It is important to breathe efficiently in all pieces. This includes taking a deep lungful in a short space of time and using that air effectively.

Many exercises and teachers focus on the intake of breath which is perhaps where people most often struggle. A breath in should be relaxed and with an open, wide throat. I have heard many people swear by ‘breathing down low’ in your belly and thinking about using the diaphragm. Other descriptions include breathing with your lower back muscles or thinking about pouring water into a jug – it fills from the base up. Personally I found the most effective ‘body advice’ was to keep the chest open and the sternum raised (The sternum is the bony plate that connects the ribs at the front of the torso). This is tied into relaxed and confident stage posture. To feel what an open chest involves stretch both hands above your head then lower them slowly keeping your chest in the same position.

When you snatch a breath between phrases on the saxophone drop your lower jaw away from the reed rather than breathing through your teeth or from the sides of your mouth. Not only does this open your mouth to allow more air in, it also briefly relieves the pressure on your lower lip lessening muscle fatigue. Your throat should be open and relaxed like a deep ‘oh’ vowel. I have heard this likened to the intake of breath at a ‘pleasant surprise.’ Try to breathe quietly rather than noisily.

To learn how to effectively intake breath it is useful to try cardiac exercise such as jogging or swimming. In swimming especially try to see how many freestyle arm stokes you can do in one breath and then try to increase the number. This will also improve your ability to consciously relax. With any exercise, once you get worn out your body will automatically start to breathe as efficiently as possible. Try to remember what this feels like and apply it to saxophone.

Soft Palate Air Leak


Velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI) is when the soft palate at the back of the throat collapses causing air to escape out of the nose. It causes a gurgling noise in the back or your throat and is mildly painful. In rare instances it can develop into a serious medical problem.