When playing the saxophone, the ability to control your breathing is crucial to your ability to play well and correctly. Knowing when and how to breathe will be the only way to play the notes correctly and on time without getting out of rhythm.
The best way to learn how to breathe correctly while playing the saxophone is by learning different breathing techniques centered around inhaling and exhaling for a certain period of time. Most of the time, you will inhale for 2-3 counts and exhale for 2-8 counts, which allows for better breath control.
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Saxophone Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques are the only way you will be able to play any kind of wind instrument well. Learning how to control your breathing and how to breathe with specific tempos is the key to good playing.
A few things to note about breathing exercises are:
- Always breath through your mouth and not your nose because it allows for better control
- If you ever start to feel lightheaded, take a break and try again later.
- Know your personal limits and work up to harder exercises slowly, so you don’t over-exert yourself.
- Always start by exhaling and emptying your lungs before taking the beginning breath.
- When doing exercises, always exhale through your mouth using the “hiss” sound and mouth shape.
Preparing For Breathing Exercises
There are a few things you need to do when preparing to do breathing exercises. Without taking the proper precautions and physically preparing your body, you risk not getting anything from the breathing exercise.
The point of these exercises is to help prepare your lungs for the breathing you need to do when playing any kind of wind instrument. Throughout the duration of any breathing exercise or technique, it is essential to keep an upright posture by sitting on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Once you have your upright posture fixed, you need to focus on relaxing your chest, neck, and abdomen muscles as much as possible. You want to be able to breathe in and out without any extra resistance or force from these muscles being tense.
The last thing you need to do is close your eyes and focus on your breathing habits. It is very hard to create new breathing habits without knowing what your current habits are. You must really focus on your breathing to start changing things.
When learning to breathe for slow-tempo songs, the good news is that this is the most straightforward breathing technique to learn. This breathing exercise won’t be used most of the time when actually playing your instrument, but it is a great starting point for creating new habits.
This exercise is relatively simple because it doesn’t have many steps and it doesn’t take much breath support. You simply breathe in for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts always using the “hiss” mouth shape and sound and using your diaphragm to push the air out.
Repeat this exercise a minimum of 6 times daily until you are ready to move to a more challenging exercise.
The medium tempo style breathing exercise isn’t much different, but it is a little more complicated compared to the slow tempo. Of course, after exhaling to empty the lungs completely, inhale for two counts, filling your lungs as much as possible in those two counts.
Then breath out for six counts using the same “hiss” mouth shape and sound as before. It is recommended to do this exercise a minimum of 5 times a day for a few days before moving on to the harder exercises.
Increasing Lung Capacity
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to increase your lung capacity. Increasing your lung capacity allows you to do quite a few things, such as:
- Control your breathing better
- The ability to exhale for longer counts, leading to longer playing times without needing extra breaths
- You will be able to control the dynamic of the songs much better with better control.
- Ability to control forcefulness and subtleness when needed for dynamics.
To increase your lung capacity, you can start by completely emptying your lungs to ensure you start from the very beginning. You will inhale for eight counts through your mouth, ensuring you are filled completely.
Hold your breath for 2 counts and then inhale forcefully and quickly, holding for 1 more count. DO this two more times, holding for one count each time. After that, you can exhale for 8 counts, focusing on controlling the rate at which you allow the air to leave your lungs.
This should be done 2-3 times a day to increase lung capacity and strengthen your muscles and your ability to control your inhales and exhales.
If you need help normalizing the amount of breath you inhale and exhale, you can use the breathing bag technique to help you control your breathing, be more aware of your habits and manage your inhale and exhale.
You can use a large bread bag or anything that is similar. You will be using the bag to measure the amount of air that you inhale and exhale in any given breath; this will help you learn how to regulate and control your breathing over a set period of time or counts.
Exhale all the air out of your lungs until you have no more left. Without using the bag, you will breathe in for four counts, filling your lungs as much as possible then exhale into the bag for four counts. You will then inhale the air from the bag for four counts, ensuring you get it as empty as possible, and exhale again into the bag.
Take a few normal breaths in between exercises and do this 2-3 times a day to learn and teach yourself new habits. If you ever feel dizzy or lightheaded, take a break and lessen the number of times you do this each day until your lungs are stronger and more prepared.
Tips For Air Support When Playing The Sax
When talking about breathing exercises concerning air support, most people aren’t aware of just how important it is to focus on your physical reactions to inhaling and exhaling. Some things you can focus on that will help control your breathing are:
- Breathe in using your diaphragm, which will mean you have to make sure your stomach is expanding, allowing you to feel the pressure.
- Pretend you are blowing up a large balloon when you are exhaling so you can teach yourself to use the correct muscles.
- When you are exhaling, you want to try pulsing or contracting your abs, neck, and diaphragm muscles to achieve the best control and force the air out.
- Standing up straight allows for better diaphragm control and room for more air to fill your lungs.
- Playing the saxophone requires steady airflow; learn how to keep steady airflow without over-exerting yourself or to run out of air too much.
How To Breathe When Playing Saxophone, Final Thoughts
Playing the saxophone is an excellent skill to have, but it requires quite a bit of work. Many people believe playing a wind instrument just requires normal breathing, but you really need a lot of practice to breathe with the right amount of support.
Learning different breathing techniques and the needs behind your diaphragm and muscles associated with your respiratory system are key factors to learning how to control, maintain and create good breathing habits.