by Martin Schuring ©2007
Circular breathing is an essential part of oboe technique. Everyone who has learned the technique will never give it up. However, circular breathing is regarded with suspicion by some, who regard it as a virtuoso party trick that distorts the natural human qualities of music. So, it is important not to use it in that way. Circular breathing is not really intended to increase the distance between breathing points. Rather, it is a wonderful technique that can enhance playing and increase comfort. Increased comfort gives increased endurance, more stability, better tone quality, and less tension.
There are two elements to the technique. You must be able to "spit" air through the reed rather than blowing. And, you must be able to breathe in and out through your nose while spitting the air in your mouth.
First, we get comfortable
Once you're comfortable spitting, practice breathing in and out while doing it. Don't worry about playing music just yet. Spit air through the reed (or the coffee straw) and breathe in and out while you do it. You may want to back up to step 1 above if the oboe's resistance is too distracting. Then, back to the reed and eventually to the oboe.
Now comes the tricky part. You want to transition from blowing to spitting to blowing again. Take your time. Most beginners feel like they have to do this all in a big rush and take the breath in a split second. You don't. If you can make a sound for 2-3 seconds while spitting, that gives you a lot of time to take your breath. Relax.
There will always be a small bump in the sound as you make the transitions. At first, there may be a large bump or even no sound at all. Relax, take your time, and do everything smoothly. Then, after you can do it, pick your spots carefully. Trills and fast scales are great places to circular breathe. Soft long notes are bad. Some things are very difficult to do while circular breathing. Tonguing, for example, is possible but awkward and best avoided. I have never figured out how to create a vibrato while circular breathing, so expressive passages are not good candidates.
Now, you can enjoy your newfound
freedom. For example, the first long statement of the Strauss
Concerto has several easy and logical places to breathe. Use
these to exhale only, and use circular breathing to inhale while
playing the sixteenth notes. It makes the opening statement almost
easy from a physical perspective, and allows you to actually
play fortissimo at the end and think about shaping and pacing