Timed breathing refers to the rhythmic placement of the inhalation and the quantity of air inhaled. While brass players are typically exhorted to BLOW, perhaps not enough thought and consideration is given to the inhalation. The performance begins when the breath enters the body, not when it enters the horn.
The inhalation is much like the conductor’s preparatory upbeat: it indicates the style, tempo, and volume of the music to follow. If your next entry is to be soft and gentle, a slow inhalation sets the stage for a relaxed and delicate approach. An accented fortissimo calls for a rapid and forceful inhalation as if you were summoning strength and momentum for a punch.
The inhalation should relate to the tempo of the music. In a medium 4/4 tempo, inhaling on beat four will feel natural and allow a full intake of air. In a fast tempo, you might breathe over beats three and four. In a very slow tempo, the inhalation might come on the upbeat after beat four. The point is that the timing of the inhalation must be a deliberate action.
How Much Air?
Opinions vary on whether it is better to always inhale fully or whether to take in only the amount of air necessary to comfortably execute a phrase.
When the lungs are full of air, the body’s natural instinct is to exhale. This makes a case for always filling the lungs above equilibrium capacity, so that all one needs to do is relax and the air will naturally flow out.
On the other hand, if one were to take a deep breath prior to a single staccato note, a quantity of stale air would remain in the lungs that must be expelled. Also, taking in much more air than needed can lead to hyperventilation and dizziness.
On balance, it’s better to have too much air than not enough, but common sense has a role to play.
Timed breathing will reap dramatic improvement in the definition and consistency of your attacks and will give you the sense that you have more air available.