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Cello Lessons: Breathing

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Playing cello can be a stressful,
scary experience sometimes, but
it's really important to develop
a relationship with your instrument that
is rooted and calm, and we're gonna do
this through some breathing exercises.
I learned these in college and I still
find that whenever I need to relax,
the best thing I can do is just play
cello slowly, focusing on my breathing.
In fact, I was so nervous the day that I
got married, that the only thing I could
think of to do to relax was I played 15
minutes of scales before I left the house.
It's kind of nerdy, I know, but
when I show you this exercise,
you'll understand what it provided for
me at that time.
So the important thing when we're
breathing, when we're playing obviously,
is to breathe.
I mean we could go years
without playing cello, but
we can't go nearly as
long without breathing.
So you want to be able to breathe fully,
even while you're playing the cello.
So the way that I like to
practice this is in a scale.
And I'm gonna actually
take a full inhale and
exhale in between every single
note of the scale, okay.
So I'll talk through one or two notes, and
then I'll demonstrate one octave for you.
So first, let's go,
we'll play in E flat major.
And I'll do this with a drone,
always to be listening for
intonation, but
also cuz it kind of helps set the mood.
So with the E flat drone, I'll just
play the first note of the scale.
And when I get all the way to the tip,
I'm gonna freeze, and
I'm gonna release my hand.
My left hand releases, and
then the tension in my arm releases, and
then I'm gonna breathe in and out fully.
[SOUND] And I'm gonna hold my arms in
place even though the tension is released.
[SOUND] As I exhale my
shoulders drop.
And it's when my shoulders
drop all the way that I move
each hand individually and
play the next note.
At the end of the next note, I'll freeze
again and I'll release my left hand,
release the pressure of the string
off the finger board, and I'll let my
arm weight just kinda sink into the bow,
so that I'm not holding my right arm.
And again, I'm gonna freeze,
release my hands, breath in and out fully.
Really wanna make sure my shoulders drop
with the exhale, because it's when the
shoulders are dropped that we're at our
most relaxed point.
And so at the bottom of the exhale
when the shoulders are dropped,
that's the only time
that I'm going to move.
So I'm only going to perform an action
on the cello from the most relaxed
place I can be.
I'm gonna demonstrate
a full scale of this and
I want you to watch how my hands
release at the end of each note.
And actually, whenever I need to move,
I'll move each hand separately.
And it's about being very deliberate.
And I'll only move at
the bottom of an exhale,
when my shoulders are dropped and
I'm at my most relaxed point.
I'll play one octave
Start with
an exhale for
the first note.
can be set
Moving the hand,
set the mood.
I already feel
better, and
you probably
may have
noticed that
the depth and
pacing of
my breathing
even changed
within one
octave of
So while I'm doing that, I am thinking of
releasing the weight off the left string,
the left hand, but actually kind
of letting the right arm sink into
the string, so that I'm not holding.
And I want you to practice this yourself.
It'll really help you relax,
really help you feel rooted at
the beginning of a practice session.
You can do this in any key, obviously.
But you can do one octave, two octaves,
three or four, as much time as
you wanna spend doing this.
The really important thing is with every
exhale, to drop your shoulders and
only move from that most relaxed place.
After you work on this, you know, for
a few weeks and let it change your life,
there's a couple variations that I'll just
talk through for you with this exercise.
After you stop between every
single note and breathe,
you can play two notes and then stop and
do the same breathing exercise.
If you go through the whole scale
playing two notes at a time, and
then three notes, and then four notes,
eventually you start increasing
the amount of things you do from that most
relaxed place at the bottom of the exhale.
And after maybe you've played like a whole
octave of the scale in between breaths,
then you're pretty much ready to be
able to do your breathing exercise
without actually stopping playing at all.
And that's the ultimate goal is to be able
to play whatever piece you want to play,
and be breathing fully and really
dropping the shoulders with every exhale.
This is a very meditative
relationship with the cello.
And it can be the most
relaxing part of your day.
I personally really notice
when I don't play cello,
I actually become a little antsy in life.
And sometimes when I'm
feeling a little stressed,
the best thing I can do,
is actually just practice cello,
because I've been doing this
kind of exercise for many years.
And so I've developed a relationship with
the instrument, where just sitting with
the instrument can help me relax, and get
me back to this place of rooted breathing.
And I hope this exercise
makes a big impact on
your relationship with the cello.