The story behind the Flow Breathing Technique.
During several points in my solo playing career I grappled with some uncomfortable issues regarding breath support.
In solo performances I occasionally suffered from over-breathing and hyper-ventilation. Concomitantly I often experienced a desperate need to breathe while playing a long phrase even though I had just breathed. Needless to say, either issue is not pleasant and certainly not constructive for playing a wind instrument!
Although I had theoretically gained all the necessary tools to breathe well from the Alexander Technique, I still had problems while playing.
It is difficult to translate good breathing into good breath support.
With extra free time during the slow summer season I was able to deeply explore the motions of breathing. While lying down in the Alexander Technique relaxation pose called Constructive Rest, the flowing cycle of breathing became more clear.
During these observations it also became apparent that the changes in direction, or "turns" in breathing are critical to improved breath control. (changes in direction from exhale to inhale and from inhale to exhale). The bottom of the exhale becomes a place of repose just before a natural inhale; the top of the inhale informs good control of a full breath of air.
Focusing on the changes in breath direction, its "turns" offers a useful tool toward subtle control of airflow.
Parallel to these observations of healthy breathing motions I also explored using "air attacks" to play clarinet, finding it helped to engage healthy supportive muscles. I also applied ideas inspired by an article on breath support by well known clarinet soloist Anthony (Tony) Pay.
Through the clarinet chat rooms called Clarinet BBoard, Tony Pay suggested I read some of his writing on the subject of "diaphragm support", which reveled a fresh approach to the subject.
The gist of Tony's approach is to breathe into the chest (a radical departure from traditional "gut" breathing), meanwhile bringing abdominal support up to meet the expanded lungs.
These ideas prompted me to explore maintaining an open lifted ribcage motion while playing. It afforded better control of the air. It also helped to relieve the occasional feeling of "gasping" for air and hyper-ventilation while playing.
I concluded that maintaining the openness of the ribcage better suited high level support while playing clarinet.
However, Mr. Pay's description becomes vague at a critical point, leaving the reader to guess at the ultimate goal of his valuable suggestions. The connection between good natural breathing motions and good breath support remained elusive.
The breakthrough came very recently.
Focusing on the top turn of the breath (from inhale to exhale) while breathing deeply and naturally it became apparent that this point of "motion" in the breath is where good support begins.
By "floating" the air at the top of the inhale a player becomes familiar with a critical step to good breath support.
With the rib cage uplifted and expanded as such, I was able to make the leap to something similar to the control suggested by Tony Pay's article, which I have published HERE if you wish to refer to it.
From this position of openness it is easy to engage the abdominal structures to control the breath's release while maintaining the expansion of the chest cavity.
The end result is a detailed method to learn good breathing and also to apply the motions of good breathing to good breath control and support, which I call Flow Breathing.
The technique has been officially released in a 3 part series of guest posts on Marion Harrington's Clarinet site. The links to all three posts are Part 1, Part 2 and – Part 3- Flow Breathing and a Path to Peak Mastery: Learning Constructive Rest and Beginner Flow Breathing Technique, which was just published today.