques to your students as well. But, perhaps you need some fun ways to test your students’ ability to put your methods into practice.

Here are some options:

This one’s a personal favourite that I thought I had invented, but of course trumpet players have been doing it for ages. Rip a standard sheet of paper in half “hamburger-style” (i.e. with a horizontal rip). You can also use scissors or simply fold the paper and run your fingernail along the crease before tearing it in order to get a straight line. Then, ask your student to face a wall with their toes touching the wall. Ask them to hold the paper widthwise in front of their face, and then blow the paper against the wall (letting go with their hands, so only their breath keeps the paper stuck to the wall). Then time how long they can keep the piece of paper stuck to the wall (nearly all smartphones have a stop watch built in these days, but if you don’t happen to have one, an actual stop watch should only cost about $5).

There’s many reasons I love this exercise. For one, it costs next to nothing. Secondly, it encourages the student to ration their breath over a long period of time – just like playing a horn, you need a long-lasting, steady stream of air that’s still strong enough to keep the paper glued to the wall; it’s not enough to just blast all your air out immediately. It’s also quite difficult, so the goal I usually set for my students is 2.0 seconds. That gets my seal of approval (and usually takes a bit of practice), but I always encourage even more than that. Try tracking the results of this exercise weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly with a student and watching their time (hopefully) improve. Each week, I usually give them a few tries and track their best (in other words, longest) time.

If you’ve got the cash to spend and want to go more hi-tech, there’s also the option of lung capacity measuring devices. However, some of these do a better job of testing the power of your inhalation rather than your exhalation (which, of course, matters more if you have asthma or any other lung disease). Spirometers, however, are perfect as they measure the power of exhalation. If you’re willing to drop about $50 for one, they can more digitally measure your lungs’ output far more technically and accurately than a piece of paper stuck to a wall. As a teacher, you can test your students with these and track their progress just like the piece of paper game above. It doesn’t reward a steady stream of air like the paper game, but it’s safe to say that someone with excellent exhalation power can learn to make their output steady more easily than someone with a weak wind output can learn to increase it (although that’s still doable too – that’s where you, the instructor, step in to teach about using your diaphragm).

What are some other lung-expanding games you use with your students? Let us know in the comments!

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