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Inhaling through the mouth can be fast and leads more naturally to a good deep breath, but hitting the back of your mouth with dry and cold air doesn't seem to be the most healthy thing to do.

On the other hand inhaling through te nose is gentle but slow.

What is the best way to inhale for a good breath support?, through the nose or the mouth? Or is it more complicated?

EDIT: As I clarified in the comments I'm interested in both voice and woodwinds (recorder). If you think there is a difference I would appreciate your input. Thanks!

  • Are you asking about singing or playing woodwinds? – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '15 at 20:43
  • Hm, both actually. I got interested in breath support because of picking up the recorder. Then I wanted to apply it to singing. I supposed there wouldn't be a lot of difference. I'm sorry about the confusion. What is in you opinion the best way to salvage the question? – Tim H Dec 18 '15 at 8:24
  • Perhaps clarify that and allow for different answers depending on the situation. Or split it into two questions. – Todd Wilcox Dec 18 '15 at 13:44
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I read a very good book on singing which agrees with you that inhaling through the nose when possible is preferred, to make the air passing over the vocal cords on inhale less dry. Dry vocal cords are bad. At the same time, as you note, inhaling through the nose is much slower than through the mouth.

I handle this by inhaling as rapidly through the nose when I can, predicting when I need to breathe, and when necessary (to fill my lungs in a short amount of time) I inhale through the mouth. Like piano fingering, I find it takes planning, preparation, and practice to optimize breathing for singing.

  • Well done brother Todd. Plus 1 for a concise but comprehensive answer. I completely agree and can't think of anything to add. Wish I could give another plus one for predicting when a deep breath is needed and planning and practicing. It's not enough just to memorize the melody and the words, you have to remember where to take a breath or you will end up gasping for breath on a sustained section of the song. On some of my lead sheets on the songs I haven't memorized yet, I will sometimes even note where to take a breath. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 17 '15 at 18:07
  • Oh yeah, noting where you have to breath is huge. Same thing with any instrument and piece one is learning from sheet music. I remember my piano teacher making all kinds of marks all over the place all the time. It's like the actual score is just the skeleton. – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '15 at 18:09
  • Singing is not playing a woodwind. The vocal cords are not in use when playing an instrument. The putative damage due to "dry" air requires citations in medical journals, not musicians' books . – Carl Witthoft Dec 17 '15 at 20:34
  • @CarlWitthoft I don't understand the reference to woodwinds or playing an instrument at all.. ? Ooohhh.. I didn't notice the tag and assumed the asker was asking about singing. – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '15 at 20:40
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In the book Great Singers on Great Singing by Jerome Hines, he quoted 3 (among many other) famous opera singers who had 3 different opinions:

Gail Robinson:"I take air through my mouth and nose. But if I have time, I prefer to breathe through my nose, because it opens all the resonating chambers and gives a reserve of breath which I just don't get through breathing with the mouth. Breathing through the nose also avoids cold air and dryness of the throat. Everything seems to open up when you breathe through the nose."

Louis Quilico:"Never breathe only by the mouth, and never breathe only by the nose."

Kurt Baum:"I am strictly a mouth breather.....the nose is only there to avoid germs. If you take air gently through the mouth, you have an open throat. With a heavy breath you tighten the throat. No gasping...ever! Breathing should be like a massage on the vocal cords.....never use a sharp or heavy attack...it has to be gentle."

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I have to respectfully disagree with Todd here. Speaking as one who has several MDs in his family, I submit that there is little reason to fear health issues of any kind from mouth breathing (other than bad breath overnite) indoors, at normal indoor temperature ranges. Playing a woodwind is not singing: the vocal cords are not in play.

In all my years of playing clarinet&sax, I don't recall any teacher ever telling us not to mouth-breathe. If anything, breathing in thru your mouth forces you to relax your embouchure briefly, avoiding the risk of muscle cramp.

If you find it easy and comfortable to inhale thru your nose, by all means go ahead. But I strongly doubt there's a medical-physical reason to avoid mouth-breathing.

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    Notice the the question is tagged with both voice and woodwinds. I didn't notice either at first and assumed the question was about singing. – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '15 at 20:43
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Long time trombone player here. I've always breath in through the mouth. Along the sides. This way it is quick and you never miss any parts. Also, as a brass member I always need a full breath to play with the shear power i am expected to play with. Breathing through the nose simply doesn't give the same effect.

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    And confusion reigns supreme over what kind of breathing is being asked about. – Todd Wilcox Dec 18 '15 at 0:15
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I have disciplined myself to nasal breath 24/7, about wind instruments, I play clarinet,, I'm a jazz musician and don't read music, when improvising I now breathe through my nose, benefits are OK bur my favourite one is when I breath through my nose between phrases I now leave a bigger gap, that is ca good thing, makes me relaxed and I have a little extra time to construct my next phrase, as has been said so many times, a silence is as much a musical device as the notes.

  • Welcome to Music Stack Exchange. Your answer is clear and nicely addresses the question. It's always good when an old question is revived by a new member. Again, welcome. – L3B Mar 11 '17 at 0:21

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