Bonnie Simon Talks to Jessica about the Flute and Breathing
Breathing is the key to mastering long, beautiful phrases on the flute. Breathing seems simple. You do it all the time without even thinking about it. But when you play an instrument you have to learn a whole new way of breathing.
First of all, most of us only use a small part of our lungs to breathe. Partly it is because we often slouch and partly because we have never thought about how large our lungs really are. Without raising your shoulders, try inhaling so much that you can feel the bottom of your lungs fill up. Your ribs will expand and your stomach will stick out. If you relax even more when you try it again, you will discover that you can take in even more air. Now try to slowly inhale as much air as you can and then slowly exhale. Do it a few times, but not so much that you feel dizzy! So I begin by saying that much of how well - or not well - you play the flute will have to do with just how well you breathe.
Well, it's fine to say that breathing is the key to great playing, but if you just put the flute up to your lips and blow out that gigantic big breathe coming from the bottom of your lungs, chances are that nothing will happen. Why? Your embouchure...
Embouchure! "Ahhm-boo-sure" It is French. "Em" is French is "in" and "bouche" is "mouth." Your embouchure is the way you form your lips when you play a woodwind or brass instrument. With the flute, you are blowing into but also across the mouthpiece. This is easy for some people to get a sound and a complete mystery for others. In addition, you have to control all that air that you now have discovered in your lungs. If the hole made with your lips too large too much air escapes rather than going into the flute. If it is too small, well not much happens in the way of sound.
Now we have you standing (or sitting) up straight, relaxed, breathing deeply, and thinking about the shape of your lips. Time to pick up the flute. Hmmm. Most people when they imitate someone playing the flute put both hands up in the air with their fingers pointing towards them. Wrong! The left hand fingers point toward you and the right hand fingers point away from you. Now line the mouthpiece up with your mouth and - well, it may feel a little awkward at first, but that doesn't last long, and remember RELAX. You can't breathe properly if you are tense. A good exercise while not even holding the flute is to fill up the bottom third of your lungs with air. You should feel your stomach and ribs expand and push forward and should not feel your chest rise until the very end of your breath. It takes concentration!
The flute is a great instrument. Very handy to carry with you. A beautiful sound that can carry above an entire orchestra. And don't forget, many of the world's greatest flutists are men!