Wedge Breathing

I recently got a question from Justin asking about a breathing technique, endorsed by some great trumpet players like Bobby Shew and Roger Ingram, called “wedge breathing.”  I was familiar with the concept, but I’d never really seriously tried it.  I did some research to learn more about it and spent the last week practicing it and trying to get more comfortable with it.  Keep in mind that the following perspective is only one week’s worth of practice, but I think I’ve got the general feel of it now and have some observations I can share.

First, what exactly is wedge breathing?  Here is the basic gist as I understand it.

  1. Bring out your stomach slightly.  It should create a slight vacuum and you’ll take in a sip of air naturally when doing this.
  2. Take in more air (maybe fill up to a bit over half full) while bringing your abdomen back in.
  3. Allow your shoulders to raise as you take in the remaining amount of your breath.
  4. As you commence blowing simply relax your shoulders into their normal playing position, but keep your abdomen in firm as you blow.

While the audio quality isn’t so good, I recommend you watch Roger Ingram discuss wedge breathing to get both a visual idea and also hear this technique in action (part 1part 2).  It might be a little tricky for you to get all the different steps of it working smoothly together at first.  Try practicing this breathing technique away from your instrument to familiarize yourself with it.  Over time, you should be able to blend all the separate parts into one smooth motion.

Overall, I really don’t recommend that brass player’s adopt wedge breathing as their normal approach, but I think it has some good use as a practice exercise to help make high register breathing more efficient.  It’s common to think of blowing “more air” for the upper register, but it actually takes less air to play in the high range.  Taking in a comfortably full breath allows us to start blowing simply by relaxing, a very natural process that’s great for brass playing.  Unfortunately, taking in such a large breath for the upper register can lead to overblowing and excessive tension.  Wedge breathing essentially forces you to take in a bit less air and the combination of keeping your abdomen firm and the raised shoulders gives you a very similar feeling of blowing simply by relaxing.

Spending some regular time working on wedge breathing could be useful for players to get familiar with some breathing sensations that are helpful for the upper register and maybe even for use in certain performance situations.  In general, however, I think it’s better to allow the abdomen to expand when inhaling.  It’s probably fine to allow the shoulders to raise when taking a very full breath, just keep in mind that you don’t need to blow a lot of air in the upper register and will need to compensate according to the range and length of the phrase.

Try it out for a while and see what you think.  Let us know your own thoughts and observations in the comments below.

Paul T.

Dave,

Note that Reinhardt’s thoughts on breathing include the idea of “raising the stomach/diaphragm” more for higher notes. I’m no expert, but from the text in the Encyclopedia I get the impression that Reinhardt wanted you to keep your stomach “sucked in” and the air in the chest as much as possible when playing in the upper register.

These two ideas may have some common ground.

Dave

Hey, Paul.

Yeah, the idea of supporting with the abdominal muscles is pretty common throughout most breathing instructions. What makes the wedge breathing idea so much different is the practice of keeping the stomach pulled in while actually inhaling. It seems to help with the feeling of air support, to the expense of taking in as full (and relaxed) a breath to start.

Justin

Greetings. I think I would be the Justin from whom this little research exercise may have sprung. Thanks for covering this good sir! I’m still a lot of my own research on wedge breathing as well. From what I have personally discovered in my own practice, I find it to be useful, but only in certain circumstances. I get no real benefit from using it while playing my trombone, but I do like to use it when playing some extended passages in the upper registers of the trumpet. My understanding of the way it is intended to work is that it works to increase air velocity and not air quantity. The idea being that, by sucking the abdomen in and raising the shoulders you’re intentionally creating tension in your body (which most would say to avoid). The tension in the body cavity essentially “pushes” the air out of the body at a greater rate.

I would say that in my experience I have noticed these things. It does seem to add clarity and ease on high notes, but it also creates a change in timbre that should be considered. Lead trumpet players in a big band setting (like those mentioned, Bobby Shew and Roger Ingram) seem to be more likely benefited by this technique than other players.

Thanks again for looking into this, I really appreciate it!

Jerry Hyman

Hi Dave, I recently presented at the 2018 ITF on ‘The Perils of Tromboning’. Part of the talk presented a day in the life of the diaphragms. I live in Brevard. My website has a very rough outline of that talk. I see your Contact form has been inoperable for a very time so I hope that you get this

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