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Arnold Jacobs
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Breathing Devices


Why use these Devices away from the instrument

In hospitals, after determining both the estimated vital capacity [from the formulas] and the actual vital capacity [from pulmonary function testing], the ratio is reported, determined by dividing the actual capacity by the
estimated vital capacity. If, for example, a person has an actual capacity of two liters and an estimated capacity of four liters, this person would have a capacity of 50 percent of normal. If there was an actual capacity of five liters and an estimated capacity of four liters, this person would have a capacity of 125 percent of normal. It is important to realize that wind musicians seem to have a higher than normal vital capacity.

Video -
Vital Capacity (mp4)
Most wind players use less than one-half of their vital capacity when playing their instrument. Jacobs stated, "One of the difficulties, with men as well as women, is that the player rarely, if ever, uses all the usable air in their lungs. They may have a vital capacity of four-and-a-half liters, but that is not what they use. They use only a fraction of that capacity. A trained person might use 75 or 80 percent of their vital capacity, others will use half or less.

For those who are well under 100 percent of their normal capacity, Jacobs had the student put down their
Video - Away from the Instrument (mp4)
instrument. While teaching music, he divorced remedial function matters from the actual playing of the instrument, and used a variety of external devices away from the instrument, seeking to develop new habits of breathing and air usage with his students.



Since the early 1960's, Jacobs developed and used various gauges and other such devices to help the student. In 1982, he introduced to the music world some inexpensive devices that, for the first time, allowed the student to use their own equipment on a daily basis

Air Bags


Using a five or six liter rubber bag, inhalation and exhalation can be practiced. Since the same air is breathed, carbon dioxide, rather than oxygen, is transferred avoiding hyperventilation.

Practice emptying and filling the lungs by slowly rebreathing air several times in a row. In this exercise the muscles of enlargement will learn to work apart from the muscles of reduction. It is important that the lungs go from extremes, empty to full. Rebreathing air from a breathing bag can be done repeatedly for about twenty seconds without discomfort.


Video - Air Bag (mp4)

An air bag can also be used as a rough gauge of a person's vital capacity. Another use is with an instrument. After a full inhalation, exhale into the bag filling it as much as possible. Hold the air in the bag with a finger over the tube. After positioning the instrument for playing inhale from the bag and start playing the instrument. The bag gives a visually known quantity of air.



Breath Builder


The simplest device to use is the Breath Builder. Developed by the late Bassoonist Harold Hansen of Las Vegas, Nevada, the Breath Builder is a device used to feel the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. It is a tube of plastic [at least six inches tall] with a ping-pong ball inside. The bottom is sealed and the top has three holes drilled to vary the resistance.

To use the Breath Builder, place the tube between the teeth on top of the tongue. Next, get the ball to the top of the tube by either inhaling or exhaling, [which is easier]. Then hold the ball at the top of the tube while slowly inhaling and exhaling. The Breath Builder requires fourteen ounces of pressure to hold the ping-pong ball at the top of the column

Video - Breath Builder (mp4)

In use, visualize a string player bowing from frog to tip. Keep the motions of inhalation and exhalation as long as possible, increasing the length of the bow. Find the minimal function to keep the ball at the top. Look in the mirror and observe the body's motions to keep the wind moving with minimal effort. Exaggerate inhalation [expansion of the body] and exhalation [contraction of the body].


Next, lower the resistance by closing more of the holes on the top of the tube. Go for length of breath and mentally increase the length of the imaginary string player's bow. 



The incentive spirometer, or Inspiron [Inspirx®]. It is a device used in hospitals to give respiratory patients a visual demonstration of how much air they can inhale. While the instrument was designed for inhalation, if it is turned upside down, it can also be used for exhalation. There is a gauge to measure resistance, with the most open position providing the most resistance.

Place the tube between the teeth and on top of the tongue so as not to obstruct the air passage. With the gauge set to maximum resistance, inhale and move the ball to the top. If there is a problem, lower the resistance. Just before exhalation, turn the Inspiron upside down and when exhaling, move the ball to the top. Continue the inhalation/exhalation series.

Keep inhalations and exhalations as slow as possible and exaggerate. Next, lower the resistance and keep the cycles as long as possible. Reduce suction and control the ball. Observe the body motions in a mirror.


