Woodwind Breathing – DAW vs. Human

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Woodwind Breathing

Woodwind players, across a range of instruments such as the flute, clarinet, saxophone, and oboe, understand the vital role that breathing plays in their musical performance. From the first gentle inhale to the steady exhale, the art of controlled breathing is the foundation upon which their melodies and harmonies come alive. The way woodwind players breathe directly influences the quality, tone, and expression of their playing, allowing them to navigate intricate passages, sustain long notes, and shape phrases with precision. In essence, mastering the art of breath control is paramount for woodwind musicians, as it holds the key to unlocking the full potential of their instruments and creating captivating musical experiences.

Woodwind Breathing – DAW vs Human

“Woodwind players must meticulously consider their breathing patterns, inhaling at the right moments and exhaling with control, to achieve optimal tone, phrasing, and musical expression.”

When composing music in a digital audio workstation (DAW), such as a MIDI sequencer, the concern for breathing indeed becomes irrelevant. In this digital realm, composers have the freedom to create complex musical passages and arrangements without the constraints of human breath. With the ability to program and manipulate virtual instruments, every note can be precisely placed and sustained for as long as desired, without the need to pause for breath. However, when it comes to live performances by human musicians, breathing takes on a crucial role. Woodwind players must meticulously consider their breathing patterns, inhaling at the right moments and exhaling with control, to achieve optimal tone, phrasing, and musical expression. The physical act of breathing directly impacts the dynamics, articulations, and nuances of their performance, infusing it with life, emotion, and authenticity.

[(A) – Notation for VSTis]

*Additional string instruments are featured in the demo audio, accompanied by background percussion. Our choice of instrument in this case was Symphonic Woodwinds from Spitfire Audio.

In this example, we are playing a typical diminished scale run, commonly found in epic and action-oriented music genres. Though simple in execution, a diminished scale run is a useful tool for fueling energy in any high-octane action sequence. In addition, these runs sit in the higher register and will contrast nicely with the brass phrases underneath.

When notating a series of scales like this (as shown in the image above) for live musicians, it’s imperative to remember that woodwind players need to breathe! One technique for achieving a continuous flurry of scales over a long period of time would be alternating (or staggering) the musicians. Below is a brief example of how one might stagger the scale runs.

[(B) – Notation for Human Players]

Woodwind Breathing

Treat Every Instrument Differently

Of course, instruments in different ranges, such as low, mid, and high, have distinct characteristics and playing techniques that can influence the breath control needed.

“Instruments with lower ranges, such as bassoons or tubas, often require more air volume to produce the desired sound.”

Instruments with lower ranges, such as bassoons or tubas, often require more air volume to produce the desired sound. Playing low notes on these instruments may require stronger breath support and longer exhalation to maintain the tone and sustain the sound adequately. (Meaning, it can be challenging for a tuba player to play fast-tempo phrases like the ones we have.)

Conversely, instruments with higher ranges, such as piccolos or trumpets, may demand quicker and more precise breath control due to the faster airspeed required for those registers. The shorter length of the tubing in high-range instruments can also affect the responsiveness and flexibility of the sound, necessitating more focused and controlled breath support.

[Study Pack]

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

View complete editions of music scores (PDF), score analysis (PDF), and HD music examples used in this lesson.