UD#104 Ukulele and Breath

Posted on

UD#104 Ukulele and Breath
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek

I’d like to show you a little experiment that has been very useful to me and many of my students. It uses a procedure I adapted from an exercise by Kenny Werner. Kenny Werner was introduced to me by my friend Dominic Conway of Malleus Trio. Shout out to Dominic!

Here goes.

1. First, I get my student to play something. So, if you want to, go ahead and do that now. It can be a piece you’ve been working on, something you are “struggling” with, or a song you know very well. With or without voice is fine. Go on to step two when you are done.

2. Next, we do this little exercise which, I admit, might seem a little “out there.” But, if you are willing, give it a try. Please take your time with each step

a) Sit or stand with your ukulele.

b) Take a moment to notice that you are breathing. If you are reading this, I am almost certain that is the case. So far so good!

c) Breathe through your nose if possible. Notice what parts of your body move as you gently breathe in and out. Take your time with this. Be patient. Become curious. Don’t try to change your breath. Just observe. Do your ribs move as you breathe? Your knees? Your feet on the floor? Your shoulders? Your head? I wonder if you can sense your sit bones moving on the chair as you breathe. Hmmmm…

d) As you continue to attend to your breath, we will add one more thing: Play a random single note on your ukulele. It can be an open string or a fretted note. It doesn’t matter. Become interested in the sound of the note as you continue to attend to your breath and the movement and sensations associated with it. You can repeat the note as many times as you like as you continue to include your breath.

e) When you are ready, play another unplanned random note anywhere on the ukulele. No wrong notes here! Any string. Any fret is OK. Continue to include your breath in your awareness. The new note may have a surprising and interesting relationship to the first note. Notice that. And the breath comes and goes.

Go on like this for a while, playing random notes as you attend to your breath. Feel free to play multiple notes at a time, or vary their rhythm. Have fun. Stop after 1 or 2 minutes, or whenever you feel you’ve had enough. 

3. Finally, what I usually do in the end is have the student replay the music they played in step one of the exercise. Go ahead and do that now if you like. 

Feedback time!

How was it different playing the music the second time? What did you notice?

Many of my students find that it is very different to play after having done the breathing and random note exercise. They report feeling more relaxed, more capable of thinking, more in control, less rushed, and less troubled by perceived “mistakes”. And of course, this change of state is reflected in the quality of the music made. 

Some of my students don’t notice much of a change while they are actually playing. It’s kind of like, “So what?” For that reason, I’ll often record what they play the first and second times, so that they can objectively compare the two performances. Feel free to give that a try as well, if you like. 

Let me know how it works for you!

That’s all for today. 

Wishing you all the best. Good to be back at it. 


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!