Breathe Through Your Nose for Better Harmonica Playing

Nose Breathing

I thought my nose was there for smelling and that it was a weaker, alternate way of breathing. Recently, in search of better health and trying to solve my sleep apnea, I came across information about the many benefits of breathing through your nose and the many deficiencies of breathing through your mouth.

Obviously, a balance is what we all end up with. How does this relate to harp playing? I’ve counseled my harmonica students to breathe more gently. I demonstrate how it’s optimal to play with the same force and ease as talking. I give them exercises and ideas that move them closer to good, efficient breathing for good tone. But I have never mentioned just how important and versatile nose breathing is.

Many students play in a gasping, out of breath style. They often use too much air and cram the reeds. Breathing through the mouth, in and out, with no involvement of the nose, creates a panting or hyperventilation effect.

Observing myself, as I play the mouth and the nose work together as a team. Sometimes the mouth and nose operate in unison. Sometimes the mouth takes over. Sometimes it’s the nose who leads the way. Without holding my breath, nostril air gives me the inner power I need.

The nostril inhale gives me more air, more quickly, and goes deeper into my body. I can create and maintain an inner balloon of air into my lower torso. That balloon is what gives me the inner power I need for vibrato, breath control, volume dynamics and much more.

There is much more to nostril breathing that just playing the harmonica.

It turns out that nose breathing is great for your body and brain. Breathing through your nostrils produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide allows you to easily breathe deeply while enjoying a feeling of confidence and relaxation.

Conversely, breathing only through your mouth shortens your breathing capacity and promotes a fight-or-flee, gasping response –and the hormones of fear and worry. This can’t be good for harping. Teaming up nose and mouth for both your ins and outs is where the fun is.

Nose breathing helps you effortlessly inhale and exhale into and from the deepest parts of your upper body. Because of this depth, you develop a back pressure, a reservoir of oxygen from which you push and pull the air through the harmonica.

This idea of pushing and pulling is important and replaces the whole blow-and-suck approach. It gives you gentle whole-body breathing. It gives you soft full breath from deep inside. Do you recall how it feels to fog a mirror? This is what we are after.

I think my personal approach is blending nose breathing with mouth breathing, and I use them in different intuitive ways. This lesson is about activating your nose into part of your harmonica tool kit.

The first minute or two of closing your mouth and consciously breathing in and out –only through your nose– can feel weird, but as your keep it up, you can feel this healthy air go deeply and refreshingly into your lungs, stomach and head.

Go ahead and give this a try. Inhale deeply through your nose and feel how you can make the air go deep into your body. Now exhale through your nose (or your mouth) and feel the push from deep inside. This is what we call whole-body breathing. which sets the stage for whole-body harping. Fat tone, vibrato, the ability to subtly increase and decrease the volume of your harmonica, the ability to discharge air quickly and imperceptibly, and setting your breath up for powerful, easily controlled draw notes, these advantages come naturally and quickly,

But nose-breathing seems awkward and unnatural. You might feel as though you are going to run out of air quickly, and this primal fear of not being able to breathe makes the harp player return to mouth-breathing. Modifying how you have breathed all your life ain’t easy.

Here are some ideas:

  • To help break the deeply ingrained mouth-breathing habit, try taping your mouth shut and breathing only through your nose. For tape. I use “Sleep Strips” that you can get at Amazon. They are small, powerful, see through and adhesive, Their medical purpose is to help stop snoring, but they also help you get comfortable nose-breathing. They are intended to use while sleeping but you also can tape your mouth during the day while you are doing something that does not require talking; for instance, while taking a walk, while doing the dishes or gardening, or driving your car.It takes about 2 minutes to get comfortable.
  • Humming is deeply related to whole-body harp playing, especially with your mouth shut or taped. It allows you to feel and ingrain the sense of pushing from your stomach. And the end of each hummed phrase, you inhale through your nose and start humming again, pushing from your stomach to produce the sound.Not only is the humming exercise a great was to discover deep breathing through your nose, Gives you extraordinary support.
    Try humming the Up and Down Blues riff. Start with the inhaled nose breath. It takes about 1.5 seconds and pushes your stomach out a little bit. Now you are back-filled with air: it’s supported., and it’s time to play.

     

    I think the best way to practice this is to do these exercises to bring nose-breathing into your playing style.

You will learn many other fundamentals and techniques on your harp-playing road.

You will learn to channel and place your airstream using the K constant to shape your embouchure and throat. You will learn to bend. You will get the basic riffs into your muscle memory and learn to play and improvise on them, you will learn to phrase, to play to a beat and much more.

And you will learn to nose-breathe.

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