Stale air problem on Clarinet
by James M.
I've been playing clarinet for roughly a year and have been struggling with breathing issues throughout but I feel as if it has gotten worse within the last month or so. After learning to play with an open throat (I was taught to blow as if steaming a mirror) I noticed that though my throat strain and other body tensions went away, my problem with stale air has become increasingly worse. Now playing simple passages from beginning to end without stopping to let out air is a rare feat and I can't figure out what exactly the problem is. The feeling I get is that I'm holding my breath while I'm playing and every additional breath is just adding to the breath that I took initially. The weird thing is I'm getting a warm full bodied sound, so I think I'm blowing through the horn with pressurized air. Other wind players have suggested to me to take less air or make sure I am breathing with my diaphragm, which I'm currently working on, but neither have changed the issue.
I found that if I blow through the same passages without or barely making a sound I'm able to take breaths easily and logically without any need to exhale and I feel like this is how it should feel while I'm playing, but I can't seem to do the same while playing for real.
Previously, the wind players that I've asked advice from have said that my issue is rare and don't really know what advice to give, but if you can give any additional advice or tips, I would greatly appreciate it.
For only playing clarinet one year, you certainly have a good grasp of descriptions of your issues on clarinet. It is definitely a good idea to have an open throat while playing clarinet. However, make sure you are not using the throat as a muscle. It sounds like you are tensing up the throat to help put air pressure into the clarinet.
All of the air pressure should come from the diaphragm which basically operates the in and out of the lungs. When breathing in and out, it feels like your stomach is moving. Especially if you lay down, if you take a deep breath, your stomach will increase. As you blow air out, the stomach should firm-up and decrease. Not only the front part, if you really breathe in well, your stomach will increase all the way around your waste and to the back at your spinal column.
Take a breath in so large that you cannot take any more into your lungs and then blow out. There should be no resistance so the in and out can move rather fast. On clarinet you will have the pressure of the reed and mouthpiece, but that should be the only resistance. The air pressure should come from deep inside your lungs (feeling like it is deep from inside your stomach). The throat should only act as a pipe to deliver the air. It should not constrict the air either by being a narrow channel, or constrict the air by using it as another muscle to create air pressure. All of that pressure should come from the diaphragm.
Perhaps light either a match or a candle and hold it at an arm’s length. Try to blow it out. You will find that fast, relatively cold air blows it out. The mirror analogy you use is okay; however, you have to hold the mirror near your mouth to steam it. I can actually do that using both poor air or good air.
You might have already read the Clarinet Air Support page on this site. I also wrote about Nervous Air that is very similar to your topic. It has the similar function of building up too much air and having to exhale while playing. Please read that page as well.
Another thing you can try is to play a lighter reed. Take as much resistance out of the reed and mouthpiece as you can and see if you have the back-up of air you described. Only do this to test out your air control and then see if you can simulate the correct air control on the normal strength of reed that you currently play.
I wish you the best of luck and practice and let me know how it all works out. Remember to seek out a Private Clarinet Teacher if you get a chance.