Flute Breathing Exercises
Breathing Exercises for the Flautist
Is there any musical sound lovelier than the pure tones of a flute? To play the flute can be such fun and so rewarding, but before you allow yourself to get into bad habits that are so difficult to eradicate, you need to regularly practise breathing exercises and learn to do it the right way. Being able to control one's breath, especially in those long notes, is essential. Control comes from the diaphragm.
How we Breathe
Before beginning flute breathing exercises, we need to understand how we breathe. When we breathe in, we are said to inhale and when we breathe out, we exhale.
Useful flute breathing tips include watching other people to see how they breathe. Then stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself. When we are at rest, we take short, slow breaths in, there is a pause and then we exhale slowly. Breathing more deeply is necessary for playing the flute, however a further breathing tip is: don't overdo it. If the level of oxygen in the blood rises too much, the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide is changed, causing the PH of the blood to be changed and this can lead to dizzyness. This is why breathing exercises and learning breath control is so necessary.
Clavicular Breathing: When some people take deeper breaths it involves the top part of their chest and you can see their shoulders lift. Air is only taken into the top third of their lungs. This is not good, in fact, it's the worst kind of breathing. It can lead to a lack of oxygen in the blood and this is not good for the whole of the body; it weakens our resistance to disease and especially to a lack of oxygen in the brain. It also leads to constriction of the muscles of the neck, muscle tension, headaches and general dysfunction in the upper cervical area of the spine. Don't do it.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: This is also known as 'abdominal' and 'intercostal' breathing. Deep diaphragmatic breathing delivers more oxygen to the blood and helps to detoxify the body; it helps the body to recover from any problems or diseases that have attacked it. Diaphragmatic breathing is by far the best for our health and also for the flautist. Let me explain how it is done in the following diagram.
This is the healthy way for everyone to breathe, including flautists. Actually we always use the diaphragm when we breathe. Basic flute breathing techniques depend on what we call diaphragmatic breathing and this could just as easily be called belly breathing. By controlling the diaphragm, we control our breathing and for good flute playing control is essential.
The Diagram: Look at the diagram on the right. Did you ever do something like this at school in Science Class?
The bell jar is the chest, the rubber over the base is the diaphragm and the balloon is the lungs. When the diaphragm is pulled down, air is drawn into the balloon, when it is pushed upwards, the air is expelled from the balloon. We need to know about this process so we can understand the importance of flute breathing exercises that help us learn to control our breathing.
The Breathing Exercises
- Get a fairly heavy book. Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and rest the book on your diaphragm, just below the rib-cage. As you inhale, the book (and your stomach) rises. As you exhale, the book is lowered. Practise this several times, breathing slowly so you learn to control what your body is doing.
- To learn more control, try doing the opposite: As you inhale, let the book lower and as you exhale, let it rise, pushing the book upwards. By doing this exercise you can learn to take deeper breaths and exhale steadily for longer.
- When we breathe normally, it is important to breathe through the nose as this helps to filter the air and also to add humidity and warmth before the air reaches the lungs. However, when playing the flute, we often need to take quick breaths as quietly as possible, so we must grab those breaths through the mouth.
- We often have long notes to play and hold. Standing up, grab a quick breath through the mouth, then blow out slowly with your hands just below your ribs and press your diaphragm against your hands to practise a long, smooth exhalation. Gradually extend the length of time that you can do this.
- To further practise a long, controlled exhalation, try blowing a candle flame so that it remains at the same angle for as long as possible. With practice you will be able to do this for longer, too.
Correct posture is really important for playing the flute. A correct posture aids good breath control. Make sure, whether playing sitting or standing, that your back is straight, your head erect, your feet flat on the floor, and that the flute is held horizontally, that is, at a 90 degree angle. This is vital. All the flute breathing exercises in the world will be for nothing if these rules are ignored.
Correct posture allows proper control of the air being exhaled, as you have been practising with the flute breathing exercises. With a slumped over or twisted body, a bent head and the flute at a strange angle, the air cannot pass smoothly out to do its job. The result is poor control and poor sound; it is detrimental for your body, too.
With these tips about good playing posture and well-practised flute breathing technique, you should do well. Enjoy your flute and have lots of fun!