Where to breathe

People new to wind instruments often have trouble knowing where to breathe. The key is to understand phrasing. A musical phrase is like a sentence, a complete musical 'idea'. It is important to align your breaths with the phrasing as breaking the middle of one is usually jarring.

Depending on the genre phrases may have a consistent or varying length. The phrases of traditional dance music fall into the former category. The music exists to carry a dependable rhythm for dancing. Consequently the phrases are easy to identify. Here is the first part of the Kesh Jig for example:


X: 1
T: The Kesh - a part
R: jig
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
|:G3 GAB| A3 ABd|edd gdd|edB dBA|
GAG GAB|ABA ABd|edd gdd|BAF G3:|

This tune breaks into the four two bar phrases below. Breaths should be taken at the end of these. This is done by dropping or shortening the last note of the phrase.


X: 1
R: jig
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
"Phrase 1" G3 GAB  | A3 ABd  |
"Phrase 2" edd gdd | edB dBA |
"Phrase 3" GAG GAB | ABA ABd |
"Phrase 4" edd gdd | BAF G3: |

Phrases in song melodies are rarely this ridgid and usually follow the structure of the lyrics. Take the following welsh folk song for example:


X: 1
T: The Ash Grove - verse 1
R: waltz
M: 3/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
A2 | d2f2ag | f2d2d2 | e2 g2e2 | c2A2
w: The ash grove, h-ow grace-ful, how plain-ly

In my opinion this divides into 3 phrases, two short ones at a long one. Notice that the pick up note or anacrusis has shifted the end of the phrase relative to the bar line. The final note of line 1 bar 3 is the start of phrase 2.


X: 1
R: waltz
M: 3/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
"Phrase 1" A2 | d2f2ag | f2d2
w: The ash grove, h-ow grace-ful
"Phrase 2" d2 | e2 g2e2 | c2A2
w: how plain-ly

If you want to play a song the best option is to listen several people sing it. Pay attention to where the singer takes breaths. The phrases of a song often change in different verses; the same melody repeats but the phrasing changes with the lyrics.

Exercises