5 ways to Effortless breathing for flute playing

By Jade Bultitude
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Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas day weekend relaxing with family. I know this has been another challenging holiday season with many of us having to isolate due to new covid infections and so I hope you all managed to enjoy the day despite these challenging times. 

These past two years have been difficult and now with infection rates rising once again I have been thinking about how we can keep our flute playing healthy. Particularly if you have had covid and it has begun to affect your breathing for flute playing, and lets face it, most of us have had covid by now! Due to the isolation from other people as well I have seen, not only myself by also many of my students be knocked out much worse by the normal cold. 

Being able to breathe freely and easily is hugely important as a flute player and if you have ever tried to play the flute whilst having the common cold you will realise just how much harder it is to play! If you have experience covid this could be so much worse. So, this holiday season I have been focusing on breathing exercises and activities to improve mine and my students lung capacity. Here are a few of my favourite exercise by this is by no means an exhaustive list!

1. Work on creating a smooth and controlled breath

books, books flute playing, breath control

Using a heavy (ish!) book, lie on the floor and place the book on your abdomen near your diaphragm. Using slow and controlled breathing watch the book move up and down as you breathe in and out. This is a great visual practice to do to help you control your breathing. It will help you to develop long slow diaphragmatic breaths that really fill your lungs. 

2. challenge yourself

challenge yourself, flute playing, flute

It is also great and very beneficial to mix up the exercise we saw above. Try seeing if you can make the book rise as you exhale and lower as you inhale. This is opposite to what your body naturally wants to do and so it can help you take deeper breaths and exhale with a much more steady stream – perfect for flute playing! 

3. use your flute case

flute case, flute playing

We can also do a similar exercise using our flute case up against a wall. This one will create slightly more pressure for your diaphragm as you will lean into your flute case and actively use your diaphragm and abdominal muscles as you breathe in to push yourself away. This again helps you to be more aware of how your breathing works but it will also improve the control in your breathing as well as the strength in your abdominal muscles. 

4. Time your breathing

clock, time your breathing, flute playing

This exercise is great as it specifically targets improving your lung capacity. To start with, we keep it simple. Set your metronome to crotchet = 60, this is the exact time of the second hand on a clock so if you do not have access to a metronome then just use the clock! Breathe in for four counts, hold this for four counts and then blow out in a steady stream for four counts. Gradually increase this to eight counts and then begin extend the length of time you blow out for!

By doing this you will find that you will more effectively use your air, particularly when it comes to playing those long flute phrases! For best results and to keep you motivated record your results. How many counts did you breathe in for? Hold for? Breathe out for?

5. Practice yoga

yoga, yoga to improve flute playing

Another thing I enjoy doing is yoga. Yoga has a huge focus on breath with movement and this applies so well to our flute playing. Even just a short 5 minute yoga session is hugely beneficial to your flute playing and improving your breathing. It is also nice to do something that isn’t strictly flute practice that you know will benefit your flute playing! Keeping calm is also vital for good breathing, remember any tension will automatically make it harder to play and so yoga will also help you with this!

Braces can affect technique too, see this article for more information. And if you are music teacher check out our guide to teaching breath control here.

How do you practice your breath control? There are many more exercises out there and I would love to hear what you do to improve your breathing for flute playing!

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Jade is an experienced musician and teacher as well as being the founder of Music Theory Foundations. She has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.