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 Post subject: breathing
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 6:30 pm 
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I've been back giving the flute another go the last couple of years and enjoying it greatly but i seem to have reached a stumbling block simply to do with my breathing. I take breaths too often and in a way that breaks the flow of the tune so would like to work on this. I've spent a great deal of effort on tone, volume and ornamentation with, i'd like to think, some success but have come to a bit of an impasse. I was watching a video of harry bradley playing and noticed he can play for ages between short breaths that don't disrupt the flow. I'm not expecting to get to that level of stamina any time soon but would like to make improvements. There's something i'm not getting, despite my watching youtube videos explaining flute breathing techniques. Any thoughts or advice that might be useful? Thanks, John.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:49 pm 
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I'm really not an expert, but had similar problems early on and found that I was putting more air into the flute than necessary - i.e. my embouchure wasn't focused enough. You might try practicing long tones with the quietest sound you can use that still gets a clear tone. In order to do that, you'll be forced to focus more. My two cents... (Probably worth about one cent!)

Pat

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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 2:15 am 
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Pat's spot on. If you work on embouchure, you'll improve your tone AND waste less air.

But the other thing is planning. Taking a breath in Irish flute-playing typically means leaving out a note. I've always struggled a bit with this idea but actually I know that if you choose the right notes to leave out you establish some phrasing in the tune, so it sounds more like a tune and less like an endless succession of notes.
Conal O'Grada taught me that when learning a new tune, the first thing to do was find all the places where you can omit a note in order to take a breath. There can be plenty of these as you should keep your lungs reasonably full. If you let them empty too much, your body starts to panic and things deteriorate. So it's really not about how far you can go on one breath; it's about keeping the lungs topped up with fairly frequent short breaths. The best players will vary some of their breathing places (and hence their phrasing) each time through the tune, thereby introducing some variation.
Hope this helps. I can't say I always manage it myself but that's what I aim for. Conal's excellent printed tutor explains it all and gives examples.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 7:53 am 
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I wholeheartedly agree with both suggestions, and long tones help build both embouchure and diaphragm. Playing harmonics is another great way to train for a more focused embouchure. And, in terms of actual breath control, think about your posture as well. Sitting up straight (or standing) allows for better breath control. It can be easy to slouch when playing at home in a chair.

It may also be that you're only taking breaths when you run out of breath - the trick is to take them before you need them. Cab hits it on the head: Don't play until you absolutely need a breath, take those top up breaths in phrases that allow for it naturally, so when you hit a soaring, long phrase you're not trying to get all your required air in one quick breath right before. I have realized that learning where to breathe in a tune is as integral as leaning the melody. Now I make sure to practice taking those "early" breaths as part of the tune itself so that it comes more naturally.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 10:50 am 
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This is all very helpful--where does one find the Conal O'Grada printed tutor?
I think breathing playing flute is an art and a good deal of what makes fluting interesting,
and I too would like to get better at it. Little sips of air. Haven't got up to doing
it in different places to vary the tune.

Playing high pitched flutes is a good way to improve embouchure, since they are
more demanding on it. Also I am getting a good deal of aerobic exercise. Long walks
at a good speed. I do think flute playing can profitably be viewed as an athletic
activity, and being aerobically fit helps a good deal.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 11:26 am 
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Try www.conalograda.com/store.

The book is 35 euros, plus, I would assume, shipping from Ireland, via post.

Whether the book is worth it or not is a question you'll have to decide for yourself - after you've bought it, of course. :) BUt I've read it cover to cover and think that the cd's alone are worth the cost.

John Dura

I don't have a witty quote to insert.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 5:58 pm 
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I agree that Conal's book is well worth the cost. It'll serve you well.

As for breathing, I also agree that developing your embouchure will help you waste less air, but there are also things you can do to help you support your breath longer.

Our natural way of breathing is to just breathe in and out, with nothing to regulate the outflow, it just leaves our lungs. The actual physical process is that in order to breathe in your diaphragm has to descend (which is why your belly protrudes a bit if you're breathing in properly -- the diaphragm is pushing down on it), and that creates a vacuum in your lungs, which causes air to rush in to fill it. Then when you breathe out, your diaphragm moves back up to expel the air. You can control this release in two ways: 1) by forcing the air through a very small passageway (the small hole formed by your lips), and 2) by using your abdominal muscles to provide constant pressure.

A good way to learn this is to hold your breath for a few seconds and then release it as slowly as possible (you can hiss or say fffffffffff) while contracting your abdominals. You should feel as if you're still trying to hold your breath but there's a leak. It's very similar in concept to how a bagpipe works: the air in the bag goes through a narrow opening (the double reed), and the piper provides constant pressure on the bag by squeezing it. Once the amount of air in the bag gets close to being not enough to maintain pressure, the piper blows or pumps air (a lungful or a bellows-full) so he or she can maintain constant pressure on the bag.

I had voice lessons once from a vocal coach (I did it not for singing, but because I was using voice-recognition software on my computer and was worried I'd develop voice strain). She demonstrated this technique by showing how she could, without taking an especially deep breath, talk nonstop for 45-50 seconds without taking a breath. She just made nonsense noises and went on and on, and by the time she was finished she wasn't even especially winded.

