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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2017 4:23 pm 
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sjpete wrote:
Without some stamina, isn't it hard to get the breathing right?

Well, here's my experience. First (and let's postulate that you have a good flute to begin with), right breathing and right embouchure are inseparable. We may think to analyze them separately, but where the rubber hits the road, it's all one thing, two sides of a coin. That said, there is a type of embouchure that concentrates and focuses the air stream in such a way that little effort is required even to play loudly. But you can't know that firsthand without agency of the breath, much less accomplish it - they're inseparable, remember? - so let's look at that. What I found - and this is simply a confirmation by discovery of what I've always heard from my betters - is that the thing is not to blow effortfully as if everything starts from from the mouth, but to simply breathe out, freely and unrestrictedly, from deep down where the breath originates naturally, the sensation of outbreath being firmly rooted only in the trunk and lungs, not in the throat or mouth. In fluteplaying, how much you breathe in is actually not as important as how you breathe out, and we'll get to that in a bit. There are two outputs, if you will: the diaphragm, which is the supply output, and the embouchure, which is the finer-tuned distribution output further down the line. The embouchure functions much like a transistor. It's like putting your thumb over the end of a hose: thumb and end are the embouchure, and the water flow behind them is the breath. The air jet that hits the flute's embouchure cut would be comparable to the water jet that emerges from where the thumb is; it's not that the water supply increases or decreases when you need more or less jet. That's the embouchure's job. It's been said, and I can confirm this, that when your embouchure is at an optimum, even playing loudly takes hardly more breath than it takes to speak. If you can do this, you're doing something right. Even though it controls the jet, the embouchure is actually relaxed, flexible, and finely operative. There's not so much tension, as there is just enough muscle tone to shape the mouth freely, not really so different than the muscle tone it takes to easily hold a pen lengthwise between the lips, just enough not to lose basic control of it. And that doesn't take much. Effort is minimal at best. Consequently, since there's no need for effort, breathing can be natural and unforced, because the supply it gives is sufficient for the purpose. Controlling the air jet's velocity and distribution against the cut is a function of the embouchure shape as it vents the steady pressure supply behind it, not in blowing harder. In this way the two work together, effortlessly. The intensity of the water jet from the hose is due solely to the thumb's positioning, neither pressing down any more than it takes to simply keep the thumb in place, nor in turning the faucet to adjust supply. Just as with the water behind the thumb, the air supply (or rather its fundamental rate of pressure, actually) should be a constant against which the embouchure operates in meting out an adjustable air jet. Obviously, then, the goal is to do more with less.

My guess would be that the more breaths one needs to take, the less developed the embouchure is. I'd lay money on it. The grievous error is in thinking that development means more effort. Rather, development means finding the way to non-effort.

During long periods of playing, my hands wear out sooner than my breath, which is to say not at all. Nor do the lips get tired. That's how it should be. But it's hard to describe exactly how one should do this, because each mouth, lung condition, and flute is different. All you can do is gauge how effortful your playing is. If it's effortful, try this. If it's still effortful, try that. If it's less effortful, you might be onto something. Pursue it and see. Making your mouth hard as if you're lifting heavy weights, though, is not the way. The irony is that we usually have to go through this process anyway until we find that effortless place where both embouchure and breath operate freely, without striving.

The less effort, the freer you are to pick and choose where, when, and how you take your breaths. If you have reasonably functional lungs, no greater stamina should be needed than you already have naturally. Good embouchure moves powerful playing away from being an aerobic, athletic event, and toward being one of surprising ease. This is a matter of fine technique, free of brute force. :)

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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 7:45 am 
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I agree with you completely, and nowhere have I suggested that anyone blow hard, and I hope I didn't come across as a blowhard...:) I think we are describing the same thing, you are just doing a generally better job of it - it is diaphragmatic breathing along with the embouchure/aperture that give you breath control, and that control allows for playing for longer periods of time between breaths (which some would call, if I may, stamina).

I was just trying to put this back in the context of the OP and the sound recording. I hear someone who does not sound he like he is playing with a wildly loose embouchure. That doesn't mean there couldn't be room for improvement (as for most of us), but he does not sound like a breathy beginner. And yet, he is taking breaths every 3-4 seconds, which is an extremely short period of time. So, why is that? Is it only the embouchure? Or is there a breath control issue here as well?

