Flute – Simple Breathing Exercises

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Flute – Simple Breathing Exercises


 

Flute – Simple Breathing Exercises

Margalit Gafni is the principal flute of the Israeli Symphony Orchestra, and describes herself as having a ‘breathing problem’, whether this is a physical condition or simply that she found breathing difficult I’m not sure. She opens the article by discussing her past teachers’ explanations of breathing that included making sure you know where you breathe and just take a big breathe and then take another one when you run out of air. I could relate straight away as I have often found the area of teaching breathing to be non-descript and not really helping me in my flute playing. So to fix this problem, she decided to go to a singer for some lessons, not on singing but on breathing, as she says she thought singers made breathing look natural and without strain.

Gafni disusses breathing in three ways- 1. To improve the process of inhaling; 2. To improve ability to control the air stream and 3. to improve the air capacity. She shares something she was doing as a flute player that I find myself often doing too, which is too hold the note until the last possible second, not allowing enough time to breathe sufficiently before starting the next phrase. She says we need to learn how to taper the note while still having breath left in our lungs, and to make the transition from the note to breathing smoothly. I found this description very useful in my own flute playing.

I found it interesting that in an article about breathing the word diaphragm doesn’t appear even once, whereas in my experience of breathing discussions it’s been all about the diaphragm. Gafni says that for her, this visualisation had her putting air in her stomach, but there’s food in your stomach, not air! Her teacher told her that we don’t have to take a breath, we have to simply accept air, and I really liked this explanation. I think we can spend so much time focusing on how, where and when to breathe that we make it far too complicated. Our bodies are very clever and have been ‘accepting air’ for years, so if we are out of breath and in that moment of desperately needing some oxygen, our body will take over and do exactly what we need it to.

I found this very releasing actually; I feel the pressure of needing to discuss breathing with my students and make sure they know how to breathe ‘properly’, but I haven’t got it all figured out myself yet to I fear I may cause more confusion instead. I’m still undecided, and realise that this is a part of teaching a wind instrument, but from reading this article I’m starting to think that perhaps we don’t need to harp on about it too much, but simply let the body do its job.

Gafni includes a list of breathing exercises she does to increase her lung capacity, and I thought they were all very useful. I have started using some of them myself and will start teaching them to flute students too. Overall a very inspiring and informative article.

 

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