I'm practicing the song below:

enter image description here

But when I reach the middle of the 6th bar, there's almost no air remaining in my lungs (right after E-C). The problem is that I need to breathe, say, inhale, somewhere at the end of the 5th bar, but the successive G-A-G-F quarter notes don't let me do that since any breathing interrupts the correct tempo of my performance (maybe it's possible and it's just my weakness!).

Is there any rule-of-thumb to determine the spots of a melody at which a performer needs to breathe without interrupting the temporal flow of the melody?

  • Note that in this particular example, it's common for there to be a brief pause right at the end of the second to last measure, during with you could breath. When the song is sung, people usually breath then: "Ding dang dong <breathe> Ding dan dong". – Todd Wilcox Jun 18 '18 at 15:55

Consider a singer, singing this. For them, every single note is during exhalation. They have the same to deliver, but at least you have the opportunity at several points to inhale, while continuing to play.

Inhaling can occur through mouth and/or nose. Use the draw notes to suck more air into your lungs through your nose at the same time.

The other factor, as stated by ttw, is to take a breath in (like a singer would) at the end of a phrase. It means cutting a note off a little short, but we're back to what a vocal line would need. Also, try to keep more air in your lungs than you do normally, as a bit of a reserve. Sax, trumpet, trombone, etc., players all learn how necessary this is too.

  • Please give others a chance to answer! – Tim Jun 18 '18 at 7:35

Singers are usually trained to expel the remainder of their air and inhale during longer notes. You've got a couple half notes there. If the tune is fast you've got your work cut out for you. But what makes sense is to not disrupt the musical continuity. So pick the end of a musical phrase to breath. Also, if your have a well developed core you can exhale slowly and extend the amount of music you play in a breath. But this takes time and practice.

  • Inhale during longer notes? Did you mean before singing longer notes? – Tim Jun 18 '18 at 16:23
  • No, what I've been taught through voice lessons is to steal a little time at the end of a long note (if it doesn't break the continuity of the phrase) and inhale there. I did not mean to inhale while singing a long note (not sure I could do that). That sounds like circular breathing (which I cannot do). – ggcg Jun 18 '18 at 16:36
  • O.k. Not sure whether vocalists can get away with circular breathing. like horn players do. Probably not, as open mouths tend to let a lot of air out. – Tim Jun 18 '18 at 17:04

I don't play harmonica but in singing or playing wind instruments, I'd try to grab a quick breath after the second "vous." It's best to grab a breath on long notes at ends of phrases.

  • That long G depletes the air, but I doubt that this is good spot to take some breath, because the next note, i.e., the first G of the 5th bar, is a continuation of the former G. So, don't you think inhaling between two exhaling notes makes a hiccup in the performance? – Roboticist Jun 18 '18 at 1:33
  • @Roboticist IMO no, a pause there fits very nicely with the poetry of the lyrics. The fact that the same note comes in again is not important at all. If anything it becomes more important to have a hiccup for the very reason that it is the same note coming again. One is the ending of a phrase and the other is the beginning of a new phrase. A little space there helps to distinguish the two functions that the same note is called to perform. This is all just my opinion FWIW. But especially now that I've learned that 'Sonnez' is an order. That G should be very strong and distinct. – luser droog Jun 19 '18 at 4:08

With a piece like this which is a song, then there are natural places to pause guided by the punctuation marks in the lyrics. Unfortunately the example is missing a lot. So I reproduce it here with "proper" punctuation (IMO):

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines!
Din Dan Don. Din Dan Don.

All of the commas ,, question marks ?, periods ., and exclamation points ! are good candidates for a spot to steal a breath.

[Incidentally, I hadn't noticed until now that 'sonnez les matines' is an imperative verb, ie. a command. "Sound the bells!" This is very different than the usual rendering in English "Morning bells are ringing".]

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