Flute Breath Support

Flute Breath Support

Recently got a flute.

Initially, couldn’t get a sound out of it.

Now, I can get a decent tone that I’m continuing to develop.

My question is this:

I find that I can get a tone that I’m happy enough with, so I try playing some tunes. However, I seem to run out of breath much sooner than I would on the whistle.

Should I be focusing the breath stream (use less air) or developing greater lung capacity / diaphram support? Or something of both?

I’d appreciate any guidance on what to focus on as I continue practing and learning. Thanks.

Re: Flute Breath Support

try and control your breathing from your diaphragm. this way you’ll have greater control rather than just the air being rushed out of your lungs. try changing your embochure this might help aswell. the breathing in tunes is different tot he whistle yes. you’ll have to re’learn the tunes. but it may also be a difficult flute to play, so if you can developing your playing on a flute like that than when you make the step to a better flute than it will stand to you.

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Re: Flute Breath Support

that could be true, but i think it’s a decent flute - a keyless african blackwood copley and boegli with no tuning slide

in any event, i’ve been pleasantly surprised with how rich of a tone i’ve been able to develop in a short period of time, so for now i’d rather blame the player than the flute.

i’ll try to focus on breathing from the diaphram (more air is obviously better) but should I be able to maintain a good tone with less air if i focus the airstream on the exact right point? i do notice the sound of air going over the top of the flute and escaping without (I think) adding to the flute’s sound.

thanks so much for the advice.

Re: Flute Breath Support

Use as much air as you have to to get the best sound that you can. Breath every second note if necessary. Economy of air will come with time anyway. Trying to force economy by closing off the embouchure can lead to a very pinched and unpleasant tone. Lots of people do this and you _can_ hear it.

Learn to breath in properly so that you really are filling your lungs when you do it. Use your diaphragm - google advice for singers (or even flute players!) about breath support - it is all good and true stuff.

Once you can hold off a bit longer with breaths then you can start thinking about planning where to breath so that it fits in musically.

Best of luck. Remember, if you don’t sound good - then you aren’t good…


Re: Flute Breath Support

but what if you feel good?

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To a first order, a sheamuis, I’d say don’t worry about it too much. Since you say you’ve only just recently started playing, it sounds like you’re doing just fine, and may just need mileage.

Simple mileage will build up your embouchure strength. A stronger embouchure will be smaller, tighter, and use less air. I’ve heard it said that your embouchure should be about the size of a grain of rice on its side.

Experiment, experiment, experiment with your embouchure. Especially make sure you’re using the firmer, muscular part of your lips, rather than the less efficient softer, fleshy part. A lot of folks recommend playing long notes just a few inches away from a mirror.

Also, a key point that is often overlooked is that it’s important to think of flute-playing from a "whole package" point-of-view… …everything is linked together. For example, I find that I lose air whenever I play a wrong note, or when my finger movements are out of sync with my articulation (e.g., am "late" on a ‘d’ to ‘B’ transition, etc.).

In other words, when all aspects of your flute playing improve, then all aspects of your flute playing will improve. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Go to a good teacher once a month — and happy fluting!!! ๐Ÿ™‚


Re: Flute Breath Support

"Use as much air as you have to to get the best sound that you can. … Economy of air will come with time anyway. Trying to force economy by closing off the embouchure can lead to a very pinched and unpleasant tone. Lots of people do this and you _can_ hear it."

I think that is good enough advice - I’ve noticed there are two things regarding tone - one is getting good tone, the other is sustaining it for a set of tunes and that’s a longer term job. It seems to be about balance - focused enough but not too focused so that excess tension creeps in and spoils your tone. Also it seems that good tone, good volume and playing in tune all tend to come together as a package. Maybe this helps

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Re: Flute Breath Support

this is great and really appreciate it Brian.

on your last point - do you have thoughts on the milestones that indicate it’s time to go to a teacher? i couldn’t get a sound out of the thing, so i went and had my first lesson. i figured it would become clear to me when it’s time for the next lesson.

however, maybe monthly is good so as to not pick up bad habits.

Re: Flute Breath Support

Yes, I’d say you don’t have an untypically big problem either.

