… nope, I don’t do it. Nor have I played anything that required it. I keep thinking I’ll learn it at some point but … well … I have reeds to make. Or something.

Two oboists teach you:

I have a young student who has been doing this without even realizing he’s doing it. The thing is, I don’t want him to be doing it yet, but I can’t seem to get him to stop. Go figure.


  1. Thanks for posting this Patty. I have not been able to get my mind to accept circular breathing either. I’m not clear on what they mean by pushing the air through the reed with the tongue. Does that mean they close off the throat with the back of the tongue and push air with the cheeks? I did enjoy looking through Christopher Redgate’s websites: http://www.21stcenturyoboe.com and http://www.christopherredgate.co.uk They are really interesting sites to visit for advanced oboe techniques.

  2. Circular breathing just doesn’t work on flute. (air moves out faster, less resistance than other wind instruments). BUT I consider it a technique that’s almost never good for music-making. The rhythms of breathing are so completely entwined with speech, singing, and wind playing, and that is always a good guide to phrase-shaping. Breathing is necessarily a step more abstract to string or keyboard players. After all, our speech would be less intelligible if we did not have those “commas” in the right places. So I’d discourage students from going for ” breathless” playing.

  3. I usually think of circular breathing as a parlor trick, but there are contemporary works that call for it and I think it does have value for at least those works. Some oboists use it in works like Tchaik 4, but I much prefer breathing (although that particular solo can actually be done with only that first breath by many of us).

  4. Part of what led me to circular breath was difficulties pacing long passages. I’ve always wondered if my lung structure has something to do with that. A Dr. once told me my lungs are a tad large, and I have always seemed to be plagued by stale air. For me, it’s a great “safety net” that allows me to exchange air when I need to. I do agree that you have to be very careful to use it appropriately and not depend on it as your only way of moving air. Breathing and phrasing do go hand in hand, so you have to be judicious.
    Janet- I’m not sure of the exact mechanics in terms of how the airstream switches, I think it has more to do with the soft pallet that the tongue. However, there is definitely a change in gears to allow the circular breath to happen. The easiest way to get a feel for it is to get some air into your cheeks (sans oboe). Now breath in and out through your nose…keep breathing then use the cheek muscles to push the pocketed air out. That’s the basic idea, next step get a reed in there. : )
    Thanks for posting me Patty!!

  5. Karen, I seem to have the ability to play for great periods of time without breathing … it worries people sometimes, in fact.

    I can circular breath without an oboe in my mouth … but I can double tongue that way too. Somehow the oboe just interferes with both of those things for me!

  6. The oboe interferes with many things. ; )
    I found with both double tonguing and circular breathing that there was a fair amount of time spent sounding really bad before it kicked in, like months of it. I just isolated the time I practiced both so I wouldn’t drive myself up a wall. It took a while to get the hang of both of them, but I’m so glad I did.

  7. I think I need someone here to shame me in to learning both techniques, Karen. 🙂