This constitutes the very heart and soul of bansuri playing. Through good blowing and breath control all the essential qualities of the instrument manifest; tonal quality, intonation, dynamics, rasa and bhava (the sentiment and emotional atmosphere of the raag) . Powerful blowing and stamina are must be developed. From a position of strength and power all the essential elements of bansuri playing can be expressed. The bansuri is, after all, only a simple length of bamboo with seven or eight holes, but through the power of breath it can be bought to life, coerced by the intention and will of the player to express all essential qualities. Poor and weak blowing will, only produce a thin, dry one-dimensional sound, unable to project the essentials of the music. Blowing and embouchure need priority attention, as flutes by their nature do not have the tonal contrasts and range of expression of other wind instruments.
Points to consider...
1) Exploiting full lung capacity. It is easy to fall into the habit of breathing only from the top of the lungs. Diaphragm breathing is essential in order to exploit the maximum capacity of the lungs, and also to control the dynamics of playing. Loud, soft, crescendo, diminuendo, the shaping and moulding of musical phrases are expressed and controlled by the movement of the diaphragm.
2) Posture. The basic position for the Indian musician is to sit cross legged, and yet this not an ideal position for wind instrument players. In most other traditions, wind instrument players either sit in a chair or stand, which greatly facilitates the breathing process. But for cultural and practical reasons the bansuri player always sits in cross-legged position during performance, but at other times it does not have to be this way. It is advisable to develop a flexible practice routine, sometimes practlse in the traditional position, other times sitting or standing. When sitting cross-legged, posture can be aided considerably by sitting on a cushion of about 6 cm in height, placed under the buttocks so that the knees reach down to the floor and the back then straightens, allowing the diaphragm to function more efficiently. Another way of sitting on the fleer is to kneel, sitting back on the heel (the position used by Japanese shakuhachi players), then during very long playing sessions to alternate between the two positions.
3) The development of stamina is essential. In all other traditions of flute playing, such as western classical music or jazz, there always times when the flute player can rest while other instruments play; even in carnatic music the flute player is usually accompanied by a violinist, so that he has moments to rest and recover his breath. In the hindustani tradition, the bansuri player is expected play seamlessly for long periods, of an hour or more. This is only possible when a perfect balance of intake and expenditure of energy and breath is established, Much practice of stamina building must be done. One test is to repeat a sequence, which could be , for instance, the first line of a composition followed by a tana and then returning to the line, and repeating the same without a break for up to 20 times, taking breath at the same places, and then observing any deterioration in the quality if one’s playing, increasing breathlessness, etc. If so, this will indicate that the breathing rhythm is not in balance, and more attention will need to be given to where one breathes, and how much is needed to keep the lungs full. In general, one should never continue playing until the lungs are nearly empty. oxygen deprivation will affect both physical and mental processes.
4) A general rule for all wind players of any instrument or tradition is to play long notes. Absolute steadiness, without vibrato is essential. Both low and high notes should be played, both straight and also with crescendo and diminuendo. The latter is particularly important, as in Indian music, notes rarely step suddenly, but tend to fade out and disappear into the background drone or tanpura.
5) Students frequently ask whether yoga breathing exercises are useful, to improve a players breath control, the answer being, not in any evident way. The fundamental difference between yogic breathing and that of a wind player is that in yoga, breathing involves bath the nose and mouth and the underlying principle is of regular breathing in and out. The flute player can only breathe through the mouth, and the rhythm is entirely dictated by musical necessities. However, one great advantage that Indian music has over western classical music is that it is not fixed, and the musician can adopt musical phrases and sequences to suit his/her own capacity. For a teacher writing tanas for students, it is always possible to tailor musical materials with breathing gaps, according to whether the student is a child. or adult.
6) The natural characteristic of the bansuri and all flutes is for the higher notes to have more volume and power and the lower notes to be softer and quieter, and yet the characteristic of the bansuri is to exhibit the greatest beauty and expressiveness when the player can achieve the opposite; to play strong powerful notes in the base, and soft ,delicate notes in the highest register.


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Anil Moghe said...

Actually i am learning bansuri.i am77 years old and my lungs are 55% efficient. This article
helped me to practice teen taal gat with conscience breathing in after 8 beats. Thanks
Anil Moghe

Yan White said...

I am a student of Clive since January, so just coming up to one year.

My experience (as a beginner I must add) is that my yoga and meditation practice definitely helps.
Most directly pranayama with kumbaka, or retention (anulom vilom, kapalabati, bhastrika and maha) as well as daily sitting meditation.
These all involve breathing through the nose but work to increase available lung capacity, focus and enhance prana.
Kapalabati and bhastrika, as well as kumbaka develop abdominal muscles, which allows us to breathe quickly and efficiently.
Also if percussive style is interesting to you it will definitely help with that.
I also found practicing after standing qi gong helps prepare me for practice.
Qi or chi is similar in concept to prana (living energy) ..

The benefit may not have a direct correlation for actual blowing technique but anything that works with prana will improve stamina, tonal quality and every aspect of my playing. Generally a yoga practice will give good posture, improve prana and teach us to draw in the senses and to meditate with single focus. The feeling of bhakti or devotion is also important. In my case it was a yoga teacher training that brought me to experience kirtan, light classical / bhajan and ultimately led me to hindustani classical music.

Having said all that I ought to practice asana more often!

Pooja Batra said...

The truth is that yoga has a very special place in today's stressful existence. In the modern day pressures, it is easy to lose oneself and succumb to depression.
yoga breathing exercises

Anil Moghe said...

I think yoga helps. I am 79 year old with asthama. I am learning hindusthani classical music on E flute. I am also doing some breathing exercises. My daily practice is about 2.5 to 2 hrs. I believe it is due to yoga