A good singer to listen to in this regard is Ella Fitzgerald. She had the most amazing breath control and impeccable phrasing -- she would take long phrases and always end them deliberately, never sounding out of breath. The flute player Garry Walsh recorded a reel on one of his CDs where he played the entire A part of a tune through twice and partway through the B part of the tune before he took his first breath. Those kinds of things are possible when you learn how to support your breath. By the end of a long phrase, your navel should feel like it's practically hitting your backbone -- your abdominals should keep contracting to maintain that steady pressure. Sit-ups are actually pretty good practice for this, as they strengthen your abs. My voice teacher taught me to never take a huge breath, but just take regular or ever-so-slightly bigger breaths than you normally do, and rely on breath support to carry you through to the end of the phrase.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:40 pm 
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Second sit ups.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 6:47 pm 
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thanks for the advice

here's a couple of attempts at a well-known reel and a jig:
https://soundcloud.com/theflutewannabe

if anyone has the time or inclination to listen please let me know your feedback/tips

thanks, john


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 6:51 pm 
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oh and aplologies for the annoying sustained note i ended each tune with


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 9:08 pm 
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Just took a quick listen and would like to make a couple of comments - again, I am not the best in the world (but I have taken workshops with some of the best, actually!). However, I do play in public with a local Irish trad band (Gallowglass, in Wheeling, WV), so I'm fairly well acquainted with the genre.

OK, the suggestions and observations:
1 - Your tone is really good, so I don't really think you have an embouchure problem after all (but I may be wrong).
2 - You really need to listen to a lot of flute players (I like Kevin Crawford, Matt Molloy (of course), and Grey Larsen the best) to work on your phrasing.
2a - If you can possibly do it, go to a workshop - I've done lots (Kevin Crawford, Grey Larsen, Ivan Goff, and more) - they can really help with your breathing.
3 - SLOW DOWN (until you really have the phrasing down) - my group actually tends to play slower than "normal" because we think it's really nice to actually hear the tune. We all (well, most of us) think there is too much "speed playing" in the ITM world.
4 - Look at the waveform of your playing - it's really easy to see where you're taking breaths. It shouldn't be so obvious.
5 - Take bigger breaths (as has been mentioned earlier) and take them quickly on the "off" beats.
6 - Try to get to some Irish music sessions, even if you have to drive a bit. Even a couple of them will get you on track and the folks that are there (if they're like the folks I've seen at lots of sessions both here and in Ireland) will be welcoming and tolerant (if you don't act like a jerk, of course!)

Again, what I hear sounds really promising - it took me a few years to get the tone I like and yours is pretty good right now!

Good luck in your journey!!!

Pat

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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2017 10:10 am 
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Yes, nice tone indeed.

Is your stamina the same regardless of whether you're playing a single note or a tune? I had never thought about this myself, but your post had me checking with a stopwatch - I can go about 11-12 seconds on a low G (an easy note to hold the flute with one hand while fiddling with the buttons on your phone!). While playing a tune, that went down to about 10 seconds, and even lower a few times when I had a long phrase followed by a short opportunity for breath. But that loss of a couple of seconds felt explainable by the context (not being able to take one large deep breath as with the single note exercise). I noticed you are breathing about 3 times every 10 seconds, which is a lot. But what if you just hold a single note? If you can go 10 seconds on a single note, it might be more of a mental adjustment in playing than a physical one. If you really have to breathe every 5 seconds on a single controlled note, then you need to build up that diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a muscle, and you can use the stop watch to track progress. Can you go 5 seconds today? After two weeks of consistent long tone work, is that 6 seconds? Or 7? It is so easy to ignore breathing and stamina exercises since they are, in no uncertain terms, not fun. Maybe using the stop watch can allow you to track a goal and progress and make it a little more interesting.

Quick update - after posting this, I played around some more with the stop watch. Playing a middle G, I went about 25 seconds - which shows what the tightening of the embouchure does for you. So maybe test this out in the second register instead of the first, since it will somewhat remove the embouchure variable. After doing that, I went back to the low G and focused my embouchure more, and was able to stretch the tone out even longer. It was sort of an eye-opener - not so much that I need 15-6 seconds of breathless phrasing, but it shows me I've got some lower register embouchure work to do! I'm glad those long tone exercises are so much fun.


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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2017 1:36 pm 
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There is a long ago thread on harmonics/overtones here (I think Brad Hurley) so I am just repeating earlier wisdom, but playing harmonics is a great way to "feel" in your lips what focus feels like, and thus to purposefully focus your tone. You can use flute harmonics as a search term to find articles from various flute traditions, many of which explain it better than I.

The idea is to play a first octave note, say D. Focus the embouchure to increase the speed of the airstream and you jump the octave to d (an octave higher). Do it again, and maybe blow across the hole a little more and you go up to a ( a 12th higher). Do it again and you can get to d' (2 octaves above where you started). Each transition requires a little more focus. Then go back down again (to a, to d, and then to D). You can combine this with long tones and get double the value out of one exercise. Once you get the hang of it, you can then work on a given notice to bring more focus to the embouchure without changing the note. The point is that changing notes allows you to know what "focus" is as a feeling, so you can do it on purpose. With practice you can get to higher harmonics, f#') and a'

To get back to your original question+focused embouchure means more efficient air use. If you have never been taught to breathe, consider a singing lesson and ask about "supporting the breath".

Hugh

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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2017 2:26 pm 
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It's already been said here in other ways, but I just want to emphasize that if your embouchure and breathing are right, there's no need for stamina. It doesn't even enter the picture. Forget stamina. Don't blow the tune; breathe it.

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 Post subject: Re: breathing
PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2017 3:37 pm 
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I agree with the musical notion (it's a tune, not a breathing marathon - and maybe my stopwatch exercise removed all notions of musicality from the discussion!), but I'm not sure if I agree that stamina is unimportant. It comes out in both the ability to play longer phrases (which allows one to make musical phrasing choices), and to be able to play for long periods and maintain strong tone. Without some stamina, isn't it hard to get the breathing right?


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