pre performance routine

A Simple Trick for Better Breathing

Have you ever stopped to notice whether your breathing experience is different when your instrument is in playing position versus when you're not about to play?

The key physical difference for me is a tighter feeling in my chest and abdomen when my flute is on my face.

When I'm not about to play and my flute is down, my breathing goes back to being natural and automatic. 

Why do I experience these symptoms when I'm about to play?

Fear, expectations, perfectionism...

The feeling of tension comes and goes in varying degrees depending on how I'm feeling, what's on my stand, or whether or not I'm about to play on camera or for another person. 

I've also noticed that visually, having a flute up seems to block my view of anything below my chin, and this has a way of clouding my awareness of anything below my chin.

Suddenly, the easy, whole-body feeling becomes restricted, and I'm hyper aware of my upper body when the fear that I may not get enough air takes over.


The Quest for a Natural Breath

In order to translate naturally free breathing to my ready-to-play position, I've utilized a variety of poses while practicing to find comfortable, free breathing:

  • A generous bend in the knees
  • Bent over at the hip joints to free the abdomen
  • Standing on one leg, bent forward
  • Laying on the floor
  • Squat or Dugout Position

All of these encourage my abdominal muscles, back muscles, and arms to feel free, allowing efficient breathing, open sound, and the ability to play longer phrases with ease.

However, they aren't necessarily something I can call upon in a performance when I'm likely to need them the most.

(But if I could lay on the floor in the middle of an orchestra for the Afternoon of a Faun solo, I probably would!)


The Simple Trick

In order to translate the naturally free breathing that occurs when the flute is down, I decided to simply breathe while lifting the flute to my face, and once it was there, just start playing. 

I am certain this idea has been shared with me before, but I just recently realized how significant this is for maintaining a more naturally free experience.

I didn't need to actively free my chest and abdomen, they were simply free to begin with and stayed that way as I began playing!

Inhaling felt like no work at all.

I was no longer doing, taking, sucking in air. It was naturally a full-body experience, and I had plenty of air and great sound while playing.


Give it a Try!

Have you noticed a difference in how it feels to breathe? 

  • Take a breath without your instrument in playing position.

Notice the chest, the arms, the neck, the jaw, the abdomen, and so forth.

  • Next, bring the instrument up as normal, and take a breath as though you're about to begin playing. 

Is there a difference? What do you notice in comparison to the first breath?

  • Finally, bring your instrument back down, then inhale while lifting to playing position.

Is this a different experience? Has your awareness shifted? Does the length of you inhalation increase? 


Share your own experience in the comments below or on social media!

#PracticeRoomRevelations / @joleneflute


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How I Upped My Mental Game For Auditions

The last time I took an audition, I prepared thoughtfully, recorded myself a lot, and learned about centering and mental focus. The day of, however, I under-performed.

This time around, I spent even more time working on my mental game. Here are a few of the key resources I turned to:

One crucial aspect of a strong mental performance that came up in all three was developing a Pre-Performance Routine, or a Pre-Shot Routine.

Pre-Performance Routines

A pre-performance routine is the idea of having a moment of simple, optimal mental programming that is consistent.

While I had specific ideas for how I wanted to approach each excerpt previously, I did not have a thought-out and consistent plan for my thoughts and actions. As a result, my mind ran wild with all the ideas I've collected from lessons, master classes and practice sessions over the years. Was this helpful? In the practice room, yes! On stage during an audition? Definitely not.

Instead, I followed the guidelines and advice from each of the three resources and came up with my own:

1. Breathe in for 6, Out for 8

2. "Feet, Peripheral Vision"

3. Hear it First

4. Move & Take the Leap!

In the moment, it became easy to sweep through these ideas, and I could efficiently clear my head and come to a place that felt grounded and confident.


Centering Breath

The Centering Breath was a part of my last audition preparation, but my mistake the first time around was way over-thinking it. I ended up adding tension as a result.

This time, I kept it simple and adapted the easy instructions from 10-Minute Toughness: A 15-second breath, counting 6 in, holding for 2, and out for 7. Focusing on counting alone means less room for mental chatter, and it prevented the issue of overthinking a "good" breath. According to 10-MT, a 15-second breath is also long enough to slow the heart rate.

Letting Go

While exhaling, I let go of tension in my abdomen and lower back. This was a far more simple "letting go" process than my previous one, where I tried to cram in a full body scan and get every muscle to be free and every bone perfectly positioned. While a full body scan is useful the day of an audition while laying on the floor, trying to do this in the moment before beginning each excerpt is far too overwhelming. The simpler answer is remembering to move as a whole. (See the last step!)

Reminder Statement

In 10-Minute Toughness, this concise, consistent statement is a key component of a pre-shot routine for athletes. For me, it was:

"Feet, Peripheral Vision"

That's it. I opened myself up to the room, remembered to feel my feet grounding me, and allowed myself to feel the confidence these ideas provide.

Hear It First

You're more likely to produce the sounds you hear mentally! Hear the most optimal, beautiful sounds, and the whole orchestral part in your head just before beginning to achieve the appropriate character and get your ideal sound concept.

Move & Take the Leap!

Taking the plunge to actually start the excerpt was the last part of the process I was overthinking before. I finally thought about the fact that if I simply take my flute of the case and begin wandering around the house playing Mozart or excerpts, it goes well because of the inhibition. I don't warm up, I don't stand in one spot and try to perfectly set myself up to play. I just go for it, move freely, and enjoy myself!

After going through my concise pre-performance routine this time, I knew I was ready to play, I felt calm and grounded, and I was able to take the leap of faith and just start. Allowing movement through the breath was the key to starting with ease and using the body as a whole. This ensured I would breathe naturally and freely, and tricked me out of overthinking my initial inhale, ultimately risking a tense breath.


Do You Have a Pre-Performance Routine?

Use a video camera and allow yourself only one chance to play through an excerpt or a piece you're going to perform. Identify the thought process you go through in preparing to play.

  • What do you instruct yourself to do?
  • What do you tell yourself not to do?
  • Does your process feel efficient in optimizing yourself for performance?
  • Is your process the same or different from how you approach a practice room mindset?

The Bulletproof Musician's Pressure Proof Hacks provide a guideline for developing your own pre-performance routine.

This is a commonly utilized concept, and there are many resources out there for both athletes and performing artists to check out!

In Conclusion

I can't begin to tell you how much this helped me. Doing it every time for every excerpt made an enormous difference when I went in front of a video camera for a mock audition, and again the day of the actual audition. Not having this mental plan the first time left far too much room for overthinking and trying too hard, and ultimately, I was inconsistent. 

I knew I could allow myself to take as much time as I needed before beginning each excerpt, but this time, I was able to use the time in the most efficient manner.

Keeping it simple and consistent is the key!