Having Celtic ancestry, Bronwen has a love of music and until recently she played her flute in her church Band.
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!
Sir James Galway
Questions & Answers
Question: Is there any special diet to be taken to increase the breath in addition to these flute breathing exercises?
Answer: A healthy diet is always applicable, but for improving breathing and breath control physical fitness, such as exercise and swimming are helpful, especially holding the breath while swimming underwater and aiming to swim longer distances on the one breath.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on November 02, 2012:
bluebird: Thank you for that. She's so very talented and attractive, too. Wouldn't it be great to have a gold flute?
bluebird on November 01, 2012:
Now you can see her perform without having to do a search:
Sharon Bezaly plays a 24K gold Muramatsu.
bluebird on November 01, 2012:
Check out Sharon Bezaly known as "God's gift to the flute". She can really inspire, watch her on youtube. Was so pleased to see her perform last year, she's created her own breathing technique which is quite unique which makes her a very accomplished flautist playing long, long runs seamlessly!
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on November 01, 2012:
Sushma Webber: Thank you. Your article was great, too.
Sushma Webber from New Zealand on October 31, 2012:
Hi Blossom, really good article. I am going to add a link to it on my 'How to do Breathing Exercises' article. I especially like the detailed explanation about diaphragmatic breathing.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on September 26, 2012:
nifwlseirff: Thank you for reading this hub, too! I do know what you mean about the need to control the breath if you haven't played for a while. It's not fun getting light headed. I guess you'd need more air for a bass clarinet and that would make a difference also.
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on September 25, 2012:
Diaphragm breathing is important for all wind instruments! And more so, the larger you get. I love the sounds of alto flutes and shakuhachi. Even though I played bass clarinet for many years, picking up the flute (for fun) meant I had to pace my short practice sessions to avoid becoming lightheaded!
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on August 16, 2012:
AudreyHowitt: Yes. As a young adult I learned singing, so I already knew about the importance of breathing correctly. Very handy.
Audrey Howitt from California on August 15, 2012:
So much of this is also applicable to breathing for singing--nicely done Blossom!
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on August 06, 2012:
teaches12345: I've never managed to master stringed instruments as I'm left-handed, and I guess I'm pretty ordinary with the flute these days, but it's just so great to be able to make music. Do you still play an instrument?
stars439: You have a flute? Great! Enjoy - and the breathing exercises are such an important part of the playing. Blessings.
stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on August 06, 2012:
Wonderful hub. It will help me to play my flute. GBY, and thank you dear heart.
Dianna Mendez on August 05, 2012:
I could never master this instrument in band class, it was heard to learn the breathing techniques. Now after looking through your advice, it makes more sense.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on August 04, 2012:
I played, and still do once a month in one of our church bands. I'm pretty rusty these days, but still love being able to join the group. I had a great teacher, Audrey Walklate, and she really emphasized the importance of breathing exercises. I learned some, like you, in Pre-natal classes and I guess these things continue to help in general health.
Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 03, 2012:
Wow, you must have been a music teacher or played the flute yourself to be so knowledgeable! This is very well-written and insightful as to breathing techniques. The only time I learned about breating techniques was during labor. Ha. In His Love, Faith Reaper
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on August 03, 2012:
BeyondMax: It really is a kind of science; I think music and science are linked to a degree - then come the dynamics. Just as in the Olympics, practice makes perfect and does pay off in the long run.
BeyondMax from Sydney, Australia on August 03, 2012:
Wow, this is like real science! So much work to be done, takes my breath away (literally, talking about breathing) =) But in the end, it pays off in a good way =)
Bronwen Scott-Branagan (author) from Victoria, Australia on August 02, 2012:
Thank you all for your helpful comments.
Mollymeadows: Like most things, it takes practice.
Jackie Lynnley: It's never too late to start, and very satisfying to do.
whowas: Yes. So many people hold their flute pointing down low and it's really not good for the air-passage or posture.
Frank Atanacio: Bless you for your comments.
unvrso: I love to hear the pan flute - it has such a haunting sound. Yes, the transverse flute needs a certain embouchure. I love the pure sound of the wind instruments.
always exploring: It's so good for our general health.
shara63: I'm glad it was helpful. Happy blowing!
Farhat from Delhi on August 02, 2012:
Thankyou BlossomSB for this valued information!
flute blowing includes to my hobbies.....i love it for its sweet & melodious sound and lungs' exercise adding to health, in bonus!
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on August 02, 2012:
Deep breathing is very important, i forget to do it sometimes..Great tips here..Thank you..
Jose Juan Gutierrez from Mexico City on August 02, 2012:
I learned how to play the pan flute in high school. I did not have any trouble playing it. Later, I wanted to learn to play transversal flute, but I came across an air instrument known as Quena, which found it difficult to play because of the lip arrangement and the air blown.
Applying the breathing techniques from this hub will help me how to breathe correctly, and play an air instrument in the future. Voted useful!
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on August 02, 2012:
thanks this useful tip type hub bless you
whowas on August 02, 2012:
A very clear account of the key breathing exercises that any flautist should make a part of their regular training program. Breathing and posture, as you point out, go hand in hand and are both essential to master in order to enable the competent flautist to be fully in control of the sound of the flute. Interesting and informative hub.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 01, 2012:
This is great, my bandleader wanted me to play the flute but I wanted to play drums and I owned a clarinet I was supposed to be playing so shamefully I did nothing. Great exercises still!
Mary Strain from The Shire on August 01, 2012:
Blossom, I always wondered how people who played the flute managed their breathing. This is interesting!