What is the mysterious secret of circular breathing? - Wacademy (2023)

Aaaaah, circular breathing! This legendary and mysterious technique! A quick reminder of what this is: circular breathing allows musicians to play continuously without having to stop to catch their breath. This breathing technique allows for such an ability and it is fascinating! Moreover, didgeridouists know this well and after announcing the blow of a didgeridoo the question inevitably arises: "Oh yes? And can he breathe circularly?!?!?! ». So get ready, dear neophyte and connoisseur friends, because it's time to lift the veil of the dark mechanisms that were previously known only to initiates (if you want to learn circular breathing, go here:6 free videos to master circular breathing!)!

What is circular breathing?

The question that everyone asks is: “How can we inhale and exhale at the same time? This is not possible! ». Don't worry, yes, it's just impossible.
Circular breathing works exactly the same as bagpipe, except that the air supply does not come from outside the body, but from the oral cavity (where the greatest volume is gained when the cheeks are inflated). The musician must use a reserve of air to continue the hum during inspiration. Then it is enough to simultaneously push the air contained in the mouth through the nose to inhale it. And it is precisely this phase of synchronization that usually causes the most difficulties for beginners.

Understand the mechanism of circular breathing.

During the inhalation phase, the musician must continue exhaling to maintain the sound of the drone (or wind instrument). There are two ways to push air out to maintain uninterrupted airflow:

  • use cheeks

    This is the best known technique (but certainly the least practiced! Because most of the time it is mixed with some other breathing techniques). In this case, the air is squeezed out by squeezing the cheeks.

  • with the tongue

    This method is more confidential than the cheeks because our tongue works in the shadows. Furthermore, we are rarely aware of our movements. However, most of the time, the tongue plays the most important role in circular breathing! I'll explain it to you right away. Will the tongue finally shine with cheek dictation? Only time can tell!

Let's take a closer look at the movement of circular breathing.

So what happens in the mouth during the whole process?

  1. The player must inhale. That means he has to isolate an air supply from his lungs. To do this, the bottom of the tongue is pressed against the soft palate. (see video below at the beginning of the WO)
  2. Then inspiration occurs. Air enters through the nose and goes to the lungs. The player then expels the air simultaneously with the air supply contained in their mouth.

Didgeridoo under MRI for better visualization of circulatory respiration

Here is a video of Rodrigo Viterbo playing on an MRI. We can observe at the moment of WO (which symbolizes the moment in which he inspires) that the lower part of his tongue is placed on the soft palate. Then the bottom of the tongue moves forward to push the air out of the mouth.

Rodrigo Viterbo plays the didgeridoo in an MRT. Discover the experience in your

If you take a closer look, you realize that the player has several ways to perform circular breathing. So you can choose between:

  • His cheeks offer the greatest air capacity. They thus leave the possibility of creating a longer tone for greater inspiration.
  • the middle of your tongue, with a limited volume of air and therefore a shorter inhalation, the rhythm must be quite fast or there will be a small break in the tone
  • their linguistic background, with a small air volume, and therefore a shorter breath, the rhythm must be fast enough, otherwise the sound is interrupted.
  • And finallythe tip of his tongue, the latter can only be used for fast gaming due to the very small amount of air that is expelled...

The objective of the didgeridoo is to seek maximum independence between these different options.
All these techniques can then be mixed, just as the painter mixes the primary colors in infinite combinations. Of course, the whole process is interconnected and each technique cannot be 100% independent. But that shouldn't stop us from pushing our limits! For those of you who have noticed the mandible is missing, this is intentional as it "only" helps the tongue.

The big mistake about circular breathing!

Therefore, there is a real confusion between the role of the cheeks and that of the tongue. To better understand how this misconception spread, take this video by Kenny G explaining the circular breathing technique adapted to the saxophone as an example.

We can see very clearly that her cheeks swell very little. They move easily (very easily), but it's their tongue that does most of the work. The cheeks are just accessories. And yet it tells us how to squeeze the air with your cheeks! As I write this article, this video has been viewed 592,536 times! We quickly understand how the misunderstanding between cheek and tongue could have remained!

Of course, I have nothing against Kenny G. This video is just a random example. There are many others on the internet.

His circular breathing at each didgeridoo beat!

It quickly becomes clear that depending on the rhythms played, this or that technique will be necessary. And herein lies the real difficulty of circular breathing! In fact, a player will quickly get into the habit of only using one of the aforementioned techniques. However, playing the didgeridoo with a single circular breathing technique severely limits the rhythms and possible variations. Because a lower tongue is always played slowly in general. On the other hand, the tip of the tongue will cause the player to produce short sounds and therefore play fast rhythms or risk choppy playing.

Determined to learn circular breathing!

For the record, I remember very well the moment when I understood the mechanism of circular breathing. It was a few weeks after I started playing the didgeridoo. One night I lay in my bed ready to sleep. I tried to follow an exercise that I had been told without a didgeridoo to understand circular breathing.

I was like, 'Okay Gauthier, you won't sleep until you get this. ». After a few hours of training I had managed to inhale through my nose while emptying my cheeks... I understood and the sun had just risen. Without a doubt, one of my most beautiful sleepless nights!

Conclusion: Circular Breathing is Complex but Accessible

You saw it if you dig a little deeper, circular breathing in all its forms takes years to learn and master. But believe me (or not!), the basic technique is quite accessible and fast. With good practice and a previously stabilized sound, most of my students no longer understand the mechanism in 2 or 3 degrees (see also:6 free videos to master circular breathing!).

Then it only remains to smooth and get used to the technique that comes with practice. Forget those who tell you it takes months and months: you didn't have the right exercises or you didn't practice regularly! Any musician who blows into an instrument can achieve circular breathing very quickly and thus expand to new horizons. And if you are a didgeridoo, I encourage you to discover and tame the different circular breathing techniques!

If you learned something from this article, the best way to thank me is to share it or leave a comment. You have no idea how encouraging that is!

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