2019 March Breathing and Support - FATB 3

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Playing Tips for Flute Players by Zoë Booth

Warm-Ups for Flute Players - Improve Your Playing by Exercises by Zoë Booth (published by Pipeblower Publishing, RRP £8.95)

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“I love the prescriptions for 30 minute and 10 minute warm-ups; it’s easy to work out which exercises to do with limited time.”

March 2019
This month: Breathing and Support

Welcome to my flute-playing free Hints and Tips Page; a new page is posted here on the first day of each month.

What beautiful, record-breaking weather we experienced at the end of February in the UK; luckily for Flutes at the Barns, musicians on our first course of the year could enjoy sitting in the sunshine for relaxing breaks amongst the fabulous and busy week of playing at our quiet retreat of Dale House in the stunning Peak District! A huge thanks to everyone involved with making it another FATB success, participants and staff alike; if you weren't able to come and want to see the photos and read more about this course, you can do so across this website. Also, February brought our second Flute Day on the theme of Time, Ties and Tempo, which might relate rather neatly to next month's practice tip focus on this page (see below)...?!

For now however, the focus is going to be on breathing and support. If you haven't thought about this much lately - or if your teacher hasn't mentioned either to you - that doesn't mean you can turn away from this page; combining these two techniques is a lifelong improvement with far-reaching benefits for our playing, and it's worth regularly returning to, whatever your playing level. First of all, let's think about how to support; here are some things to try:

- Pull in your core muscles as if you're about to do a sit-up; that's what it feels like to support
- Pull in your core muscles as if you're looking at yourself sideways in the mirror and want to appear thinner; that's what support feels like
- Use your tummy muscles as if you needed to brace for a punch or kick to the stomach; there's your support right there

and so on.

Now that we've found our supporting muscles, let's think about how much support we need. If you're bracing for an imaginary karate chop to the tummy that's probably a very physical feeling, and let's call that maximum intensity or 10-out-of-10. In flute playing we rarely need 10-out-of-10 or even 9-out-of-10 so relax and try and engage the same muscles again to about a level of 4 or 5. This is what your body and your core should feel like whenever you are blowing through your flute, and with more intensity for higher, louder and accented notes (and the piccolo).

Now, let's think about the cycle of breathing and support.

1. With your support activated, blow through your flute
2. When it's time to breathe in, relax the core first, then take your breath in
3. As you put your embouchure back together after breathing, also activate your support once more. Repeat the cycle.

One of the most common supporting errors - other than not thinking of it at all - is to not have the support in place as the playing begins again, so notice the detail in part 3 which addresses this. Of course, these three parts of the cycle don't take the same amount of time as each other; blowing takes the most time, breathing in should be done quickly, and setting up - in part 3 - should be done in a very small amount of time.

This month's exercise to download and play includes high notes which I've suggested you don't tongue; by "huffing" them, your ears realise that you need more support (careful not to tighten up in the throat) which encourages your supporting muscles. If you then play the same phrases with those strong muscles supporting the sound, you should be able to slur or tongue cleanly, maintaining your best tonal projection and focus.

Click here to open March 2019 Breathing and Support (.pdf)

I hope you find it useful to think about breathing and support this March; see you back here in April when we'll look into triplets of all types!

Happy flute-ing,


P.S. Please send your questions and comments to me at info@flutesatthebarns.com

Next Month, April 2019: Triplets

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