Artist Insights featuring Andy Tweed

Breathing exercises

Some common issues for pupils are limited dynamic and tonal range, lumpy phrases and intonation issues. The cause can be that they are holding back their air. They find it hard to control the air supply leading to tension in the throat. Throat tension is a sound killer. The throat and larynx needs to be loose and flexible. It can seem a paradox but “letting go” is one of the keys to blowing with good control and getting the sound you want. A good concept that will help you is to think of using ‘fast air’.

Here is a simple exercise to get you started on blowing with minimal tension and it doesn’t require lots of technique.

1. You need a sheet of A4 paper and a smooth(ish) wall

2. Place toes to wall

3. Hold the paper on the wall in front of your face

4. Blow onto the paper and take your hand away keeping the paper on the wall with the speed of the air

5. See how long you can hold the paper on the wall

6. Practice until you keep the paper on the wall for the whole outward breath

Don’t think about technique, focus on letting go and blowing fast.

Tips - so you don’t get too demoralised if it doesn’t work straight away:

Don’t stand too far away, make sure your toes are near or touching the wall

Don’t try on a polished surface like a mirror or a white board

Try starting with a smaller piece of paper like A5.


1. Take the mouthpiece, look down it from the playing end between the reed and the tip opening.

2. Blow down into the space behind the reed at the same speed as you blew the paper onto the wall.

3. Don’t worry about what is going to come out, don’t try to control anything, just blow and see what happens.

This a a noisy exercise so do it when you will not be bothering anyone, if you feel like you are you will not ‘let go’.

Andy Tweed

Originally from Northern Ireland, Andy Tweed studied clarinet and saxophone at Birmingham Conservatoire. Andy is a particularly versatile saxophonist, equally at home in the jazz and classical worlds and a leading saxophone and jazz educator. He is an official Yamaha Artist.