If there is one thing that is certain, it’s that it is imperative for a flutist to learn everything possible about breathing. Many times there simply isn’t space enough between notes in a passage to take a breath, and this is a real problem. Learning how to breathe quickly between flute notes becomes an art in itself.
The trick is all in the ability to get enough air into last until the next space available. Sounds simple, but I assure you it is not. Two things have to happen simultaneously, and these skills must be practiced separately to the point of muscle memory or it just doesn’t seem to happen… easily anyway.
I’ve always thought of it as a ‘catch’ breath.
First, the diaphragm needs to shove in quickly. Think of your belly button getting pressed on quickly. This helps to much in taking in a hurried breath because the motion of pressing on the diaphragm is what thrusts air up and out of the lungs. Picture this; when the ‘tummy area’ is pressed inward in a fast motion and then released just as quickly, a breath can be taken just then and just as rapidly. Read: the breath actually happens on the release of the stomach muscles as they relax back out.
The next skill that can be thought about and will really help you understand how to breathe quickly between flute notes is to really open the throat as the air is taken in.
I always tell my students to imagine their throat ‘tube’ is the size of a toilet paper roll, not a straw. Keeping the neck and throat muscles relaxed as a speedy (but effective) breath is taken in is key to being able to get enough air in to continue with the phrase in question.
Think of those times you have been bored out of your mind in a meeting or class. Sometimes you get kind of soggy feeling and don’t even notice you are drifting off. Suddenly your mouth flies open and you take a super fast yawn without any warning! This is the body’s way of keeping enough oxygen in your brain. For a flutist, we have to recreate this same feeling when there’s just not a space large enough between articulated notes to take a proper deep breath.
I’ve heard some teachers nickname this type of a breath. I’ve always thought of it as a ‘catch’ breath. It’s like you have to take in just enough, quickly enough, to keep caught up with the phrase.
You can decide whatever name you’d like to give it as long as you know how to execute it quickly enough and quietly enough to not disturb the music surrounding.
Another great thought for you flutists today!