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date: 27 November 2020

Circular breathing.locked

  • Laurence Libin


Technique employed by wind players to produce a continuous melody or a single, very prolonged sound without interruption to draw breath. The player’s lungs, under diaphragm pressure, inflate the mouth cavity, causing the puffed cheeks to act as a wind reservoir in the manner of a bagpipe’s bag. With the soft palate closed, the cheek muscles force air into the instrument; when this air is nearly exhausted, the player inhales in short, deep intakes through the nose to replenish the lungs. Especially applied to reed instruments but also to such varied winds as conch and Tibetan thigh-bone trumpets, the technique is widespread in folk music traditions; it gained currency in jazz during the 1950s and 1960s, notably in performances by the saxophonists Harry Carney and Roland Kirk, and later by Kenny G. The technique, which admits minor variation, is increasingly required for modern compositions, but players sometimes employ it as an impressive trick (saxophonist Geovanny Escalante has reportedly held a single note for about 90 minutes) or to enable performance of music originally written for bowed strings and requiring long, continuous phrases. Rumours that circular breathing can cause lung damage are unsubstantiated. See ...

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