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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shofar and Breathing: A Secret

Shofar and Breathing: A Secret

Arthur L. Finkle

Breathing is probably the most misunderstood issue of brass instruments.  The shofar, believe it or not, is considered a brass instrument due to the buzz of the lips to make sound.

Mechanics of Breathing

Philip Farcas, a French horn authority, explores the mechanics of breathing, which generally involves the use of the diaphragm to expand the air in the lungs. The diaphragm also expands the back ribs to make room for even more air used to expend.


At rest                             Filled with air

The diaphragm is a strong, resilient muscle which is tied with a ligament across and through the body. It separates the heart and lungs and liver.

Its shape is similar to an upside-down shallow bowl. The object is to utilize the diaphragm to create fill the lung to full capacity. (We use approximately 33% of the total air capacity in our normal breathing.)

To produce a good tone and to sustain musical phrases, a player must utilize adequate breath support. Correct posture is the first place to focus attention for the breath. To inhale properly a player must observe the following points on posture:

·          Back is straight
·          Chest is held high
·          Head is erect
·          Abdominal muscles are relaxed
·          Throat and neck are relaxed and open

Inhaling the maximum air on the lungs is imperative for a brass instrumentalist. The diaphragm contracts downward. The abdominal muscles remain relaxed. The exterior intercostal muscles expand, lifting the (floating) rib cage and expanding the chest cavity for lung expansion.
The Shofar Sounder should have  correct posture (straight back, high chest and relaxed shoulders). And the throat remains relaxed
The development of superior tone quality depends upon two things: (1) performance on a fine Lie flat on the back on a hard surface. In this position the shoulders cannot be moved and will remain in normal adjustment.
  1. Inhale slowly through the lips until the lungs are filled with air. Exhale slowly through the lips, blowing the air out in a gentle, even stream.
  2. Concentrate on controlling the activity of the abdominal muscular structure.

Four points of Resistance

There are four pressure points, two automatic; two controllable. The uncontrollables are the mouthpiece and the lip aperture (opening). The controllables are the tongue (should be shaped as the letter “k” to enable the maximum flow of air; the other is control of the larynx (voice box). By closing it, you keep the air from escaping into the esophagus.


In normal exhalation, we relax our intercostal muscles, diaphragm and abdomen, and the air is gently forcing the lungs by its rerun to its normal size.

However, in a brass instrument. Such exhalation requires even greater pressure in order to provide a slow, steady air pressure by exercising our diaphragms by keeping it taut by visualizing that the upside-down pot needs to remain ‘potless.’ The diaphragm returns to its normal sized.

See Phillip Farkas, The Art of French Horn Playing, Summy-Birchard Inc., 1956.

Serous instrumentalists know about breathing for a long time. Indeed, Breathing has been an issue at least in writing since 1813, in Vollständige Theoretisch-pracktische Musikschule [Complete Theoretical-practical Music Method] of Joseph Fröhlich. The various instrument methods published inside this work are reasonably well known to scholars (they were also published separately from the full Musikschule), but as described in the 2009 issue of the Historic Brass Society Journal in an article by Howard Weiner.


Often overlooked, the lips should be wet so that the instrument does not slide off and makes a sealed connection with the mouthpiece, not allowing any air to be wasted.

Breathing concepts are best seen at websites featuring
Mr. Jacobs who explains the history, physiology and problems of breathing. 

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