Meri’s Musical Musings

Roots of breathing problems in playing wind instruments

Posted on: April 4, 2009

Some wind players complain that they have little endurance. Most endurance problems can be traced to several types of poor breathing habits: whether they breathe from the nose, poor embouchure, breathing from the neck, shoulder lifting, not knowing where to breathe in the music, choking off the sound at the embouchure or waist, and holding undesirable tension.

 One possible root of breathing problems in playing wind instruments is whether students are breathing through the nose or the mouth while playing. Some wind players, particularly young ones, tend to breathe through the nose while playing. This means that they do not take full breaths, because taking a full breath through the nose is extremely slow, wheareas breathing through the corners of the mouth makes it possible to take a full, quick breath.

 A second possible breathing problem in playing wind instruments is embouchure. If students are using an incorrect embouchure, it leads to difficulties in taking a quick, full breath. Not only that, but many students have embouchures that are too tense and too tight, pinching off the air and making it difficult to breathe properly.

 A third possible root of breathing problems in wind instruments is whether students breathe from the neck or whether they breathe from the belly. If students breathe from the neck, they are not able to take in a lot of air, whereas they would be able to take in more air if they breathe from the belly, or feel the sides and back expanding.

 A fourth possible problem is whether students are lifting their shoulders while playing, often while breathing. Two ways to check for this is for the teacher to place their hands on the student’s shoulders while they are playing; if the student’s shoulders push against the teacher’s hands, the student will become aware of that habit. The teacher, with the student, can also watch the way the student plays in a mirror, watching to see if the student lifts their shoulders while playing.

 A fifth possible problem is that students do not know where to breathe in the music, making them tense and nervous, causing problems with breathing. Show your students how to find suitable breathing spots in music that contains variable phrase lengths, and encourage students to mark breath marks at the beginning of the piece, at the end of a long rest, and at the end of each phrase.

 A sixth possible breathing problem in playing wind instruments is that some students unconciously choke off the sound at the embouchure or waist, particularly in difficult passages.

 A final possible breathing problem of playing wind instruments is the fact that many students hold excessive tension in their bodies. One sees students who twist their ankles, pull their neck too far forwards or backwards, lift their shoulders up to the ears, lock their knees, among other ways. When students are holding tension, they cannot take a full, easy breath.

 If music teachers become more aware of student’s playing habits, and are highly aware of how to correct them, and work on correcting poor breathing habits with students, it will make playing an instrument easier—and a lot more enjoyable.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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