While some believe that Mr. Jacobs advocates a full breath, that is not precisely the case. He advocates a comfortable breath, or about eighty percent of ones vital capacity. Determining a person’s vital capacity, (or their lung volume in liters) can be done by measurement or by estimation based upon a person’s age, height, weight, and sex. After measuring this, Mr. Jacobs will then allow a person to fill to capacity and then play. They soon realize that this is a sensation that they are unaccustomed to, because they have been breathing regularly at a level which is nowhere near full capacity. Instead of focusing upon the high, middle, low, or even the yogi breath, Professor Jacobs turns to the scientific and the measurable. The point he argues is that it is important to suck in and blow out as much air as possible, and let the body worry about where it is going.
Here again, he emphasizes the goal and does not try to regulate the function (such as the placement of the air). According to him, the anatomy of the lungs does not support the theory that the air should go into only one area or prefer to go to one area first. This refutes not only those teachers who advocate a low breath first, but also those who insist that your chest not move as you expand-the former idea does not follow the path of the bronchial tubes, and the latter restricts ones ability to suck in air. Support is another misconception which Mr. Jacobs says is largely responsible for students preoccupation with pressure and misdirected muscle tension. “Blowing breath is support” he says, “not muscle tension in the body, but movement of air. Support at the mouth,” (where air passes the lips and can be felt) he would say and, “not in the stomach.”
If one blows out as far as one can and then relaxes, some air is drawn back into the lungs. Similarly if one inhales as much as one can, and then relaxes, some air will escape. This resting lung capacity of zero pressure is the point between the two extremes. If one takes a complete breath, then the natural relaxation pressure (the tendency for the elasticity of the lungs, gravity’s downward pull on the chest, the diaphragm’s natural recoil, and the equalization of pressure) is at its greatest. As the air escapes, the pressure reduces gradually until one gets below the point of resting lung capacity where greater air pressure is required to move the air.
Active effort in exhalation is only required when the oral pressure required is greater than the relaxation pressure. Thus the less pressure required, the greater portion of the breath that may be used. If great pressure is needed, a lesser percent of air can be used until the relaxation pressure is less than required. (As relaxation pressure decreases, internal pressure increases with a steady tone held at a given dynamic). The most effective range of capacity at which one operates comfortably, as advocated by Mr. Jacobs, is between 80 and 25 percent. Below 25%, one gets into the negative respiratory curve, and greater pressure is required than is desirable. Mr. Jacobs encourages his students to breathe a lot (it’s free) and to avoid dipping below thirty percent where they would have to work too hard and use more pressure to move the air.
Arnold Jacobs combines years of professional playing at the highest levels, interaction with some of the greatest performers of our time, and an expansive and lifelong scientific curiosity, with the knowledge of psychology and human nature which an experienced teacher often develops. As a result, he has constructed a remarkable and comprehensive pedagogy that is as simple as it is successful. By employing several insightful and innovative concepts, and focusing on the fundamentals of wind and song, his approach offers a philosophy which can find use far beyond the studio.
“When David Brubeck’s ˜The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs” first came out, I was at Mr. Jacobs’ home. He was very impressed about it and had me read it on the spot. As usual, Mr. Jacobs was correct, it was an outstanding article that I eventually quoted half a dozen times in “Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind”. David Brubeck did a fantastic job and this is a must-read for anyone interested in the teachings of Arnold Jacobs.” Brian Frederiksen
Originally published in the TUBA Journal, Fall 1991 Volume 19, Number 1.
Photo of Arnold Jacobs courtesy of www.windsongpress.com
C. 1991 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com