How to breath Efficiently when playing the Kaval

Breathing Anatomy

Our bodies have been practicing the skill of breathing since the day you were born. That’s the reason we sometimes take this function of our body for granted. This article is not about teaching you how to breath, because we all obviously know that. It’s more about how to optimise your breathing and make it more efficient.

That article could be of use not only for Kaval players but for any other players who play an instrument that relies on air to produce a sound. 

There are a few muscles that we use when breathing –  the intercostals (those are the muscles located between your ribs), the abdominals and the diaphragm

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle which sits under the chest cavity. When we inhale, our ribcage expands,
The diaphragm dome pulls down, that increases the volume of the chest cavity and all that results in freeing more room for the air that comes into the lungs.
When we exhale the diaphragm goes back up to its relaxed state, the ribs go back in and all that helps the lungs push the air out. 

Posture

Good posture is the first step to making your body work for you. It provides alignment that maximizes your lung capacity and releases tension. That’s the reason posture is so important for optimizing our breathing. Beware that posture that feels “natural” to you, even if you feel relaxed, may not provide a high enough chest position for effective breathing. Good posture can be achieved both while seated or standing, though I recommend starting with a standing position. As soon as you get comfortable with that you can find your way through seated posture because sometimes we may practice for hours and if we do that standing it will be very tiring. 

Here’s how to establish a good posture. Start with a comfortably high chest and be sure to keep like that while playing. Keep your shoulders down, your neck and back lengthened. Your rib cage needs to be free to fully expand when needed. Relax your legs and keep your feet hip distance apart. What you may want to do when first starting out is to practice in front of a mirror. That way you will be able to see if you are doing it right and you will avoid gaining a wrong habit, which can be very hard to get rid of later. 

Breath Support

Playing the Kaval requires us to have a lot of air and to optimise the use of it as much as possible, our sound relies on that. It is very important to be effective when playing and don’t get out of air too quickly, before we finish our phrase. In order to do that effectively we want to use Breath Support. Let’s define that! Breath Support is basically managing your exhalation, which would mean to regulate our air flow, air speed and air pressure. Good breath support allows us to play loudly or softly and at the same time be able to control our intonation. But how do we do all that?

We need to train our diaphragm so that we have complete control of how quickly it ascends to its high position. We need it to ascend slowly while maintaining a consistent airflow that would allow us to have longer phrases, better sound and better intonation. In other words – we don’t want to rush out the air too quickly.
Check out the Exercise section of the article below to learn how to practice Breath Support and get good at it. 

Circular Breathing

Circular Breathing is a technique for woodwind instruments that allows the player to inhale and exhale at the same time. I realise this may sound impossible but trust me it is possible. The first time I saw my teacher doing it I immediately tried to copy it, but turned out it was not something that you can just copy like that, it is, in fact, quite challenging. The technique actually is accomplished by puffing out stored air from the cheeks to keep making the sound while inhaling fresh air through the nose. It is a technique that requires quite a lot of practice and I will not go through it in this article but stay tuned because I will explain in detail how to do it in my future lessons. For now just keep in mind that such technique exists and it’s really cool to be able to use it. It is really nice to know that every time you get out air you can simply inhale more without stopping the air flow and the sound.

Exercise

Breath support – To get the feel of good breath support:

  • Stand up straight, keep your neck and back lengthened, your shoulders down and chest up.
  • Inhale as far as you can.
  • Exhale while saying “Ssssssssss.”
  • Feel the resistance created by the hissing – this helps us control the airflow. It’s that control that we’re looking for, but without the “Ssss” – only by using the diaphragm.
  • “Not” blowing a candle out – imagine a lit candle in front of you and adjust the speed of your air so that it’s enough to make the flame flicker but not enough to blow out the candle

References: Encyclopædia Britannica & The Flute Coach

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