Lesson 1 – Breathing
Ah, so you thought that this was gonna be hard? No way. The first lesson starts with something you’ve been doing everyday of your life: breathing. The question is, do you know how to breathe and play the flute at the same time? How hard could it be? I want to give you two simple things to think about, and two exercises to start with as you rethink the way you’ve been breathing all these years.
It’s simple, there are the two C’s of breathing for the flute: Capacity and Control
If you’re like me, then you drive your car around until the “gas light” goes on, and then you start looking for a gas station to refill. Well, if you breathe into the flute the same way, you’re in for a train wreck. So the first thing that we want to learn is how much capacity our lungs can hold. Everyone is different. Our bodies are different shapes and sizes, and I’ll bet that you are all in different states of physical fitness. But all that really matters is that you know your own body (you’re the one living in it after all).
Exercise 1a – “The Long Blow”:
- Sit comfortably, straighten your spine, arms at your sides.
- Take a deep breath, fill your lungs, in through your nose.
- Hold for a count of 3, then exhale through your mouth, like your blowing out candles on a birthday cake a foot away (yeah, go ahead, celebrate, you deserve it).
- On the third time, try to make the breath last as long as possible.
What did you learn? Did you improve the length of your exhale significantly with each repeat? Do you feel more relaxed? Did you tighten up your shoulders or breathe with your stomach?
Now that you’ve learned your lungs’ capacity, it’s time to think about the second “C”, which is control. Capacity, without control, just means you’re a blow hard. But put the two together, and you’ve got all of the elements to really strengthen your flute playing. With control, you want to learn all of the subtleties between a “whisper” and a “shout”. Try this simple exercise: In a whisper say “Hello”. Now shout the word “Hello”. (anyone answer you?)
Did you feel your stomach tighten when you shouted? You should have.
Exercise 1b – “Blowing Zen”:
Now, with a flute in your hands we’re going to attempt the second exercise. In this exercise, “listening” will be as important as blowing, because your ears are the feedback device for this exercise.
- Take a deep breath.
- Blow into your flute, gently as first (think whisper…)
- Increase the air pressure and volume as you blow (think shout…)
- Take a second deep breath.
- Now try to blow a constant tone (no wavering) from the beginning of the note until the end.
- Repeat as necessary.
What happened? Did your flute squeak when you blew hard? Did you notice that the tone was FLAT when you whispered into the flute and grew increasingly SHARPER (in pitch) as you blew harder? We’ll come back to this phenomena in a future post, but for now it’s sufficient to observe that your breath controls the pitch on a single note. Thus CONTROL is a critical skill to learn early in your playing.
What did we learn?
Well, first we learned that you need to figure out your body and your actual lung capacity. This will be critical to understanding if you have enough air to make it through a given phrase, and knowing when you can take another breath. Also, learning to control your breath while you’re playing will be the absolute most important skill to master early on your flute playing path. I would recommend that you begin every practice session with the two exercises above as a warm up period.