Trust your ears on whether you like your sound. Experiment with playing directly in front of a reflective surface (so you can hear yourself), possibly in front of a mirror so you can make sure your embouchure is where you think it is…

And play lots. That will help. If you feel good, then try recording yourself and listening to that - that should cure you… (๐Ÿ™‚) Seriously, if you’re enjoying playing, paying attention to the noise you’re making and listen to some good examples of what you want to sound like (e.g. Conal O’Grada, etc.) then you’ll be ok.

Have fun,


Re: Flute Breath Support

this is an example of the great and useful resource thesession.org can be

thanks to all

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a sheamuis: "do you have thoughts on the milestones that indicate it’s time to go to a teacher?"

No, I really don’t have any ideas on milestones, but "once-a-month" just kinda feels right to me. I’ve often found that once-a-week is too fast — especially if I lose a week due to a cold, or family stuff, work, etc.. I’ve never been able to get through one lesson’s worth of material to my satisfaction in one week.

Everyone’s lives and lifestyles are different, so once-a-week may work for some, but once-a-month may be better for others.

A question for you: doesn’t Brendan Dolan live down your way? His name comes to mind immediately when I think of a technically strong player who is also an impeccable teacher.

"listen to some good examples of what you want to sound like (e.g. Conal O’Grada, etc.)" — what a great point to make Chris! ๐Ÿ™‚

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I’m not a flute player, but am just stepping in to point out that you can’t control your breath from your diaphragm. You can neither feel your diaphragm (very few nerve endings) nor control it’s movement - it’s entirely involuntary (and a good thing that is too, or we’d die when asleep !).

If you want good support, you need to use the waist-band and abdomen muscles. To feel it working, put the thumb of your right hand just under your sternum, the little finger of the same hand on your belly button and the left hand around your waist, just a little below the ribs. Cough gently. You’ll feel the muscles under your left hand and the thumb of your right hand move outwards, whilst the little finger on the right hand moves in.

Now shout ‘hey’ as if you were cross with someone and you’ll observe the same thing. Say it several times in a row, relaxing the muscles after each yell. If you’re doing it right, you’ll never need to consciously breathe.

Once you’ve got that going, start holding the ‘hey’ for longer each time, making sure you collapse the muscular support at the end of the soundf (just after it) to allow the automatic breath to happen.

Then transfer to the flute - put the support in place before you play and keep it there whilst you play your phrase (but don’t increase it as you go up in pitch or drop it as you go down - it should be constant) - then collapse it in between phrases.

The advantage of the automatic breath is that it’s totally silent and much faster than a conscious breath.

Takes a bit of practise, but I hope it helps.

Allan the happy singing teacher.

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There are a few things to get used to. First, you will waste a lot of air until you master good playing technique. Second, it’s a bigger instrument than a whistle, so it takes more air. Third, you use the tongue less, which affects the way you breathe; ornamentation used in flute-playing uses more air. Because a flute is shaped like a cone, not a cylinder, it takes more air to get a good tone in the lower range.

None of this will be a problem as you become one with the flute. Just give yourself time and get a teacher if you can.

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Re: Flute Breath Support

A lot of good advice so far. Just a little addition…

When you are first learning, the logical assumption (especially for whistle players} is to blow harder for the higher octave.

In reality, you should use less air for the higher notes, but use a smaller more focused embouchure instead. This often throws whistle players for a loop at first as it seem counter intuitive from their experience.

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The above is right on. And you’ll find that the second octave requires the airstream to be angled slightly higher; in the bottom octave you can aim more downward.

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When you take in a breath, you should feel the air going in from the
bottom up with your belly expanding a bit. If you feel your shoulders
going up and your chest going out without that belly movement,
you’re doing it wrong. If you’re doing it wrong, it
means you’ll run out of breath faster and most likely you
are not supporting your air flow properly, as described by rosfrog above.
When the air support is correct it flows out in a steady stream; otherwise
it is kind of choked off and irregular and you will feel tense.

Re: Flute Breath Support

What no one else has mentioned yet is phrasing. Some flute players are capable of monstrously long phrases, but other great flute players punctuate tunes more frequently with their breaths by cutting short quarter notes and leaving out eighth notes. You have to know a tune well enough to know just how far you can go before you need a breath and have your spots (and some alternates) already picked out.