Another use of the inspiron is in conjunction with mouthpiece practice. Remove the large hose at the base, replace with a four-inch rubber hose, and place a mouthpiece in the other end. The Inspiron must be upside down [the exhalation position]. Adjust the resistance so the ball can remain in the up position while buzzing several notes on the

Video - Inspiron (mp4)
mouthpiece. Imagine that the air supporting the ball is a fountain of water--its height will vary but it should not hit the bottom between notes. The object is to play throughout the range of the instrument while keeping the ball suspended. When moving into the high range any attempt to increase pressure while decreasing the rate of air flow will cause the ball to drop. One of the most important uses of the incentive spirometer is to teach the relaxed low pressure/high flow rate concept of playing.


With any of these devices, remember that oxygen is being breathed in and hyperventilation can easily occur. Do only three or four inhalation/exhalation cycles in a row. When dizziness starts, rest for a few minutes and let the oxygen content of the blood return to normal levels. 



Variable Resistance Compound Gauge


Before Jacobs introduced these devices to the music world in 1982, he made several devices. As a part of the original studio (around 1960), Mr. Jacobs attached a compound gauge (for both inhalation and exhalation) to an aluminum pipe with holes drilled to vary resistance This is a tool that he used for decades and many of his students have desired this for use with their own students. Working with Mr. Jacobs, we developed the Variable Resistance Compound Gauge using a similar gauge developed for use by respiratory technicians.

The gauge for the original cost over $300 (in 1960). The key to the reproduction was to make it affordable - the primary cost of this tool being the gauge. Rather than

Video - Compound Gauge (mp4)
 developing expensive molds or using computerized lathes, the pipe is hand-made of inexpensive but sturdy delrin. While not having the cosmetic perfection of more expensively produced pipes, this is just as functional at a fraction of the cost.

In the use of the gauge, inhalation should be emphasized for both air volume and time. First, cover the two largest holes and inhale and exhale until the meter shows 40 (inner dial) on both sides. Do this as slow as possible trying to maintain 40. After resting a few minutes (to avoid hyperventilation) cover the largest hole and one of the small holes. Inhale and exhale  until the meter reads 20. Finally, the three smaller holes are covered, exposing the largest and the inhalation/exhalation cycle is repeated. Try to get the meter to 20. The key with these exercises is to concentrate on inhalation which should take as much time as possible before exhalation.


Peak Flow Meter

Peak flow meters are commonly used by asthmatics as an exercising device. It requires a flow of 60-880 liters per minute. Great for use with players low flow rate instruments to develop the skills of exhaling great quantities of air in a short period of time, a skill especially needed for playing in the low range.


Similar to the Inspiron®, the Triflo® is an incentive spirometer. It has three chambers with their own balls that requires air pressures from 600-1200 cc per second. Designed for inhalation, it can be turned upside down for use with exhalation. Great for studying the relationship between air flow and air pressure.



To determine a person's actual vital capacity, a test is given to determine how much air [in liters] can be moved in or out of the lungs in a single breath. These tests are given on medical equipment such as a respirometer or spirometer. In 1982, Jacobs introduced to the music world the Voldyne®, an inexpensive medical device that can give an approximate reading up to five liters. There are two chambers--the larger [right] is to measure the air volume and the smaller [left] for air pressure.

Video - Voldyne (mp4)

To use, place the tube between the teeth over the tongue so as not to obstruct the air passageway. Inhale with a fast breath, keeping the ball in the pressure chamber as close to the top as possible. Watch the main chamber for the amount of air inhaled indicated by the top of the disk. There is a marker to manually mark the amount of air previously inhaled.


Buzz Aids


The mouthpiece is placed in the Buzz Aid to add resistance while buzzing through it’s two holes. It can also be placed in the instrument’s receiver to simulate playing the instrument while buzzing. They are available for horn, trumpet, tenor or bass trombone and tuba



Mouthpiece Rims


Many mistakenly call rims "embouchure visualizers," but they have more uses than to observe the placement of one's embouchure. The real value is to buzz their lips without the use of a rim. We have developed trombone (euphonium) and tuba rims made of delrin that cost less than those made of brass. To isolate the lip's musculature, Jacobs cautioned students not buzz without a rim.

Video - Buzz without Rim




Use of Breathing Devices




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WindSong Press Limited
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Phone 847 223-4586

© Copyright 2014 WindSong Press Limited. All rights reserved. Revised: March 26, 2014