Too much concentration?

August 22, 2019, 4:17 PM · In my "studio" working on Bach and my heart starts pounding, getting a bit lightheaded and suddenly I realize, I'm not breathing! Put down the violin, deep breaths, and all gets back to normal. (FWIW: This has happened before but I never realized I was holding my breath.)

Just wondering if I'm the only person who does this? Perhaps I just have to concentrate a bit less.

Replies (23)

Edited: August 22, 2019, 5:04 PM · Not at all. Can you explain further what really goes on?
Not in music or in any other hobby or activity I do, I get lightheaded or forget to breath.
August 22, 2019, 6:08 PM · It's not because you're concentrating too much, but because you don't pay enough attention to your breathing while you practice.
August 22, 2019, 7:39 PM · George, that has never happened to me in 53 years of playing the violin, and honestly it sounds a bit concerning. In your shoes, I'd be calling my doctor.
August 22, 2019, 8:23 PM · You need to sacrifice some ability, for a while, in order to focus on continuing to breath while you play.

I have had TWO adult students literally pass out in my studio in the past, due to the same reason. They stopped breathing, they were pressing the violin into their carotid artery, and they were tensing their whole body. Both of them I was able to catch and bring back to consciousness.

Since then I've become *much* more acutely aware of whether or not players are breathing enough, particularly beginners.

Edited: August 22, 2019, 9:52 PM · Erik makes a good point. While you're working on breathing, make sure you don't squeeze or tense any part of your body when you play as well.

I'm usually good with staying relaxed, but I let myself get very stressed during a particularly difficult string of recording sessions recently and unknowingly started to squeeze. Not only did my fingers become very stiff, but I hurt my left triceps (in conjunction with an arm workout I did earlier, but still). It took a week for it to heal, and for the first few days, twisting my arm into playing position was uniquely excruciating.

August 22, 2019, 11:02 PM · I think basically the answer to your question is Yes. I suggest just dailing back the intensity of the stuff you're working on for a couple of weeks so that you can use a little of your bandwidth to make sure you're not tensing up anywhere (Cotton makes a solid point there), and that you're standing (or sitting) comfortably, with good balance and overall posture, and that you're breathing normally.

I once attended a master class with some skilled teenagers and during one hard passage the student was sawing away and the pro yelled "BREATHE!!!" at her, so it's not just you.

August 23, 2019, 12:35 AM · Erik is right, pressure on the carotid artery in the neck does cause symptoms of dizziness. Massaging the carotid artery activates the parasympathetic nervous system and through that it lowers the heart rate. It actually happens to every one of us. If the right place is massaged. So this is a thing of not to be tried at home. Parasympathetic nervous system also lowers the breathing frequency.

Violin is often played standing up and standing up for a long time can in itself also lower the blood pressure in some people. I cannot stand for longer periods as I get dizzy. This is quite normal for some people.

To the op. Find your pulse spot and check that the violin does not massage it. Try practising sitting down if standing makes you out of breath. Some prefer sitting down, me and my daughter included and I dont see the harm in it, as long as the position of the spine is correct, after all Perlman plays sitting down, so standing up is only a convention. We have different bodies that function differently,

Edited: August 23, 2019, 2:21 AM · Try writing "breathe" at the end of each phrase of music. It's what singers and wind players do
Edited: August 23, 2019, 2:47 AM · Sorry to be so negative, but I agree with Mary Ellen. I had a heart attack 7 years ago and breathlessness in some circumstances was a forewarning of it. Attributing it to concentration is possibly a kind of denial, or rather, it can be a dangerous camouflage. Get checked out. Obviously you may be right, but, as they say, it's better to be safe than sorry.
August 23, 2019, 3:01 AM · In my early days on the viola, in a difficult piece, I actually marked breathing marks in my score: out and in.
August 23, 2019, 5:41 AM · Yes, this happens with me too. When I am really trying something hard and concentrating I may "forget" to breathe. To me this seems not so unusual but perhaps it is? I knew I was special :-)
August 23, 2019, 5:45 AM · Concentration requires oxygen..... You need to Breath...
August 23, 2019, 8:26 AM · Thanks to all for your responses.

