Flute Summer Course 2015
Join the Flute Summer Course "For the Contemporary Flutist" by Wil Offermans, which will be held from July 22-29, 2015 in Malaga, Spain. In this inspiring ambiance, you will work with Wil Offermans and focus on the extended techniques, meeting participants from all over the world and enjoying an unforgettable experience. For more information and registration, click the button below or click Flute Summer Course in the sidebar on the left at any time.
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Etude 10: Circular Breathing
* for copyright reasons some parts of the score are blurred.
"…when all Balinese farmer-flutists can use circular breathing, why not all western flutists can do it?…"
In Search for an Endless SoundWhen I was about 15 years old, for some reason, I started to dream about extending the sound of the flute, similar to what a bow-played string instrument can do by alternating up and down strokes. Why a flutist always has to interrupt the sound for taking a breath? Isn't there a way to create an ‘endless’ flute sound, where the breath-timing becomes irrelevant? I asked my music friends, I asked my flute teacher, I asked and asked, but nobody could help me. Some declared me for insane, as many others assured me that it is simply not possible to extend the time of a flute sound beyond the one-breath limit. Fortunately, this further motivated me to search for a way to create an 'endless' flute sound.
And indeed, some years later I managed to create an ‘endless’ stream of air and to play an ‘endless’ flute sound! It was a wonderful time. Being able to play ‘endlessly’ transformed my playing considerably in a unique way. One should remember that this was around 1980 and in these days there were nearly no flutists who were able to blow an ‘endless’ sound. Eventually I learned that what I was doing - my 'endless' sound - was in fact called circular breathing.
Ethnic Flutes and Circular BreathingLater, when I had the possibility to travel around the world intensively, I was surprised to see that so many flutes around the world do use circular breathing. Just to mention a few: the Klui (Thailand), the Suling (Bali, Indonesia), the Saluang (Sumatra, Indonesia) and the Di-zi (China). Also many other wind instruments, especially double reed instruments use circular breathing as a traditional technique. Another well-known example is the didgeridoo from the Australian aboriginals, actually a trumpet-like instrument. While in the western classical flute world we tend to call circular breathing ‘new’, we see that in the ethnic (flute) music world the circular breathing has been practiced for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Circular Breathing in BaliIntroduction). There I was invited by my Balinese friend Wayan, a student at the music and dance institute Kokar in Denpasar to visit his parents. So together we travelled to Manikliyu, a remote village in central Bali in the shadow of the huge volcano Mount Batur and surrounded by coffee-fields. After we arrived at the village, we shared some delicious coffee and bananas with a group of locals, mainly farmers. Next, we played the local flute, the Suling (a recorded-style flute out of bamboo), which is indeed played with circular breathing. And it turned out that all villagers, young and old, could play the flute with circular breathing! It was like a miracle. But when all these Balinese farmer-flutists can use circular breathing, why not all western flutists can do it?
Back to the western world, we can hear circular breathing performed in more recent music styles, like in jazz, especially on saxophone and trumpet. The great master Rahsaan Roland Kirk was obviously a genius in using circular breathing on the flute as well as on multiple reed-instruments simultaneously (see picture).
What is Circular Breathing - Hybrid ExhalingWe use circular breathing when we want to play an ‘endless’ flute sound. For this obviously we need to be able to blow without any pause. Normally we use only one system to blow out the air, which are the lungs. If the lungs run out of air we end the blowing. This allows us to inhale, whereafter we can exhale again, etc. Our way of breathing is clearly reflected in the musical phrases, a basic structure in most woodwind and vocal music.
Why you should study Circular BreathingThe main reason to study circular breathing is not directly to master this exciting technique, but to develop simultaneously several aspects of your flute playing. In particular these are:
- Embouchure: you will learn to control the embouchure with much more detail and flexibility.
- Breathing: you will develop a higher level of consciousness concerning your breathing system, the diaphragm and other muscles involved.
- Sound: your flute sound in general will improve, especially concerning flexibility and openness of sound.
How to study the Basics of Circular BreathingWe will study circular breathing in a sequence of steps, where each step is an extension of the step before. It is truly important that you take enough time for mastering each step. Also, once you progress to another step you should frequently return to any previous steps. In that way you not only learn the physical muscles involved, but - and this is important - will accustom yourself entirely to each step. Probably, the action of exhaling and inhaling simultaneously might be quite a hurdle, so you should give yourself sufficient practice time to develop a comfortable sensation. To study these steps may just take a few minutes. But do repeat these short studies often. For example studying 3 times a day for 3 minutes is a good rule of thumb (3x3).
For now, this online explanations ends with Step 4. But for those who master the Step 4 - possibly after some months of practicing - you could move on to try the circular breathing on the flute. Further steps and instructions on how to study this can be found in the etude book For the Contemporary Flutist.
Think in Years, not in MinutesRemember when studying extended techniques that the study itself is both the road as well as the goal. When we enjoy the road, the result will come without forcing. This is also true for studying circular breathing. Give yourself one or two years, why not? And we all know that the good things in the life do take time. This is not a fast food, but a delicious food. Don’t give up after a few days, but do continue! During the study you will progress in controlling your breathing system and your flute playing will improve significantly. And once you can indeed perform the circular breathing, imagine… the rest of your life you will have a super-technique at your disposal!
For the Contemporary Flutist Online
Etude 1: Wind Tones
Etude 2: Harmonics
Etude 3: Difference Tones
Etude 4: Bamboo Tones
Etude 5: Multiphonics
Etude 6: Whisper Tones
Etude 7: Singing Unison/Parallel
Etude 8: Polyphonic Singing
Etude 9: Diverse
Etude 10: Circular Breathing
Etude 11: Flute and Movement
Etude 12: Graphic Notation & Impro