It’s the very first thing you learn to do. In fact, from the moment you are delivered, a group of people are on hand to make sure it happens. And then, you take the first of your estimated 650 million breaths… and no one gives it much thought from then on.
We’re about to go on a very long journey…
As with the beating of your heart, breathing is a bodily function that is controlled by the unconscious part of your brain… in other words, breathing happens without you having to think about it; which, when you think about it, is pretty damn handy.
Obviously, breathing is key to human flourishing. It’s the floor in the basement of Maslow’s pyramid. And even though you are not consciously aware of it, your brain is investing a ton of resources towards keeping it going.
Whilst definitely not recommended, you can consciously decide to stop breathing by simply holding your breath and refusing to breathe. Eventually you will lose consciousness and your unconscious brain will take back control. Should you stop breathing in your sleep, your unconscious brain will simply wake you up; as exhausted sleep apnea sufferers will wearily attest.
As a skill, breathing takes the stages of competence from the usual four down to two.
However… if ever there was a skill that should be re-taught all throughout life, it’s breathing. The health benefits of breathing properly are profound, both physically and mentally. Moreover, the practice of mindful breathing is the gateway to meditation, itself a skill worthy of your time and attention.
Don’t infer by the speed at which we’re moving on from this concept that it’s not life-changingly-profound. It most definitely is.
It’s just that this is a blog about music, not well-being; and when we’re talking about breathing as it relates to music, we’re talking about a different skill. We’re talking about musical breathing.
And interestingly, this skill develops as a result of what you think about when breathing, more than just the physical act of breathing.
instantly become a better musician,
just by considering these points:
I know that’s the kind of clickbait headline that, by now, you have trained yourself to ignore. Good. Except, in this case it just so happens to be true.
Music is every bit as much what you do with your mind, as it is what you do with your body.
Stop right here and think about that.
Imagine you’re watching the performance of an accomplished pianist. The physical dexterity and musical coordination is on full display. We see fingers leaping across the keyboard, effortlessly pulling-off one incredible feat after another.
But how often do you stop to consider what the performer is thinking about?
Because that mental landscape is simply not available to us, it’s pretty much impossible to do anything other than guess. This whole conundrum is further complicated by the fact that the performer themselves is not even likely to know… perhaps other than to admit the sheer amount of time spent perfecting the piece to make it “look easy”.
A magician is someone who practices magic, but who doesn’t actually believe in magic. Because magic tricks are precisely that… tricks… and magicians know the secrets of their tricks; typically something so incredibly simple that you in the audience don’t see… largely because your attention is purposely directed somewhere else.
People see/hear a great musician and jump to the same conclusion; that music is a form of magic… some kind of gift that musicians have that they don’t.
The physical part of the show, by its nature, gets all the attention… but that too is controlled by the mind. So, understand the mind’s role in music; and you’re a better musician already.
Breathing is a skill that every musician needs to learn.
When did you last see a guitar lesson that focussed on the importance of breathing? I’m going to guess and say: never.
You want to learn some kind of woodwind instrument, or singing; then breathing is the first thing out of the box. And while it’s more likely that singers will be reading an article about breathing than axe players, it would be a shame to not underscore the importance of mindful, steady and rhythmic breathing to all musicians.
see how to apply this concept in the next article.