One of the beautiful qualities of wind instruments is that, much like singing, they are directly connected to the human breath. As a result, players of wind instruments are often able to more easily tap into the expressive nature of the human voice and mimic its unique emotive characteristics that we appreciate in music.
Unfortunately, like when singing, playing a wind instrument also comes with difficulties due to being connected so directly to the human breath. For example, holding a single note for an extended period of time can prove to be strenuous, or maybe even feel impossible, when playing a wind instrument because the player is only able to produce a finite amount of air to produce said note. Fortunately, there is a technique that wind players can learn that can allow them to produce a note for an unlimited duration.
In this online harmonica lesson, Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, co-founder of Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, and ArtistWorks harmonica instructor, Howard Levy, teaches a technique called circular breathing that allows players to inhale through the harmonica while simultaneously exhaling through their nose, or vice versa, in order to produce an endless note through their instrument.
“This is a technique that I use every once in a while when I need to hold a note for an extended period of time,” Howard explains. “The basic concept is that, while I’m inhaling through the harmonica, I’m using my nose as a safety valve to release the air that I’ve taken in through my mouth.”
What is Circular Breathing?
Circular breathing is a technique that allows a musician to inhale through their nose while simultaneously exhaling through their mouth or vice versa. As a result, they are able to produce a clear, consistent note for an extended period of time.
The musician accomplishes this by fully inhaling while beginning to exhale and blow air outward. When the lungs are nearly empty, the last volume of air is released into the mouth and temporarily stored there. Then, while still blowing out this last bit of air stored in the mouth, the musician very quickly inhales through the nose to fill the lungs prior to running out of the air in the mouth. If done correctly, by the time the air in the mouth is nearly exhausted, the musician can begin to exhale from the lungs once more. The process is then repeated to produce a consistent, droning tone.
“Circular breathing also allows you to create really unique and interesting droning sounds,” explains Howard. “You can create a phase-y sound almost like a drone box or a didgeridoo by shifting the muscles in your mouth as you circular breath.”
Circular Breathing with Howard Levy:
Have you always wanted to learn how to play the harmonica? Through our comprehensive harmonica lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Howard Levy, and get personal feedback on your playing.
Howard’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner harmonica to advanced performance techniques, classic popular tunes, improvisation, music theory, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as harmonica players and musicians.