When kids begin to learn an instrument early on, particularly a wind instrument, there is something that I have seen many teachers overlook. Proper breathing techniques. The common thought is that they want to get kids playing songs quick so they get excited about playing and don’t quit. Once the student has taken lessons for a year or so, they start to get frustrated because they start to understand that the sounds coming out of their instruments don’t sound good. The kids are bright enough to understand this. At this point teachers are worried about keeping kids interested in playing, with good intentions, so they tell them that they’re sounding better and to try different things to improve their sound….
At the same time the students are being held accountable for practicing and being prepared for lessons. This means practicing correctly the content that was provided to them for their next lesson. If they practice something incorrectly the teacher will then have to correct them during their next lesson and then realize that the child will additionally have to practice it correctly for another lesson period in order to erase the incorrect practicing they have done. Of course this has then been a waste of everyone’s time. If it was done write in the first place both student and teacher would be better off.
As all this happens the student continues to get more frustrated. Eventually they get so bored, because they’re not making progress and unable to play music they deem fun, that they beg their parents to quit. About 80% of students quit of boredom because their parents let them. The parents aren’t to blame here. If you’re kid is bored and not enjoying something after a couple years why make them keep doing it over and over? Musical parents might make the kids keep going knowing the benefits of music education, but the non-musical parents might not know better. The issue is with how they were educated. I don’t mean to blame the music teachers here because this is how they, and I, were instructed to teach. What Really needs to happen here is a change in how our children are musically educated.
I decided to change my tactic while giving lessons both privately and publicly. Instead of focusing on the idea of getting kids to play songs right away, I decided to focus on proper breathing for the first 2-3 lessons. Quite an undertaking. You have to be pretty creative to not make that boring. I implemented all sorts of techniques to improve breathing. I first told them each to watch themselves in a mirror and take a breath. Of course, the shoulders all raised about 6″ in the air. I told them this was because they were breathing from their chest and not their diaphragm. Slowly, as they began to breathe from their diaphragm and then chest, they began to see what I was taking about.
Next came the exercises. Seeing the difference between a cold breathe and a hot breathe. Trying to hold a sheet of paper on the wall by blowing at it. I even turned it into a game by making them see who could hold their breathe the longest – stopwatch and all. Then it came time to put all this to their instrument. They got timed to see how long they could hold a note. Then how long they could play a line from a song before they had to stop. They could see these results and how beneficial proper breathing was. They progressed and didn’t get bored with playing because they weren’t having to think about breathing as much! They were able to play fun songs because of that!
Needless to say, the results kept coming. Not to mention they didn’t have to practice for another year to undo all of that improper breathing.
It was great to see kids succeeding at music, not quitting, and actually wanting to play because they were actually beginning to sound good! I would encourage all music teachers to try this approach!