Jaimie Lee Mendoes - flute expert

How to Hold a Long Breath on the Flute

Learn how to approach long-breath passages

In this video, Jaimie shows you how to correctly approach passages from the flute repertoire where a long-breath is necessary.

Released on September 7, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, everyone. This is Jaimie Lee Mendoes, the flute expert on virtualsheetmusic.com. I hope everyone had a great summer. We're at that time again when we go back to school and work, unless you're like me and worked pretty much all summer long without much of a break. But, anyhow, I thought this would be a good time to touch upon one of the most foundational aspects of flute playing, which is breathing. I get a lot of questions from my students and also from audiences about my breathing, how I can hold a long breath. And I think they are more surprised when they see me in person, because I'm quite petite. I think I mentioned my height in one of the previous videos. But I am 4'11". So I think it comes off as something more shocking to them.

But, anyhow, before we go ahead and talk about how we can actually build up our lung capacity, I want to point out one thing. Everyone has different lung capacity to born with. Some people are just born with and they are just gifted that way, born with bigger lungs, and some people don't. Thankfully, I am one of those who are born with bigger lungs. As tiny as I am, I have a little bigger lung size compared to how small I am. So I guess I'm blessed that way in terms of playing a wind instrument. But that doesn't mean that people who have a smaller lung capacity should not strive for better wind playing or singing or running, for that matter. But if you really think about one of the greatest singers or wind players or even swimmers in the history, they say that they had a bigger lung capacity than normal.

So that being said, there are still ways that we can build up our lung capacity. And one of the ways, and I think this is very important, is working out. Really, any form of workout would help. But I would suggest any kind of cardio would actually help you to enlarge your lung capacity. I am an avid exerciser, you would call. I have been weightlifting for longer than 10 years. And I've done various different kinds of workouts, Pilates, ballet, weightlifting, running, and, you know, all sorts of different things, swimming. And I do them because I just love them. And I can just sit here and talk forever and ever about all the different kinds of workouts and, you know, what kind of things you should do depending on what kind of diet you have and all these things.

But this video is not about workout. So I won't go that far into that. But anyhow, any kind of workout, especially cardio, would help. Even if it's weightlifting, if you would do circuit training, which is you go just back and forth between different muscle groups without resting in between, that will be a good cardio for you. But really, jogging and running on a treadmill or out in the park, on the street, fast walking, you know, whatever form you would like, that definitely, definitely helps.

Second thing you wanna think about is how to really utilize what you have before we actually try to breathe in a lot of air. If we can be smart and really think about how we can maximize what we already have, I think that would definitely help.

So instead of using all of the air you have in the beginning of a phrase, just maybe conserve it a little bit better using your ab muscles and plus your embouchure, very tight embouchure so that you are not wasting a lot of foo foo air going all different directions. Then you can hold a longer phrase.

So, for example, in the beginning of Mozart Concerto No. 2, there is a long D that you have to hold until the first phrase ends. So if you were to just use all of air in the beginning... Well, see, for me, I'm already out of air. So I don't know if I can hold that long. But if you were to breathe well and conserve your air in the beginning of that phrase...

I'm shooting this video early in the morning, so I'm not in my best shape. But, anyhow, you get the idea. If you breathe in well and conserve the air in the beginning and don't play forte in the beginning and really tighten your embouchure so that you're not wasting a lot of air, then you can go a long way really.

In one of the Bach sonatas, it's in G minor in the second movement. Also, there are, I think, I forget exactly how many measures, but four or five majors of one single note that you have to hold, and it's a slow movement. So in that case as well, you want to start piano and conserve your air with your embouchure and a lot of support from your abs area. And then you can sustain that long, as long as really the phrase wants you to.

Now, if you really learn how to conserve your air, then also you can learn how to breathe in a lot of air in short amount of time. Now, this breathing in exercise, this is just one thing that I can just teach for an hour or two really. This is very important matter, so, you know, I can't really cover a lot in this short video. But one thing you want to remember is you got to use the whole body. Don't just think about your chest this way. If your chest is going up and down, that just signifies that you are not intaking a lot of air, inhaling a lot of air at a time. When you breathe, if you were to see me right now, see, my chest is not really going up and down. It doesn't go. It doesn't go this way. It's actually my belly growing.

If you were to observe any opera singers, actually, they actually breathe the same way. And this is something you really want to work on. And if you have a teacher or somebody who can watch you how to breathe correctly, then that would definitely, definitely help.

So if you once set to that kind of breathing pattern, then you can go ahead and practice how to breathe quickly in that short amount of time. This is quite a violent muscle movement, because all of your muscles in your abdomen and your diaphragm is also expanding very quickly and then going back to the position. So this is something you want to really practice really, really well for a long time.

I think it took me... Well, actually, my first flute teacher that I had had me just practice breathing for around six months. So that was a quite rigorous time for me. But, anyhow, that's how important breathing is. I hope in this short video, I was able to touch upon some of the key notes regarding to breathing and how to build your lung capacity. So first of all, don't forget to do some cardio workout. And second, try to think about really how to conserve the air you already have. And third, really work on your breathing exercises, which I can't really go too deeply in this video. But hopefully, you have somebody who can teach you, who can help you with these issues around you. Or you can always contact me through my website. And I can maybe help you maybe through Skype through just one or two sessions. But I hope this was helpful in any ways, and I will see you next month.
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