Clarinet Breathing For Beginners

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Clarinet By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Clarinet
Last updated: 10/09/2017
Tags: breathing, clarinet

Good musicianship relies on many contributing factors, however, a teacher who does not stress the importance of posture, relaxation and correct technique is doing you a disservice. These factors are integral to a beginner's development. Without these basic groundings an instrumentalist will reach a plateau of ability and further progress will be considerably more difficult.

Before practising, it is a good idea to do some simple stretches to warm yourself up. Playing the clarinet takes a lot of physical effort, especially at the beginning and it is important to minimise the stress on your body. You should practise sat at a chair without arms. Later on in your musical life you may find yourself standing or sitting to play but at the beginning it is better to reduce any extra exertion. N. B – it is quite possible that you will feel light-headed at some point, as your body is unused to the amount of air you are expelling very quickly, so make sure you take a rest if you need to.

All clarinettists somewhere in their development will have heard of the infamous 'diaphragm'. This is to me, somewhat of a danger phrase. "Use your diaphragm, play from the diaphragm". In my education these words became over familiar and it was easy to take it for granted that I was indeed playing from the diaphragm. It is actually difficult to truly understand what is meant by the word diaphragm because it does not have nerves itself. All one can do to feel the diaphragm is discover what effect it has on the outside of our bodies.

Stand up and place one hand underneath your navel and the other hand at the same place on your back. Now think about where the breath comes from when we are breathing normally. Picture where it is coming from in your chest and how heavy it is;  for me it is quite high and quite shallow. What we want to do now is take a different type of breath from the pit of the area which your hands are outlining, a big heavy breath which should push your stomach out in front of you. This breath should feel completely different to the shallow intake and exhalation of normal breathing and you should feel like you suddenly have a lot more air inside your body that needs to be expelled. If you are doing it correctly you will feel movement behind both hands on your stomach and back; this is your diaphragm muscle.

When you tense the diaphragm you should feel that the area underneath your stomach and above your pelvis is noticeably harder. Be aware of this feeling because now that you know how to breath in, you need to know how to breath out. Try letting the air out in a slow and steady stream and attempt to push with the muscle voluntarily. The air has to come out in a steady and open stream, so keep your throat open, shoulders down and chest relaxed otherwise the sound coming out will be thin, gargled and strained. Tense the diaphragm muscles but make sure this does not make you tighten your upper body whilst letting the air out slowly. If you can feel the air coming out from high in your chest then remember how it felt to be aware of the diaphragm and try to push it out with the lower muscle that you felt earlier.

Another exercise to try is to take a thin piece of paper and place it against the wall. Stand up and take a breath in as discussed above and release the air out against the piece of paper steadily. Try to hold it against the wall with only your air stream and without your hands. At first it will be difficult, you will notice that the paper will undoubtedly fall to the ground if you try to use your normal breath but that you will be much more likely to keep the paper up if you breath the other way.

These small ideas are a good basis to keep in your head throughout your development as a clarinettist. Do not worry too much about the word 'diaphragm'. When a teacher tells you to use it they are reminding you to take a big breath of air from the diaphragm area and to release it with pressure whilst maintaining a relaxed passage for the air to travel through. If you are conscious of these elements when you practise then this will become natural within time.

Katie Elisabeth Stevens Clarinet Teacher (Birmingham)

About The Author

My varied musical worklife has enabled me to understand that learning and playing music can come in many different guises. I strive therefore, to give space to my teaching so that it should obviously respond to everyone's individuality.

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