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Body Mapping

The body map is one’s self-representation in one’s own brain. If the body map is accurate, movement is good. If the body map is inaccurate or inadequate, movement is inefficient and potentially injury-producing. In Body Mapping, one learns to gain access to one’s own body map through self-observation and self-inquiry. One also learns to recognize the source of inefficient or harmful movement and how to replace it with movement that is efficient, elegant, direct, and powerful based on the truth about one’s structure, function, and size.

Body Mapping is particularly useful when it comes to breathing. Of course, breath support is the key to so many trombone skills – if the breath support is inadequate, our fundamentals suffer and our music-making is compromised.

Here are the top three breathing mis-mappings I see among trombone students along with some remedies I have found useful:

1. Believing the lungs are in the abdomen. This misunderstanding is very common and may come from directors who ask youngsters to take a big breath. The student then lifts their shoulders in a misguided attempt to fill the lungs. The director then might say something like “don’t move the shoulders” or “send the air low.” Enough of this bad advice will lead the student to believe the lungs are lower than they actually are, thereby convincing them to move the abdomen abnormally in a belly-dancing sort of way. A good remedy is to focus on moving the ribs to inhale. In order to allow sufficient rib motion, it is important to allow the arms to be suspended above the ribs, not collapsed over them. “Flapping the arms” while in playing position can be useful in helping brass players get the arms out of the way so the ribs can sufficiently move to breathe.

Rib motion is a primary motion of breathing and abdominal expansion is a secondary motion. Abdominal expansion is the result of the diaphragm descending and pressing down on the contents of the abdominal cavity. It does not cause air to come into the body, rather, it is the natural result of the diaphragm’s contraction during inhalation.

Air coming into the body does not make the ribs and diaphragm move – it’s actually quite the opposite. When the diaphragm contracts in cooperation with the ribs swinging up and out, the thoracic cavity expands and air rushes in to equalize the air pressure between the outside atmosphere and the lungs.

Understanding how the diaphragm and ribs cooperate with one another is very important for breathing well. Click here to watch a short video of the diaphragm and ribs moving in context.

Click here to watch a video demonstrating good and bad breathing.

2. Believing it is necessary to “open the throat” to breathe and that using “warm air” is desirable in creating a beautiful tone. In reality, the throat is always open by virtue of the rings of cartilage that hold it open. In fact, the more one “tries” to open the throat, the more the pharyngeal muscles are likely to get inappropriately involved in breathing, thereby creating tension. A good remedy for this is to use a breathing tube – a 3/4 inch pvc tube that will provide a good model for how the pharyngeal space should feel at all times when playing.

Click here to watch a video about how to use a breathing tube and other breathing devices.

It might be appealing to try and warm up the air to create a beautiful tone because it is easy to equate warm air with a warm tone, however, there is no correlation between the warmth of the tone and the warmth of the air. Besides, the way to warm up the air is to introduce friction in the pharyngeal space by closing it down to narrow the air’s pathway in order to blow warm air, as though you are warming your hands on a cold day. If you literally blow air like this when you play trombone, you will get a terrible tone because the air’s pathway has been purposefully constricted.

3. Believing it is necessary to do something with the mouth in order to inhale efficiently. Many trombonists believe it is necessary to form an “O” with the lips as though saying “inward Ho,” in order to inhale efficiently. In fact, doing this will restrict the inhale and reduce the amount of air it is possible to take in. In order to inhale efficiently, do nothing – just allow the body to perform this function like it always does without getting in its way. The artificial maneuvering of the mouth to inhale is particularly damaging when it is necessary to take fast breaths.

Click here to watch a video about inhaling efficiently.

Here are slides for a presentation I delivered at the Association for Body Mapping Education conference at the University of Redlands in June, 2019. Click on the link to download a PDF file:

Body Mapping for Brass Players

To learn more about Body Mapping, please refer to the Association for Body Mapping Education.

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