I have been checked over a lot lately by MD's and there is no indication of heart problems. Also, I am, an aerobic athlete (tandem bicyclist).

I think I'll post some reminders. I have that ability to block out everything while concentrating, not just on music, which makes it easier to read in public places, get things done in noisy places, et cetera. However, that may be working against me. Often others have to nudge me to get my attention when I'm in the depths of concentration. Frustrates my wife, but she has learned to deal with it.

Edited: August 23, 2019, 3:48 PM · Let us all hope that those little cells in medulla oblongata will nudge you on time.
August 23, 2019, 9:17 AM · I suppose what you can do about this might depend on your goals.

Because I suffered a rather debilitating lower back injury (tennis accident) when I was 27 I have subsequently done all my practicing and most of my playing sitting down. The only playing I have done standing was for solo performances and actual rehearsals for them (over the intervening 57 years that has not been a lot of standing and playing).

I think I save a lot of breath not standing when I play and totally concentrate on playing. Be sure to check your breathing during rests.

P.S. Of course I would have sat to play cello anyway, but most of my playing these many years has been violin and more recently viola.

August 23, 2019, 10:42 AM · Piggybacking on the previous posts...

I used to do this a lot, though not to the extent that you have experienced George.

I would inhale then start playing, then seemingly forget to exhale and take another breath. It took a bit of practice to recalibrate this tendency. I had to put giant commas in between phrases (and at rests) to remind myself to breathe for a long time. Now it comes a lot more naturally. I also learned that my tendency to do this was proportional to the material that I was "very serious" about, which in turn created tension (mental, physical) when practicing the material.

I like Paul's suggestion to go to lighter weight rep for a while to establish healthier breathing patterns while playing.

August 23, 2019, 12:21 PM · I have a similar issue - but not with playing but when I concentrate on deep thinking for my work (scientist). However, I have noticed that this only really happens after breakfast (I like to work after being fed at a diner) so I suspect there is a dietary factor.

Do you find this occurs whenever you practice or particularly at some point in the day? If that is the case, you might be able to reduce it significantly by changing your routine.

Edited: August 23, 2019, 12:55 PM · I don't forget to breathe but sometimes I wonder if I forget to blink. Turns out, it's a thing.

August 23, 2019, 1:49 PM · I do that too Paul! No breathing, no blinking - if I didn't bow they might wonder if I was dead...
August 23, 2019, 3:01 PM · You might be freezing during the fast passages. --Scales on long tones, full slow bow-stokes. Inhale on the up-bow, exhale on the down-bow. You want to do this until it becomes an unconscious habit.
Or, if you are in a school, take some voice lessons or join the choir for a while.
August 23, 2019, 3:46 PM · Hi Everyone,

A quick follow-up. I worked on exactly the same Bach piece, only this time I added paying attention to my breath to the list of things I'm focusing on while playing. I caught myself holding my breath a few times in the particularly challenging sections, made myself inhale and exhale while playing.

It does help to know that I'm not the only violinist who does this. I just have to pay more attention, particularly when I'm working trough challenging passages.

August 23, 2019, 6:20 PM · Elise, one thing is for sure -- I don't seem to forget to eat. LOL
August 26, 2019, 1:38 AM · Kodaly music method (which is singing oriented) has lots of early lessons teaching a preliminary phrasing concept with breathing and hand gestures.

The very first person to teach me violin as an adult beginner (not a trained teacher, just someone in an English tutorial) applied this very literally, having me breathe in and out along the phrase, toward and away from the climax. Sometimes she pout a hand on my diaphragm as well as my bowing elbow (Yes I was still at the diagonal bowing stage).

While my intonation was shocking, I remember my flatmate remarking that it all sounded very musical, if only I could tune out properly, so I think her strategy may have been a good one, and maybe worth using to attach your breathing I instinctively to the music.

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