Learning how to breathe is an integral part of playing the saxophone. To get the best sound possible, you need to learn how to deliver a big air stream. For new players, this can take quite a bit of practice, and breathing exercises can help you reach your goal.
From diaphragmatic breathing to low register pitch blends and breath attacks, there are a number of things you can do to improve your air stream size and strength.
Why Breath Control is So Important
When playing the saxophone, and most other wind instruments, breath control is vital (hence the name “wind” instrument). Why?
- It provides good breath support from your lungs
- You can play an extended phrase without running out of breath
Without adequate breath control, you’ll have a hard time playing properly.
Playing with an open throat is a well-known technique not only for saxophone players, but singers and players of other wind instruments.
But controlling the pressure of air in your lungs is a challenge especially while keeping your throat open. Typically air rushes out of your lungs – unless you close your throat to stop this from happening.
The best way to achieve this control is to practice diaphragmatic breathing.
Breathing through the diaphragm is something that most people don’t do. We’re used to shallow breathing into the top of our lungs. Needless to say, learning how to change your breathing pattern will not be an overnight process. It’s something you’ll need to work at, but once you get the hang of it, it will be like second nature.
One of the most effective techniques for learning how to breathe through your diaphragm is borrowed from yogis.
Try this exercise at home:
Note: This exercise works best if you’re laying down on your back, but you can also practice while sitting or standing.
- Start by expanding your abdomen as you breathe into your lower lungs. As you expand your abdomen, try to imagine that your diaphragm is expanding down into your pelvis. Don’t worry if you feel tension in your abdominal muscles – this is normal.
- Now, expand your rib cage. Keep your throat open.
- Continue expanding to the top of your rib cage and shoulders, moving upward and outward.
Before you exhale, hold your breath for a second or two. Make sure that your throat stays open. Your abdomen, ribs and diaphragm should be working to stop the air from rushing out.
Now, breathe out in the same order as the inhale. Don’t forget to keep your throat open.
Other Breathing Exercises
Breathing through your diaphragm will immediately give you more breath control and support while playing the saxophone. But there are other exercises you can perform that will further refine your control.
Try breathing in for four counts, and breathing out for four counts.
Learning how to extend the in breath and the out breath will help you achieve a bigger air stream. The bigger your air stream, the easier it will be to tackle long phrases.
Once you’ve mastered breathing in for four counts and breathing out for four counts, you can extend the count. Eventually (with a lot of practice), you can reach 60 in and 60 out.