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I think it is a bit nit-picking to say that you do not control the air with your diaphragm. Certainly, it is the abdominal muscles which do the work on exhalation, but they do so by moving the diaphragm (in so far as they are not also moving the ribs). And I am fairly sure I can consciously tell my diaphragm to breath in when and as much as I want to. (If i don’t then the involuntary reflex kicks in to keep me alive - and a jolly good thing it does too!)

Anyway, have fun. A teacher every so often is a good idea. How often is a matter of taste and practicality. Once a month is ok. Once a year is not really enough in my opinion.


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It’s not nit picky if you want to learn proper support. The problem is that not all the abdominal muscles work in exhaling and if we’re trying to feel something we can’t feel or control, then we may accept any feeling down there in the belly area as being correct. Much better to lay aside the old myths and feel what actually needs to work.

You can’t tell your diaphragm to breath - you’re opening your vocal folds when your lungs are empty - this takes air in as the default position of the lungs is almost full, rather than almost empty (it’s actually the vocal folds that control the air - or in the case of the flute player, the lips - the abdominal muscles only engage to maintain constant air flow - not to regulate it).

You can consciously pull out your abdominal muscles to try to take in a huge breath, but this is anathema to good breath use as you’ll likely need to exhale the ‘used up air’ faster than you would have run out had you taken less.

Sorry to be pernickety about this, but I’ve spent the last ten years trying to break this myths about diaphragms and other such stuff (like that breathe with your intercostal muscles or sing from your stomach nonsense) - it’s the reason classical singing training only works for a very tiny proportion of those who undertake it (and there’s a fair chance they would have got there anyway). My life’s research is based on setting this stuff right and helping people take control of their voice and breathing mechanism properly.

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Good on you rosfrog, but I am going to need some convincing that I am not consciously using my diaphragm to breath in when I:
1. Sit there with my rib cage expanded.
2. Breath out as far as I can with my abdominal muscles doing the pushing.
3. Sit there with empty lungs but allow a small bit of air to flow in and out to make sure I am not sealing things off with my vocal cords, etc. Relax my abdominal muscles so that any inhalation due to the weight of my intestines etc happens.
4. When I want to, breath in deeply without moving my rib cage. Note I am not just talking about the passive relaxing of abdominal muscles, but an active pulling of air into the lungs which involves an outward tension against my abdominal muscles. (Breathing with the passive relaxation is a different exercise and, in fact what I usually do when playing)
5. And as a control, check with some kind of bag that I am actually moving air when I think I am.

I have heard a lot of drivvle from classical instructors too. But I know that I can breath in when 120 Kg of opponent is sitting on my rib cage but it requires conscious effort and technique - i.e. not automatic - at least not enough to get enough air to keep fighting (Judo).

Do you have a link to your research?



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Aye, what you’re doing there is pulling your rectus abdominus and obliques out - that causes a vacuum and pulls the diaphragm down - so although you are affecting the movement of the diaphragm during the inhalation phase, it’s the abdominal group muscles that you’re controlling (Janice Chapman did a fair amount of work on this based around the accent method of breathing).

As for my research, yes - I’ve got a website full of it and several papers and am working on a book too - it’s all in French though, though I’m hoping to put together a singing method in English too aimed specifically at those learning without a teacher.

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Thanks rosfrog for pointing out that " the default position of the lungs is almost full" . Seems to make sense and casts doubt on a lot of stuff about breath control that never quite seemed to make sense to me.

Can you expand on "the abdominal muscles only engage to maintain constant air flow - not to regulate it". Is that flute-specific advice allied to ‘don’t just blow harder’. If the lips are not changed it is a bit like blowing through a rigid tube or a tin whistle and abdominal muscles do seem the regulate the flow then (along with other things).

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Your explanation about the 120kg opponent also seems to cover breathing in through a snorkel with chest well under the water - which many explanations of how we breath would suggest was impossible.

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yes, 2 metres down breathing through a hosepipe to the surface would match how the judo opponent feels…