Lesson Four: The Breath of a Great Song

There is a strong component of any musical experience that brings the listener into the realm of passion, and that is expression. Expressive playing joins the emotional and the technical; the skills with the impressions. It is through the expression that people begin to feel connected with the music.

The problem with most music instructors is finding the correct time to introduce the “expressive” elements into the world of skills.Is it possible to teach a person to be emotional? How do you teach experience? Can a person learn from another’s past? So with expression being a strong part of how music is experienced to the audience at what point is it important to teach?

Well … I’m here to show anyone interested in playing the Native American Flute that expression is taking all of who you are and, through techniques learned, conveying to yourself what you want shown. There are four major components of playing the flute: the flute (including wood, tone, range, etc), the fingers (the notes to be played), the breath (the tone producer), and the soul (the emotions behind the player). Becoming a proficient player of the Native American flute will depend on how much investment you are willing to make in any two of these components. If you are successful enough to have all four, then you become a master that very few can dispute.

When giving Native Flute Lessons it’s simple to begin the discussions of “expression” because of the technical components of the breath. Focusing a little time on how a person breathes, lengths and depths of a breath, and the type of breaths a person can take allows the first discussions of expression begin. Shallow breaths with gasping tendencies leads to a different tone then deep breaths with fluid sounds. The initial tone, spoken of in the first lesson, is a certain sound that is the beginning of a seasoned player. but it is only one sound to utilize.

When thinking of different expressions try playing around with these different types of breaths:

  1. short inhale, panting like a dog
  2. long inhale, short attack with long dissolve (say thoo)
  3. medium inhale, long exhale with indeterminate bursts (say pah over and over while exhaling)
  4. medium inhale, roll tongue while exhaling (creates a roll effect)
  5. long inhale, long exhale while tongue quickly stops air
  6. short inhale, long exhale with strong burst swell and dissolve softly

If you’re going to play around with notes and pitches don’t forget that some of your expression will come through the emotional output of the breath. If you are in a happy mood or a sad mood that will show inside the breath. Good performers will alter their mood and breath depending on what is needed to perform the music. Great performers will utilize their mood to manipulate the breath.

Don’t forget to breathe when you play the Native American Flute. Happy playing!

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