Throat Tension, is it Where You Think?

A favorite blog of mine to read is John Ericson's Horn Notes Blog and a recent post of his asked some tough questions about what your body is really doing when you play a brass instrument. I was inspired to share an experience from a few weeks ago that relates. The short version is that I got my decaf and caffeinated coffee bags in the freezer mixed up and treated myself to a heavily caffeinated mocha that evening. Being an avid mind-body enthusiast, I was trying to meditate my way to sleep and having a very difficult time. A meditation that I use on sleepless nights is a very simple one I picked up a few years ago, the steps are:

  • Pick a body part (ankle, right calf, etc)
  • Inhale into that part (figuratively of course)
  • Exhale all traces of tension in that part
  • Pick a new part and repeat

All was normal until I reached a part just above my chest, under the clavicle bone (usually, I would be asleep by this time). On the exhale of tension, my breathing became effortless! Upon waking the next morning, I ran to find my horn and played the most beautiful note I've ever played. After a few weeks of experimenting, I have decided the following:

  1. "Throat" tension may not come from the throat at all, but perhaps from the upper chest area.
  2. Combating upper chest tension naturally causes deeper (lower in the abdomen) breathing.
  3. This is not the same as choking notes using the glottis however it is very difficult to use the glottis when consciously relaxing the upper chest.

This is a very exciting realization for me. For many years I have heard "open your throat!", only to lose all focus of sound and clarity in the high range when attempting to force open (where I thought was) my throat. Possibly, the big focused wonderful horn sound comes not from a deliberate openness in the throat (relaxed, yes) , but a conscious effort to relax the upper chest. I'm sure doctors and Yogi gurus would have much more convincing explanations...

Next time you hear "keep that throat open!" try "keep that chest open!"

-Jacob

January 26, 2009