Can't Get Enough Air? Try This!

Wind players need to breathe to make sound, and there are many pedagogical methods related to breathing. I have been a part of classes and flute lessons where I've been told to take a deeper breath or get more air, but the whole picture wasn't necessarily included in how to take in more air. When enough time was available to breathe more slowly, I was able to get more air in, but continued to run out of air too quickly. So naturally, when the amount of time available to breathe was minimal, I ended up gasping.

What change has allowed me to take in more air and make longer phrases?

Re-training the brain to associate the inhalation with letting go.

When we begin a piece, we have all the time we need to take a slow, deep breath. However, if the inhalation is accompanied by increased tension in the muscles surrounding the ribs, tightening of the throat, or excess tension elsewhere, we're already starting from a place of panic and discomfort. This can lead to decreased resonance in our sound, which leads to technical difficulties and inhibition in expression and phrasing. When we make it to our next breath, we may feel desperate and gasp for air, and the tension and panic may continue to build.

Many instrumentalists have a habit of moving the arms upwards as if giving ourselves a cue. The extra tension in the upper body can prevent a natural breath that leads to a feeling of tightness. Try tensing the arms and taking a deep breath now. How does it feel?

Replace the instruction of "take a deep breath" with "release while inhaling" while watching the journey of the air. What is it like to take in air while releasing at the same time? 

Practice with an intention to observe what changes in the body when breathing. 

  • Do I add tension when I feel that I'm going to run out of air?
  • Is it possible to continue to let go through the phrase, despite feeling that I may run out of air?
  • What does it feel like to breathe when I instruct myself to "take a deep breath?"
  • What does it feel like when I observe the air entering the nose or mouth?
  • When feeling that I'll run out of air, where do I tense in the body?
  • What is it like when I let the abdomen release continuously when inhaling and through playing?
  • What is it like to release the gluteal muscles upon inhalation?

Having an intention that provides ease and comfort from the first breath can be helpful in alleviating performance nerves. If our thoughts get clouded or anxious as we continue through the piece, we can come back to this intention at any time.