Diaphragm Breathing For Clarinet Players

Diaphragm breathing, also known as "belly breathing," is the best way to breathe so you can put enough air through your clarinet. You can use these techniques with any other wind instrument and with singing, too.

Click here for breathing exercises

Click here for breathing tips in relation to playing the clarinet

All About Breathing

Breathing is movement.

It is a combination of several parts of your body working together.

The Lungs

Your lungs are higher than you might think! As you can see in the picture, your lungs are in the upper half of your rib area on either side of your heart.

The tops of your lungs are actually above your collarbone. The top of the collarbone is shown in the picture below by the blue line. I was so creeped out when I learned that. BUT, knowing that will enable you to use ALL of your lung's capacity when you breathe.

clarinet tips, clarinet breathing

Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique: A Manual for Students. Portland: Andover Press, 1995. p. 65

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is shown above as the curved red line at the bottom of the lungs. It is responsible for about three-quarters of the muscular work in proper breathing.

As the lungs fill with air the diaphragm descends. It changes shape, flattening from a more domed position to a less domed position. Think of the diaphragm going down in order to make room for the lungs to fill with air.

This actually expands your whole torso! Read on.

The Abdominal Wall

When the lungs fill with air and the diaphragm descends, the entire abdominal wall, including the sternum, pelvis and ribs is pushed outward. This is why you might have been told to "push your stomach out" when you breathe. Although that's what it may look and feel like when you breathe, remember that it is your abdomen in general that is expanding. Your stomach is only one organ amid so many that work together!

The Ribs

Maybe you've been told to "lift your ribcage." Your rib cage is actually attached to your spine, so the feeling you get when you "lift your ribcage" may be more from good posture!

The placement of your ribcage as whole does not affect lung capacity. Do stay mindful of your spinal position, though, to avoid slumping.

Your ribs do move during breathing, though. Each individual rib has a joint at the spine, which helps the ribs expand when you inhale. The muscles between the ribs, intercostal muscles, help out with this.

Click here to see how posture affects diaphragm breathing.


In Inhalation:

The lungs fill with air

The diaphragm flattens

The abdominal wall expands

The ribs expand up and out

In Exhalation:

The lungs release air

The diaphragm becomes more dome-like

The abdominal wall contracts

The ribs contract