Have you ever stopped to notice whether your breathing experience is different when your instrument is in playing position versus when you're not about to play?
The key physical difference for me is a tighter feeling in my chest and abdomen when my flute is on my face.
When I'm not about to play and my flute is down, my breathing goes back to being natural and automatic.
Why do I experience these symptoms when I'm about to play?
Fear, expectations, perfectionism...
The feeling of tension comes and goes in varying degrees depending on how I'm feeling, what's on my stand, or whether or not I'm about to play on camera or for another person.
I've also noticed that visually, having a flute up seems to block my view of anything below my chin, and this has a way of clouding my awareness of anything below my chin.
Suddenly, the easy, whole-body feeling becomes restricted, and I'm hyper aware of my upper body when the fear that I may not get enough air takes over.
The Quest for a Natural Breath
In order to translate naturally free breathing to my ready-to-play position, I've utilized a variety of poses while practicing to find comfortable, free breathing:
- A generous bend in the knees
- Bent over at the hip joints to free the abdomen
- Standing on one leg, bent forward
- Laying on the floor
- Squat or Dugout Position
All of these encourage my abdominal muscles, back muscles, and arms to feel free, allowing efficient breathing, open sound, and the ability to play longer phrases with ease.
However, they aren't necessarily something I can call upon in a performance when I'm likely to need them the most.
(But if I could lay on the floor in the middle of an orchestra for the Afternoon of a Faun solo, I probably would!)
The Simple Trick
In order to translate the naturally free breathing that occurs when the flute is down, I decided to simply breathe while lifting the flute to my face, and once it was there, just start playing.
I am certain this idea has been shared with me before, but I just recently realized how significant this is for maintaining a more naturally free experience.
I didn't need to actively free my chest and abdomen, they were simply free to begin with and stayed that way as I began playing!
Inhaling felt like no work at all.
I was no longer doing, taking, sucking in air. It was naturally a full-body experience, and I had plenty of air and great sound while playing.
Give it a Try!
Have you noticed a difference in how it feels to breathe?
Take a breath without your instrument in playing position.
Notice the chest, the arms, the neck, the jaw, the abdomen, and so forth.
- Next, bring the instrument up as normal, and take a breath as though you're about to begin playing.
Is there a difference? What do you notice in comparison to the first breath?
- Finally, bring your instrument back down, then inhale while lifting to playing position.
Is this a different experience? Has your awareness shifted? Does the length of you inhalation increase?