Breath Support

Research response to 1997 survey published in “Selected Pedagogical Practices of College Instructors of Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone”:

The study revealed that different overall air temperatures are effectively used on each instrument. Data collected for question 28 provide evidence that a cool air temperature
is best used throughout the middle and high registers of the flute, and that the lower register of the flute is best executed with a warm air temperature. In addition, when performing the clarinet, a cool air temperature is advantageous and for saxophone, a warm air temperature aids in instrument response.

Additional research, experiential observations and suggestions:

-breathing, in general, is similar on all five woodwind instruments; however, the woodwind doubler must become accustomed to the different levels of air resistance (back pressure)

-when inhaling, drop the lower jaw while resting the instrument on the lower lip (maintain contact of the instrument with the lower lip and not the upper teeth/lip

-on Clarinet, a more pressurized air column is required compared to the other four woodwind instruments; as one would expect, air support/pressure increases with louder dynamics and decreases for softer passages; for best projection, the lower register of the Clarinet requires more air pressure than for the throat tone and clarion registers; air pressure in the altissimo register requires more pressure

-in order to achieve the best possible breath support on all instruments, the weight of the body should be equally distributed over both feet when in a standing/playing position; furthermore, the feet should be positioned slightly apart and your legs should not be in a locked position

-when in a seated position on Flute, the body/chair position should be slightly turned to the right of the music stand, this allows for the body/head/shoulders to naturally turn back to the center of the stand in order to align the body for best breath control/support

-on Saxophone, and similar to the Clarinet, air support/pressure increases with louder dynamics and decreases for softer passages, however the overall air pressure required for Clarinet is greater than Saxophone

-on Saxophone, lower register notes require less air pressure but more air volume (accomplished through more open oral cavity and throat positions); palm key and altissimo register playing requires an increased air velocity

-I find that on Saxophone an overall warm air temperature is beneficial; whereas on Clarinet, it is best to use a cool air column; for Flute, try using a warmer air column in the low register and a cooler air column in the upper registers for increased response.

-on Flute, a common problem is a loud/rough tone, which is most often attributed to over-blowing; it is also important to use a smaller aperture for third register passages in order to concentrate the air flow, allowing for the top octave to respond well

-to improve breath control on all instruments, especially on Flute (which does not involve the back-pressure of the Clarinet and Saxophone), the practice of conserving/expelling air is helpful – simple exercises such as breathing in for 4 counts (quarter at 50) and expelling the breath (while playing long tones and harmonics) over 8 to 12 counts is helpful

-A breathing exercise I find helpful: lean shoulders against a wall; walk feet out from wall about 3 feet to form about a 25 degree angle (back should not be resting on wall); practice for several minutes in this position, which encourages proper/deep diaphragmatic breathing