Developing Breath Control

With any flutist, regardless of age or level, the first priority is understanding breathing. Breath control determines 100 percent of a flutist’s success with tone quality, phrasing, technique and intonation, so practice daily breathing exercises to develop control and capacity. Try these exercises.

Increasing Capacity

With the metronome set on a quarter note equals 60 mm, exhale for four counts, then inhale for four counts. Use all of your air on the exhale and fill completely on the inhale. For a greater challenge, increase the length of the exercise by one, two, three or four counts. Breath capacity builds to fit the length of the exercise.

Increasing Control

Since the flute lacks resistance, it’s important to control the release of breath through the phrase. The embouchure should be small and round, with firm corners and shaped like saying the word, “pooh.” It’s also helpful to think of blowing a kiss when forming the embouchure, with the bottom lip rolled forward in a pouting expression.

Controlling exhalation involves more than embouchure, and here are some helpful concepts:

  • Imagine diving into a pool and swimming from deep to shallow, rationing the breath from start to finish as you swim.
  • Remember good posture when practicing, with a relaxed, full chest of air to support the phrase. Never collapse the chest or raise the shoulders.

Building Confidence

Ten minutes a day devoted to developing breath control will improve a flutist’s phrasing, technique and overall confidence. When the breathing apparatus is working properly, everything is easier and better.

Don’t be afraid of taking breaths! Especially for young players, mark every breath and be consistent with choices. Irregular breathing leads to physical tension and bad phrasing. By practicing these exercises daily, breath capacity and control can be developed in any flutist, regardless of age or ability.

About the Author

Mary Karen Clardy, professor of flute at the University of North Texas in Denton, appears as a soloist, chamber artist and teacher throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America. A renowned author, Mary has published more than 10 books from European American Music, Leduc, Schott and Universal Edition. Her students are consistent prizewinners in international competitions and occupy prominent orchestral and faculty positions throughout the world. Visit www.mkclardy.com.

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