The Basics of Wind Instruments
Stand or sit in a comfortable position. Be in a comfortable, inspiring, safe and relaxing environment. Remember to keep the chest open and shoulders relaxed back and down. Playing a wind instrument means learning how to breathe, posture needs to support easy breath.
Start with long slow breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the instrument. Make sure your fingers are properly placed.
And to relax. Feel the body physically, literally relax as you play.
Have fun, and allow yourself to make whatever sounds you’d like with the music.
Remember to practice a variety of breath types, long ones, stuttered, fluttered, rolled, staccato, and silence all give variety to any wind instrument.
Listen to other players.
Basics of Practice
Learning happens best when relaxed. All beginners tend to tense up with playing, both physically and mentally. Remember to relax and find the practice enjoyable. If there is tension and frustration, it’s ok to take a break.
For the flute, make sure to use the finger pads to cover the holes. Not the finger tips. And relax the fingers, no need to have a death grip on the flute.
Basics of Breath.
Breath control makes all the difference in how wind instruments are played. The basics of breathing are essential before learning circular breath. These are the basics.
- Give yourself permission to relax, and connect to the breath.
- Feel the breath slow down. Relax the muscles in the abdomen, along side the torso, and up into the shoulder blades.
- The breath progressively lengthens as the body releases tension. There is the possibility the chest will hurt as the breath deepens, because those muscles are finally being used and stretched.
- When playing instruments it will be important to learn how to get a full inhalation quickly, and to exhale for long periods of time. Breathing in through the nose helps.
This is the shape of the mouth when playing. Cheeks in, or puffed out. Chin dropped, or tight. Throat relaxed, or taut. Tongue close to teeth, roof of mouth, or rolling. Changing the embouchure can significantly change the sound of the instrument, provide notes or percussive elements, and add a whole new world of depth and tonal control.
Remember your Body Posture.
The chest needs to be open so the lung can expand. Keep the shoulders rolled back and down, gently extend up through the front of the body out the crown of the head, remain relaxed thru the torso and abdomen. Standing is an ideal way to practice flute. You can move and sway.
- Stretching before practicing is also beneficial. Or practicing music after a yoga class, tai chi, exercise or walk / run … very good.
- When playing and practicing, the body will become tense and breath will shorten. It’s a constant remembering to relax the face, soften the body, and control the diaphram.
- Diaphram control is critical for breath control. There are no sustained breaths nor circular breathing without diaphram control.
Vary the Breath to Vary the Sound.
As wind instruments, changing airflow changes how the instrument sounds. Long slow sounds, quick staccato sounds, note bending. You can also vocalize and make sounds in a variety of creative ways.
Connect to Tone Sensation.
Feel the sounds and vibrations of the instrument in the body and skull when playing. Use this as a feedback system to relax further. Wearing a blindfold during practice facilitates somatic connection.
Suizen is a breath practice from Japan for the shakuhachi flute. It aims to turn music into meditation. The technique is simple, maintain long slow breaths and a steady tone. This is much harder to do than it sounds, pun intended. Traditionally, this was done for 15 minutes and longer. Do what you are willing to do. Wikipedia
Suggestions for Skilled Practice.
- Keep the instrument out and easily available for practice. I used to keep a spare in the car and played during stop lights.
- Commit to practicing everyday. At the very least, pick up the instrument and play it for a minute. If you feel like playing more, great. Keep it easy, keep it fun, and this will keep it engaging.
- Flutes are portable, taking them on walks to nature is a wonderful way to connect with them. Draw inspiration from the sounds of nature.
- Toning and humming count as practice and can be done at any time. Remembering to breath and relax the body at anytime to fine tune breath control.
Discover your Own Dreamtime.
These ancient instruments come from cultures different than our own. I believe it’s safe to say there is no way to play them the way the original makers and players did. We do not know their stories or ways of life.
In the book, Mutant Message Down Under, an aboriginal chief is talking about didgeridoo players. He expressed an idea that I’ve taken to heart, to Discover your Own Dreamtime. What this means is, make the instrument your own. Don’t copy their styles and ways of playing, instead, find your own heart and expression through these ancient instruments.
Trust your intuition and inner guidance when playing these instruments. They are ancient and have the capacity to expand consciousness, yet that is a journey not of the mind, but of the soul.