A correct deep breathing technique is essential to playing any wind or brass
instrument, but there are many misconceptions surrounding the way to breathe and
what parts of your body are doing the work and what you should be doing in order to
support the airflow. And when I say support I mean a way of producing a constant and
equal airflow that will produce the best sound on your instrument. A good analogy
would be blowing the flame of a candle and keeping the "bend" of the flame constant
as you blow across it rather than one quick breathe which blows the candle out.
Personally I was always told to support using the diaphragm, but actually this is
impossible as the diaphragm deflates as you breathe out.
So what does the diaphragm do...? the muscle contracts and pulls downwards when
we breath in, and returns to its original position when we breath out. Obviously this is
a difficult theory to teach because we don't have X-ray vision and can't see what's
happening inside our bodies while we teach someone or are playing our instrument.
And this is where the misconception arouse from. The diaphragm really isn't that
involved in breathing when playing a wind instrument, it's actually an involuntary
muscle, we have no control over it at all! So how you can you possibly support using
The truth is that the diaphragm is used on the inhale and the abdominal muscle group
is used to support the air on the exhale.
To find out if you are breathing correctily place your hand on the 'spongy' feeling area
just below the V of the rib-cage. This is essentially the top edge of the abdominals.
Then simulate a short, loud cough, or laugh. You should see and feel the muscle jump
outwards along with the sound.
Next take your instrument and play a note that only requires one hand if possible (G
on the sax, low C on the clarinet, middle C on the bassoon, etc.) Then place your free
right hand back on the abdominals, pushing in slightly, and feel what it does when
they play the note. They should feel the muscle pushing steadily out against the hand.
There is one thing you have to be aware of when learning this deep breathing
When you push with your abdominal muscles your entire body tenses up and this
tension particularly affects the throat and jaw, closing them off so that the air does not
get through properly and you get a strangled sound.
So you need to be aware of being relaxed everywhere but your abdominal muscles.
This may take some practice.