The basis of a beautiful tone lies in proper flute breath control. The breath is the most important element of flute playing. Without it, you have nothing. Breathing is crucial for learning how to play the flute.
Breathing to play the flute is totally different from normal breathing. You must breathe in quickly, taking in a large amount of air. Then you exhale the air over a sustained period of time, pushing it out with your abdominal muscles.
Deep breathing is vital!
Think of breathing in so that your stomach expands all around your body, as if you want to hold up a hula hoop with your stomach. Now, exhale slowly, over a count of 30.
Let’s take that one step further. Pretend your air stream is a laser beam, a very targeted laser beam. That laser beam is going to burn a hole through the wall in front of you because it is going so fast.
Here’s another flute breath control analogy. Your air stream is a baseball player’s fast ball. He throws it as fast as he possibly can, let’s say 100 miles an hour. Make your air stream move at 100 miles an hour.
Pretend you have a hula hoop around your waist. You are trying to hold it up so that it doesn’t fall to the ground. Inhale and push out all around your waist–front, sides, and back–so that the hula hoop is wedged around your waist. In short, try to look like Humpty Dumpty.
One more analogy for flute breath control. Your air stream is like the water flowing from a garden hose. A tiny stream of water can be so forceful that it lands on the ground very far away. A slow moving stream of water just falls on the ground right out of the end of the hose.
Blowing on the flute is so easy compared to the other wind instruments. A mild puff produces a sound, puny and wimpy though it may be. You can’t do that on the trumpet or clarinet. That’s why I say that the flute is so easy to play, it’s hard to get a beautiful sound.
Flutists must develop the same supported air stream that other wind players need. The easiest way to see what this is like is to actually play on another instrument, perhaps a trumpet. Blow hard enough to get a strong sound. You will feel it in your abdomen! You will also feel lightheaded after just a short amount of time because of the increased amount of air you are using. This is natural and goes away with sustained practice.
Now play with the same strength on your flute. It makes the difference between a rich, full sound and the wimpy, puny, airy sound that most beginners play with.
After you have run a mile, your body naturally breathes deeply. Try running in place for a minute or doing some jumping jacks. Get your lungs pumping! Now play some notes on your flute. See the difference?
When inhaling, avoid tensing your neck and raising the shoulders.
Various tools are available to help you develop flute breath control.
For example, the Breath Builder Isomeric Exerciser is a is an isometric exerciser for the lungs and diaphragm muscles. The objective is to keep the ping pong ball inside at the top of the plastic chamber.
The Ultrabreathe ASI7492 Compact Breathing Exerciser is a device designed to boost respiratory performance.
When you have developed a strong stream of air, be sure it is not impeded as it leaves your mouth.
An open throat is essential for allowing the air stream to rush freely from the diaphragm and lungs.
Be aware of your posture when playing the flute, too. If your body is strained and tense, or your lungs are crumpled, you won’t have the beautiful sound you are striving for.
Develop better flute breath control through the use of long tones. Turn your metronome on as you play long tones and try to hold the tone longer and longer each time.
Another technique for improving flute breath control is circular breathing. While very difficult to master, circular breathing allows the player to sustain the air stream by breathing in through the nose to replenish the air in the lungs.
Flutter tonguing is another extended technique that requires lots of air and thus is a good exercise for developing good breath support.