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Rethinking the Breath

The Sensible Flutist: Rethinking the Breath

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rethinking the Breath

Flutists are athletes. It isn’t uncommon to see flutists on stage impressing the audience with their huge sound or distracting physical movements as they try to take large enough breaths to sustain the musical phrase. Flute playing can be approached not as a physical task that must be conquered, but instead a physically freeing MUSICAL experience. Play music, not the flute.

Here are a couple of tips to free yourself from the physical ideas of “supporting” and “bracing:”

1) Focus on your spine when inhaling and exhaling the breath. The spine GATHERS on the inhale and LENGTHENS on the exhale. This isn’t how most flutists think about their spine. What happens when you start running out of air? You start squeezing the torso. If you play in opposition to the way your body naturally works, it will be harder to play.

2) Improve the quality of your inhalation. Picture yourself taking a sip of hot cocoa, and how you try to cool the warmth of the drink by sucking air in through your lips. This is how the breath should feel when you inhale. The lungs naturally expand, and energy is conserved because you aren’t forcing air into the belly. Practice this type of inhalation with slow scales such as Taffanel and Gaubert E.J. 4.

3) Tounge position really does matter. Most are taught to keep the tounge low in the mouth to allow the air to move freely. What happens when you place the tounge high, wide, and forward in the mouth and then play? If you do it correctly, you should feel that you use less air to get the volume and quality of sound that you want. Experimenting with this French style of tounge position really gives a remarkable ease to playing extremely soft.

Even if these tips go against all that you have been taught in your studies, experiment. If you struggle with breathing, what if one of these ideas gives you the “a-ha” moment you’ve been desperately looking for? Happy fluting!

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