About a year ago, I started playing the flugelhorn. I didn’t even know what  a flugelhorn was (think Chuck Mangione) until a few weeks before I went online, bought a horn, and starting playing.  I’m a pianist, so blowing a horn is new to me.

But with the assist of a great teacher, Ross Hill, and lots of practice, I’m playing this flugel and having a great time.

Now breath is super important with the flugelhorn – no breath, no sound – plain and simple.  Plus, the longer you can blow with one breath, the more luxurious the lines you play.  But how do you develop it?  It didn’t come automatically for me.

A few months ago, Ross told me to play a particular exercise in one breath, instead of the way I usually do with a big extra breath in the middle.  I was certain it was impossible, but I gave it a try – and to my surprise, just one big inhale and I played through to the end.  Wow!  First time ever.  Had no idea I could.

Ross explained to me that the only thing that changed this time was that I intended to do the exercise in one breath.  It turns out, it’s all in the intention; if I intend to play it in one breath, I can and I do.  And the more I do that, the more breath I have and the longer my lines become.  But If I forget to intend for one breath, there’s no way I get through it without that annoying and unartful extra breath.  (Or even worse, my sounds just dies; how pathetic.)

Back alone in my practice sessions, I learned that I can do this exercise in one breath – but ONLY if I remember to intend to do so, before I get started.  If I forget, then mysteriously, my breath runs out way too early.

Learning #1:  Intention, in doing something new, must be continually renewed. It is a verb.

Even better, as I’ve practiced this new breath intention, over the course of a few months, sometimes I find myself playing the phrase in one breath – without intending to.  What’s that?!

Learning #2:  Habit is this beautiful moment when a carefully practiced intention becomes so ingrained that you start doing it without conscious thought. And that truly puts you on the path to mastery.

I’ve intended the one breath routine so many times that I can play long passages without taking a breath; it’s becoming a habit. My buddies I play jazz with on Sunday afternoons having been commenting to me: “Wow, that was a beautiful long note you just held” and the reason I can do it because I intended it over and over until it became routine. A habit. This intention verb and practice: a path to mastery.

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