Circular breathing in classical music

Many wind players wish they could stretch out their breath to make very long phrases and luckily there is a technique that makes it possible to play for a longer period of time without interrupting the airflow. This technique is called circular breathing. For many wind players it sounds like an impossible thing to breathe and blow at the same time. I am convinced that anyone who can breathe through the nose is able to learn circular breathing. It doesn’t cost much to learn the technique. I can teach you circular breathing in 30 minutes. After that it takes some time to familiarize yourself with the technique.

If you can use circular breathing, when should you use it? I think it is important to take into account the natural breathing of the piece. A piece needs to breathe. I once listened to a recording of a flutist using circular breathing in Bach’s partita. A fantastic performance, but the breaths were very loud and the natural phrasing of the piece was gone. So choose the places to breathe wisely.

One of the few pieces where I sometimes use circular breathing is Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino. I will discuss my thoughts with some examples.

The first phrase of the piece is long. You can use circular breathing here. I suggest you use circular breathing in the first note. Remember to use circular breathing when you don’t need it. If you need to breathe, you’re too late.

Here I use circular breathing in the trills just before letter D to keep the phrase going and this way you can really make a big crescendo. I find circular breathing in trills easier and less noticeable. So if there is a change I use circular breathing in trills.

I try to use as little circular breathing as possible in classical music. And when I use it, I really take the phrasing into consideration. Remember that the audience is breathing with you, even if they don’t know it. You don’t want your audience to feel uncomfortable. First of all, work on breath control and the capacity of the lungs. Use circular breathing just when you need a little help to make the music more beautiful.

If you want to learn circular breathing, check out my videos on my website


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