Topic: Circular Breathing?

I wasn't sure if this was the right forum to post this under, but I have been interested in circular breathing for a while now. I have some pieces where it could really come in handy. I was just wondering if anyone had any tips to help me understand it better and be able to achieve it. I'm a bassoonist, but I picked up the oboe once for a woodwind techniques class and found I was able to circular breathe quite easily on it. However, in this regard, the bassoon is a whole other monster. I did not know if it is the same technique for both or if it's slightly different, or I may have been using an incorrect method before on oboe. Any help is appreciated. Thank you

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Re: Circular Breathing?

The technique is the same on any reed instrument (flute may be a different beast, but even then the principle is the same). The lower resistance of the bassoon means it's more difficult though. Start practicing the technique on a more resistant register of the bassoon, middle C up  to Eb is a good range to start with. Expand the range outward from those few notes.

Terry Ewell has a good set of videos explaining the technique step by step on his website.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Circular Breathing?

My greatest inspiration to finally buckling down and learning the technique was Mark Eubanks. I did not even notice he was circular breathing, I just noticed we were playing and he did not need to breath. The easiest places to do the quick sniff are upward slurs and trills, some notes are more difficult to control, like overblown Bb. Many people make it obvious with the audible sniff, which is quite distracting. Mark is a master and can do it quietly without drawing attention to it. My wife, (my second bassoon), and our principal clarinet are quite sensitive to that hiss, ( usually my friend Juan the clarinet likes to tease about it if he hears it and makes snorting sounds), so try to avoid the noise. I do a slow controlled push with air from my cheeks and also push the air with my tongue.

Principal bassoonist, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, A Coruña, Spain. Bassoonist, bassoon dad, bassoon husband, bassoon uncle, bassoon brother and bassoon son.

Re: Circular Breathing?

It's definitely something hard to learn (sinuses don't really help things either), but I'll keep working on it and hopefully get it going fairly well eventually. Thanks

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Re: Circular Breathing?

Here is an additional trick once you have learned to circular breath. Many times we have to play repeated articulated notes without a break to breath. I can think of a few solo works, George Perle's 3 Invertions, the third movement. There are some breaks, but longer stretches sound better, ( the first and second movements have 3 high G's). Shulhoff, the Bass Nightingale ( for contra) also has a movement that would be easier with the technique. In the beginning upward melodies above the staff are easier places, (more resistance). I have used it in the orchestra a few times, we had a modern work that had a repeated note section without anywhere to breath and it helped keep the line going, ( I think I used it in a Mahler symphony too, it was loud enough that breathing would not have hurt anything, but it is good to practice not getting noticed when you do it). I used to think it was impossible, but our principal oboe said he could and he inspired me to learn it. I doubt it can be done while double tonguing, but I bet someone might be able to. The only fast articulation I can think of while doing it is the jazz technique of flubble tongue, that technique doesn't use the back of the tongue like double tongue and circular breathing do, just the tip.

Principal bassoonist, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, A Coruña, Spain. Bassoonist, bassoon dad, bassoon husband, bassoon uncle, bassoon brother and bassoon son.

Re: Circular Breathing?

I will often use an articulation to hide the return of the normal air stream when circular breathing. So in some ways articulation can be built into your circular breathing technique.

But yes, it's definitely possible to circle breath in articulated passages. I'm getting better at it, but I still wouldn't want to do it in an exposed passage.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds