Hi all– writing a ww quintet and I can’t think of any better way to answer this question. How long could an advanced oboist hold a note on a single breath? I’m specifically looking for the sound of the instrument being stretched absolutely as long as the player can, but I need to be able to somewhat plan for how long it’s going to take. Thanks!

I read it here.

One of the responses suggested circular breathing. I really don’t care much for the technique. I won’t go into why for now, as I’m on vacation and so is my brain. But the question is one that I just don’t care for. Just write music, please. And if you want someone to hold a note for three minutes don’t use a wind instrument. Breathing is part of the music.

When I play a terrifically long phrase &mdash: I can go on for quite a while without a breath — I frequently hear, “Wow, that was a long time to hold your breath!” and to me that shows that it may have been distracting to do so. And of course I’m not actually holding my breath … I am pushing it through that tiny reed. I rarely run out of oxygen; I run “into” carbon dioxide.


  1. “I rarely run out of oxygen; I run ‘into’ carbon dioxide.”

    Fantastic – I’ve tried unsuccessfully in the past to put that into words. I just might steal that from you.

  2. Plus, it seems to me like circular breathing would miss the effect the composer wants- the way I read it, it seems like he wants the effect of stretching out a breath, rather than holding a note ad infinitum. Or perhaps not. 🙂

  3. Well said, and I think for an aspiring composer (or orchestrator) it would make more sense to find out which particular things are awkward for any given instrument, including violin, trombone, oboe etc. And I mean this not just so that one might make it easier on the performer, but that one understands the potential result (e. g. if they want an awkward feel, for example).

    I have to assume that’s typically part of the training for (at least Western-style) composers?

  4. Steal away, Brad!

    And yes, Rachel, I think you’re right about circular breathing.

    Tim, I know that I go in to talk to UCSC orchestration students. I’ve never had a UCSC composer ask to talk to me; I sure wish they would! They so often depend upon books and they aren’t always correct!