Breathing is complicated. Aside from the biological and neurological processes required to perform the physical act of breathing, wind and brass players toss in an added stimulus requiring careful pacing and manipulations of air to successfully perform on their instrument of choice. The seemingly simple act of taking a breath is compromised further by the obstruction of the tongue, a crucial element in the initiation of a musical phrase. How do we take an appropriate yet effective breath without disturbing the position of the tongue? The natural act of breathing away from the instrument typically requires one to part the lips vertically taking the breath from the center of the separated space. However, as Julius Baker shows us in the following video, there is a much better, alternative breathing procedure one may use when performing on a wind instrument. We may refer to this as “flex breathing.”
In the below video, legendary flutists Julius Baker and Jean Pierre Rampal perform the famous Doppler flute duet on the Robert Cavett Show. As the camera pans to Julius Baker (particularly around 1:45), we can see that Mr. Baker does not breathe vertically but instead flexes the sides of his mouth using a swift, yet silent “eeee” motion. This not only enables the tongue to remain unchanged in relation to the proximity of the back of the teeth but also allows the performer to take in twice as much air from two horizontal spaces rather than one vertical space.
For my younger flute students I sometimes refer to this as “frog breathing” as the image of a frog croaking is a akin to act of creating a flex breath.
Try this breathing technique with your own students or even in your own practice. Flex breathing has changed my approach to the flute and greatly improved the sharpness of my attacks. How does this work for you? Do you have a variation on this breathing technique that you find effective? Please share your experiences in the below comments.
Hi Rachel – You made a good point about Baker’s flex breathing. I wonder if you think he was also using every breath to stretch his lower lip and anchor it in place with the lip plate. This helps me when I need to play the low notes with an intense edge.
Hi Rick. I agree – Baker definitely uses flex breathing as a way to maintain his embouchure without disturbing the placement of the bottom lip. It is quite genius and very effective.