John, I would practice breathing some without the flute. Not regular breathing of course (which I hope needs little practice), but focus on your breath intake. Do you only feel your chest expand, or are you breathing all the way into your abdomen? It won't be that exaggerated when you play the flute, but if your whole abdominal area is not expanding when you do a focused breathing exercises, then you are not maximizing your breath intake - this means your tank is never full. If your abdomen area is expanding, then make sure you are practicing that same kind of breathing when you play, starting with long tones. And if you are sure you are doing that, then read all the good embouchure advice here (I'd boil it down to two exercises: long tones, harmonics).

Good luck!


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 1:30 pm 
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sjpete wrote:
...it is diaphragmatic breathing along with the embouchure/aperture that give you breath control, and that control allows for playing for longer periods of time between breaths (which some would call, if I may, stamina).

Yes. Except that rather than stamina in this case, I would simply say duration. To repeat myself, it's not a brute force thing, so the word "stamina" is off the mark, really, and it might mislead. It's the embouchure, not the breathing itself, that makes all the difference as to whether you're wasting that breath or using it best. To be honest, I personally would even reverse the word order and say that it's the embouchure supplied by breathing, just to put emphasis on the embouchure's overriding importance. Really, a good embouchure doesn't even require the best diaphragmatic breathing, either: I once saw a remarkable vid of Harry Bradley, I think it was, demonstrating this fact at a workshop. The tune he played was a fine, stirring march with great volume, sonority and long phrasing, and that was while he slouched against a chair to such a degree that he looked about ready to slide off. Frankly, I was shocked at such offhandedly bad posture from a fluteplayer. Deep breathing was pretty well out of the question in that position. Yet despite that, still there was that arresting tone and penetrating volume, and duration too, all as if it were nothing. Where did it come from? It looked impossible. By process of elimination, it should become evident that embouchure is the only logical conclusion as to how that worked. And for all I know, maybe that was the very lesson he was teaching at that moment, carelessly seated as he was. It brings us back to the hose-and-thumb analogy: With the thumb in the right place, even a meager outflow can be transformed into a far-reaching, energetic stream. The thumb doesn't push the water out; it simply vents it in this way or that, all in accordance with the supply at hand. It's the same with outbreath and embouchure.

Tone that seems good enough doesn't mean your embouchure is all it could be. An easy-blowing flute could compound the issue, and that's why some think such flutes can work against you rather than for you in advancing your embouchure technique. I don't know what kind of flute the OP has, so I couldn't venture to comment on that. What I can say for sure is that embouchure isn't just for tone alone. Working on the embouchure was the sole path that led to my being able to take fewer and fewer breaths to do the same amount of playing. It had nothing to do with stamina, if we are to use the word correctly; I'm a smoker, so I think we can take that into account. When I was starting out, all the better players I asked told me that for tone, consistency, volume AND duration, the embouchure is everything. With so many highly qualified people telling me the same thing, I took the primacy of cultivating embouchure as an article of faith, and indeed, in time, by constantly working on and refining my own embouchure, I saw for myself that it was absolutely true that embouchure is, in fact, everything. This is why I think that building stamina for better duration is an idea that is actually looking in the wrong direction. You can quit smoking and do all the sit-ups and breath exercises you want, but if the embouchure's not all there, it's for nothing.

If people don't want to accept this, that's fine. None of my business. But if you happen to ask me, you're going to get the same answer every time because I have no doubts about it. It's gone beyond conjecture.

I think some people either have an incomplete understanding of the range of issues that embouchure covers, or they prefer to avoid the matter because it's so individual, coming as it does with no hard and fast one-size-fits-all rules about how you get there, and that nebulousness can be daunting, so they hope for another way out. Or maybe the hard work invested in having gotten to where they are makes change emotionally difficult; change usually means getting rid of what you thought was right. Whatever the case, it remains that if you really want to advance in the non-fingering side of things, there's no help for it but to keep at exploring the embouchure, learn from what you find, and accept that there's always room for improvement - not just in the end product, but in HOW you arrive at the end product. No one said it would be easy. Embouchure, folks. Press on, and accept no substitutes.

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"An anti-lunacy gadget would be nice..." - Nano


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:20 pm 
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thanks for all the advice, i'm going to try to get the most out of my embouchure from now on and try to avoid the frantic obtrusive breaths i've been relying on


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