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Breathing Warm up

Here are some notes from the live breathing warm on my YouTube channel. I used the melody from Mussorgsky's Night on a Bare Mountain as an example. The video can be viewed below and the handout PDF is available here:

Warm up - 23 March 2021
Download PDF • 82KB

Good breathing technique is essential for a beautiful sound. Here are some exercises I talk about in the video above to help achieve your best sound.

Exercise 1: Focus on the exhale

In Alexander Technique, we are taught that the inhale takes care of itself, so that we allow a breath in, rather than forcing it in. When we exhale well, the breath comes in by itself. Another way to think of it is that the exhale is active and the inhale is passive.

Try placing your hands where your ribs are. Notice that your ribs go quite far down and it is worth noting that wherever you have ribs there are lungs, which gives you an idea of how big the lungs are and how much space we have to breathe. Another important aspect about breathing is that about 70% of your lung space is in your back.

Breathing is three-dimensional so we want to access all that space and feel what happens when we breathe. So, with your hands on your sides, start with a breath out and empty your lungs of air. When you get to the point where you are feeling empty, simply wait and feel what happens. So if you don't do anything, you will breathe. Do you notice how springy it is when your air just comes back at you?

Repeat the exercise, but this time breathe out on a hiss ("sss"). Aim for that nice reflexive breath and elastic quality in the movement of the ribs. When we try to force the air in or tighten muscles, we lose that nice springy quality and the air cannot come in as freely.

Exercise 2 - Visualisation of the breathing apparatus.

Place your hands together and make the shape of a dome, so that your elbows are down (imitating the ribs and the diaphragm). As you inhale, flatten the dome shape and allow the elbows to come up. You can imagine the air shooting in like it's going into a big bowl. Then as you exhale, the elbows come down again and the hands form a dome.

On the flute

Play a long note and focus more on how you blow out. When you get to the end of your breath, all you have to do is wait and let the air come in. Feel that spring of the sides,

front, and back. So we constantly have a sense of the breath being three-dimensional like a big balloon. Then do the same process on the next note, a semitone lower.

What did you notice? Observe the quality of your breath without judgment.

Now try the same exercise an octave higher. Feel free to use vibrato or not.

Mussorgsky melody

Practice the skeleton of the melody. This basically means to simplify the melody so that we are left with B A G and F# as long notes. By doing this we can practice how we release the air with a sense of direction and phrasing, but without the worry of all the notes. You can experiment with singing and playing the skeleton at the same time.

This will help the sound open up.

You can also practice the skeleton with harmonics (think a 12th or octave lower for each note). This helps with identifying any inconsistencies in air speed or direction.

Be careful as you add the notes of the melody back. Keep that ease of air exchange you had when you were breathing without the flute. Think about your head poised on top of the spine, so as the shape of the melody goes up and down, we don't allow ourselves to be pulled out of our center. Start with a modified skeleton, introducing a few more notes before the whole melody. Focus on your exhale with calmness in the body. If we only focus on playing it one breath and compromise the quality, we've missed the point. Focus on the means whereby, i.e. how you use your body in order to breathe well.

Enjoy warming up with this beautiful melody. Follow along with the video and handouts above and feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I will be doing similar blogs for the other warm ups I have done.

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