A musical way to reduce stress

At a course I was on recently, I learned that when we breathe in our heart-rate increases and when we breathe out it decreases. So a useful technique for reducing stress is to exhale slowly following a sharp intake of breath.

It is possible to do this as an exercise, but I find it requires considerable discipline. So an obvious approach would be to play a wind instrument. Since I used to play the trombone, I considered that. But I no longer have one and, besides, people tend to notice when you’re playing. The trombone isn’t the quietest of instruments. On the other hand, it does require a fair bit of air to fill it, hence my present lung capacity.

So in theory, the best way to go about stress relief using a wind instrument would be to select one which requires a lot of air. And the obvious candidate would be – yes, you’ve got it! – the Sousaphone.


Photo by TAZphotos via Flickr Creative Commons

Unfortunately I don’t have one of those either, and in any case the neighbours would notice that even more than the bone. Yet if only I had one what couldn’t I achieve? I could set up a tribute band playing old Temperance Seven numbers and call myself the Reverend Rod for purely promotional, as opposed to devotional purposes.

Leaving such fantasies aside, I think of the flute. It takes more air than you might think to play the flute since you need two flows of air – one into the instrument and the other across the mouthpiece. I used to have a flute but don’t any longer, so an alternative had to be found. I sashayed into various music shops till I located what I was looking for – a tin whistle, also known as a penny whistle. (Life being what it is, there isn’t an ounce of tin in it: it’s made of brass and costs a bit more than a penny.)

The whistle is small, but you can hold a note on it for a long time, hold several successive notes for a long time. It beats just breathing out. But – and there is always a ‘but’ – the whistle comes with a problem. A flute has keys, so closing holes as you play is fool-proof: let go of the key and the cap with its pad closes each hole and no air escapes. Perfection itself. But the whistle has no keys, so unless you cover each hole COMPLETELY with the appropriate finger it will – and does – emit horrible screeching noises. And covering each hole completely is harder than you might think, especially with the lower notes.

So now we have these ghastly noises and they have an effect – they increase your stress level. Well, that worked, didn’t it! But we learn to look on the bright side. You can’t win them all, but with practice you can surely win some.

4 thoughts on “A musical way to reduce stress

  1. I take it that Sousaphone thing is the instrument you have to wear before you play, like at funerals in New Orleans?

  2. I never knew that! I do breathing exercises when hoping to fall asleep or generally to calm down, but I never knew about the difference between the in and out breath. There is an unused French Horn (daughter) and an unused Saxaphone (husband) in the house. But I suspect attempting either would have the same stressful results as your penny whistle.

    • I know nothing about the saxophone, though I assume it’s easier to get a note out of the French horn, which I seem to remember has a small mouthpiece and is not the easiest intrument to play. I don’t find playing the whistle so stressful really, though I still hate the squeaks. But they are fewer in number as the weeks pass. I restrict myself to tunes I can play on the fiddle, but nothing too demanding.

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