Musings on Learning Music



Getting Started: Stretching the Intercostal Muscles


I’ve been breathing for ____ (file in the blank) years! Why do I need to practice it???

Most of us, especially the older of us and those who stare at a computer screen all day, breath very shallowly. Learning to breath deeply and fully gets more oxygen to your brain and other cells/organs.

The first step in this fairly monumental learning task (and it is a big task - I’m not being flip), is to get your intercostal muscles (the ones between the ribs) stretched out like they used to be so that you can make use of your full lung capacity. How do you do that? By practicing what feels like over-filling your lungs. Read on...

Sit up/stand up as straight as you are able; feel the top of your head reaching for the sky. Take a big breath, trying to get it into the top part of your lungs, hold it (just a couple of seconds), then take in more air on top of that (!!), hold it and let it all out slowly. Take a few normal breaths and repeat. When you repeat, feel the stretch in your upper chest as you take that second “over-filling” breath. Be careful that the movement in your upper chest is from the air filling your lungs, not from your muscles moving your shoulders up to your ears.

Do that 5 times, 2 or 3 times a day. Don’t do it too much or you will have sore muscles! And, always take a few normal breathes in between each over-fill, so that you don’t hyperventilate and faint!!

As with any muscle work, this stretching process takes months, not days, and of course, you don’t feel much change at first, so there is very little reward as you are starting the exercises. I’ve been working on this for about 2 years in yoga class and in my practicing, and just recently, I’m noticing that I am able to play phrases almost twice as long as what I used to be able to do. And, I have better control of my breath when going for high notes, vibrato, slurs, dynamics and tone changes! Well, huh!

The diagram below comes from https://www.therespiratorysystem.com/glossary/intercostal-muscles/
The site has interesting information, but be careful that you do not randomly click on links - there are MANY ads that can look like part of the information page.

Notice how the rib cage expands UPWARDS as you breath in.

Intercostal muscles



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