A Guide to Circular Breathing

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Written by: Tom Griffiths

For those of you reading this who have no idea what ‘circular breathing’ is, it is simply a technique for playing an instrument that enables you to keep an unbroken note flowing. Saxophonists and trumpet players use it to enable them to play and play, as do Aboriginals who invented the technique thousands of years ago in order to play the didgeridoo.

To see circular breathing in action in a different way you only have to watch a bagpipe player – he blows into the ‘bag’ to fill it up to start with and then squeezes the air out of the bag through the pipe to get a note. Whilst playing he then blows more air into the bag to keep it inflated…so that he can squeeze it out through the pipe. This continuous flow of air enables him to play uninterrupted music for hours.

As a didgeridoo player it was essential for me to learn to circular breathe so that I could progress from the basic interrupted wet fart sounds to the fluent rhythmic sounds that I am addicted to today.

I determined to master circular breathing as without it I wasn’t going to master the didge. I was taught by an Aborigine out in Australia called ‘Barry’ (an unlikely Aboriginal name!) with a glass of water, a straw and an open mind. This is the method I’ll show you here which works when learning as a didgeridoo player.

Didgeridoo player

The Secret to Success:

  1. Aim to master it over one week, not more than one hour per day.
  2. Persevere with what you know is correct – don’t rush the steps.
  3. Don’t tell anyone you are doing it – spectators make this impossible.
  4. Stay relaxed. It will not happen if you are tense.

Ok, let’s begin!

Step One

Trap air in cheeks, blow out, achieve raspberry sound.

Yes, this is simple, but you need to take the time to think about what you are doing.


Simply fill your cheeks with air (the bagpipe player blowing into his bag) and then squeeze the air out past your lips by breathing out – NOT blowing (the bagpipe player squeezing air out of the bag with his arm). You are not trying to blow a note here, just get air flowing from your cheeks out through you mouth – which will ultimately make your lips vibrate and so get a note. You should be hearing a deliberate raspberry sound. The louder the raspberry sound the better. As a didgeridoo player you will know that this loose lip technique is what you use to get a sound.

How many?

Do this 100 times, thinking constantly about what you are doing.

Step Two

Trap air, use palms of hands to expel air in cheeks, tighter raspberry sound.


As above, fill your cheeks with air and then put the palms of your hand on your cheeks and squeeze them together to force the air out. The raspberry sound will get ‘tighter’ and more high pitched. Take a deep breath, relax for half a second and then repeat.

How many?

Do this 100 times, again thinking about what you are doing whilst doing it.

Man circular breathing

Step Three

Expel air from cheeks with hands, breathe in through nose slowly.


As above, expel the air from your cheeks with the palms of your hands, but this time breathe in slowly through your nose as you do it (a nice, long, deep sniff of air to fill the lungs right up). This will fill your lungs with air (e.g. the bagpipe player blowing into his bag and filling it with air). Then simply blow out. Relax for half a second, then repeat. You will now start to understand how it works, but most importantly, what it feels like.

How many?

Again, 100 times!

Step Four

Do it without your hands.


Use your own cheek muscles to squeeze the air out of your cheeks (to get the high pitch, tight, raspberry sound), whilst at the same time breathing in slowly through your nose. Make sure you over-accentuate filling your lungs with air – take some really deep sniffs! Once the lungs are filled, breathe out and then repeat.

How many?

100 again. Your cheeks will ache after this. This is a good thing as you are developing the right muscles and actions!

You will notice that there is a gap between the blowing out and then the subsequent sniffing in. Once you have practiced this loads, attempt to make it seamless.

Step Five

Glass of water and straw.

Quarter of a glass of water in a clear glass. With a straw. Blow gently through the straw to get a constant gentle flow of bubbles. NOTE: this is how hard you need to blow to circular breathe! i.e. hardly anything. This is why you need to be relaxed and why, once you have mastered circular breathing you can literally play all day.

Repeat step four, but blow into the straw. Fill your cheeks with air and then squeeze the air from your cheeks doing the high pitched raspberry through the straw, whilst breathing in through your nose (the bubbles will start to flow)…and then breathe out through the straw once your lungs are filled (the bubbles will continue to flow)… and then squeeze the air from your cheeks again whilst sniffing the air up again (the bubbles will continue to flow)… and so on.

Congratulations, you are now circular breathing!

To hone your skill practice this loads so that there is an uninterrupted flow of bubbles from the end of the straw in the glass – do this for five minutes without stopping.

Note: Now that you can do this you have license to take anyone on in the pub at a ‘who can blow bubbles the longest without stopping… for a pint?’ They will go purple at about 15 seconds… you can keep going until they come back from the bar with your pint! (keep yourself occupied whilst they are at the bar by reading a paper whilst continuing to blow bubbles without stopping.


Step Six

Pick up your didge.

Start playing as you would normally, but within two to three seconds squeeze the air from your cheeks, blow a raspberry down the didge whilst slowly sniffing up a big lungful of air… and then blow out as per normal to get your sounds. Within five seconds, repeat… and then go from there.

Step six tips:

  1. Be happy if you have a gap between the squeezing the air out and the blowing out… just take your time to close the gap.
  2. Start your circular breathing early within seconds of playing – it is more difficult to learn on empty lungs.
  3. Take breaks every five minutes as you will progress faster when you are relaxed and have full lungs with non aching jaws.
  4. Play into an empty sink or bath to hear your sounds better and to work on flawless circular breathing.
  5. Drop gapyear.com a line if you have followed this through to here and it has worked! I have taught many people face to face and only a couple (that I know of) through writing.

Time to head Down Under


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