When breathing normally, people usually inhale through the nose and exhale using only the lungs. For woodwind players, this type of breathing can limit abilities. They cannot maintain notes for the desired length of time, and they cannot adapt to some music written for other types of instruments. Circular breathing, a method that allows one to exhale and exhale at the same time, could open up more possibilities for these musicians. Although this method is relatively new to western music, circular breathing has been practiced in other cultures for centuries or longer; perhaps the Aborigines in Australia were the first to practice it. X Research sources
Learning the Circular Breathing Method
Inflate your cheeks with air, then inhale and exhale through your nose. What you’re doing is building a second source of air that can be used when your lungs run out of air.
Even if you look like a squirrel, a more positive analogy is to imagine yourself as a human air bag, and your cheeks as a puffer.
Exhale the air you hold in your mouth. Keep your jaw closed, but make a small opening in your mouth, and use your cheek muscles to slowly push the air out. Continue to breathe deeply through your nose. Control this movement so that it takes about three to five seconds to blow the air through your mouth.
Experts have different opinions regarding this step. Some suggest keeping your cheeks inflated all the time, refilling them frequently with small amounts of air from the lungs. However, others suggest that it is more natural to let the cheeks return to their normal breathing position as the air is expelled from the mouth.
Experiment with both methods to decide which is more comfortable—and effective—for you and your instrument.
Switch to exhaling using your lungs as the air in your mouth runs out. Since you’ve been breathing through your nose the entire time, your lungs should fill up again once the air in your mouth is exhausted. You can change where the air is coming from by closing the palate.
Inflate the cheeks with air again. You should do this just before the lungs run out of air so that you have time to fill the lungs again while you use up the air stored in your mouth.
Repeat this sequence continuously. Once this process goes smoothly, you’ll never again have to pause to catch your breath while playing your instrument.
Practice the Circular Breathing Technique
Practice spitting. Spitting out a thin stream of water can give you an idea of this breathing technique, partly because water can be seen while air is not. Spitting while breathing in a circle will also give you a closer idea of the force you need to produce the sound on your instrument.
Fill your mouth with as much water as possible.
Inhaling and exhaling through your nose, spit the water into the sink in a thin, uninterrupted stream.
Use a straw. Pursing your lips around the straw will resemble an embouchure when you come into contact with the mouthpiece for playing a musical instrument, so it’s a good way to practice. Place the straw in a glass of water, and follow the steps for circular breathing while trying to blow the air in a way that will produce a constant flow of bubbles.
Voice. Circular breathing was probably first developed for playing the didgeridoo , and is mostly used to produce long, continuous notes. Teachers who teach how to play this instrument suggest that voicing it can make this process much smoother.
Make a loud “HA” sound as you move from air in your cheeks to air in your lungs.
Try your mouthpiece . Blowing through a straw can help with this breathing technique, but you still have no idea how it sounds. With just a mouthpiece , you’ll know if you can produce sound without having to worry about resonance or quality first.
If you hear a clear cut off sound, you might wait until one air source is completely exhausted before switching to another. Switch from mouth to lungs and vice versa before the source you are using runs out of air completely.
This exercise is also useful because it will give you an idea of how hard you must hold your lips for the technique to be successful.
Using Musical Instruments
Use your instrument as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you have mastered this breathing technique in practice to apply it to a musical instrument. The only way to improve your skills in this breathing technique is to practice it directly. So attach all parts of the instrument as soon as you can produce sound using only the mouthpiece .
Practice little by little. Don’t start with complete music, or even songs. Instead, start by maintaining single notes, then move on to easy, repetitive exercises. This exercise will allow you to continue to perfect the circular breathing technique.
Some registers will make this exercise easier than others. You may find it easier to start with exercises that reach the higher ranges of your instrument.
Practice little by little every day. Circular breathing can be exhausting at first, both mentally and physically so you may find it difficult to do it for long periods of time. However, that doesn’t mean you only need to practice occasionally. Instead, try doing three exercise sessions each day for a few minutes each as you learn this breathing technique.