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I know there’s quite a bit of interest in this topic, so I decided to share the process I personally used to learn circular breathing.
Circular breathing is an advanced technique and should only be attempted on the saxophone when you have a solid tone. Otherwise, this could hurt your tone.
This post will help you prepare to circular breath, so when your tone is set, you’ll be ready to give it a try.
We understand why it’s important to focus on tone and technique; this focus helps us sound better and we become more capable musicians.
If you really want to learn how to circular breath, you may want to ask yourself why this is important.
- Is it going to help you accomplish your goals on the saxophone?
- Is there enough benefit for the time spent learning this technique?
- Would time be better used working on other aspects of the instrument?
These are a few important questions to ask yourself before you begin.
What is Circular Breathing?
Circular breathing is a technique that allows you to sustain a note for a long period of time. For example, I believe the record for the longest note sustained is 45 minutes.
This technique may seem incredible and mind blowing, but it’s probably something you’ve heard before. Have you ever heard a didgeridoo being played? Check a recording out on YouTube and you’ll see the circular breathing in action.
Bagpipes are another instrument that applies a certain type of circular breathing. You’ll notice when bagpipes are being played that the tone never stops! How is this done?
Well, I don’t play the bagpipes, and I’m no expert, but I have observed the bagpipes, which helps in teaching circular breathing. Here’s what happens:
- There’s a bag on the side of the instrument
- The player fills up the bag with air
- The bag remains full of air while playing
- When air is needed, the bag is squeezed with the arm
- This keeps the air going through the instrument while a breath is taken
- The tone is continuous
Check out the video below for an example. Notice how he takes a breath and the tone continues. I suggest skipping to :20 in the video. Enjoy!
What Did You See?
Notice how the tone continued as the player took a breath and how the bag helped accomplish this. On the saxophone, puffing out your cheeks will perform the same function as the air bag on the bagpipes. You’ll be taking a breath when you’re pushing air out with the cheeks.
Trying Circular Breathing
First of all, you won’t try this with the saxophone. Instead, we’re going to try to get the air to push out of our mouth while we take air in through the nose.
In other words, once the cheeks have pushed out the air and your lungs are refilled, then switch to the lung air (and only puff out the cheeks when you’re about ready to take a breath).
Yes, this is the tricky part. Some people say “huh” to help transition back to the lungs.
Patience Is Required
This does take some time and patience, but once you can consistently do step 3, you’ll be on your way.
From this short description on circular breathing, you can begin to see how this can develop bad saxophone habits. Circular breathing requires you to puff out your cheeks, which alters the embouchure. This can create issues with your tone.
Saxophone Circular Breathing
Once you are comfortable with steps 1-4 (and you have a good tone), then try it with the saxophone. You’ll find it will be a little more challenging and it will be difficult to keep a steady tone. This is normal, and something everyone deals with.
At the very least, you now understand how the process works. If you never use this on the saxophone it can always be a cool trick for blowing out your birthday candles…even if you reach the age of 300. Everyone will be impressed!
If you have any questions about circular breathing, or you would like to share an approach that works for you, please share in the comment section below.
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