What is “Support”? – What, Why and How for Wind Musicians

You’ve probably heard people mention the word support. But do you really know what it means when someone says “You need more support”? They might explain it by talking about their diaphragm wile pointing to their lower abdominal muscles but it still doesn’t make any sense. It took me many years to finally ‘get it’ and I’m so sick of hearing teachers use this term but still not fully understanding it themselves!

What does it do?

Increasing your support increases the speed of airflow. This in turn may increase your pitch (or prevent you going flat in soft sections), improve your tone and projection. Sounds pretty good, right?

How do you do it?

You need to activate or brace your abdominal muscles and this will increase your speed of airflow. The muscles used are the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and internal and external obliques.

There are several things you can do to activate these muscles. Give these a go:

If you have 20 candles to blow out on a birthday cake, you will need to use these muscles much more than if you just had 1 candle to blow out. Give it a go, or try blowing, imagining you are blowing out 20 candles. You should feel your abs tighten while you blow.

Another example is coughing. Cough now, and feel your abs tense up to get the air out fast. This tightening is the ‘support’ feeling.

Another example is to imagine someone is going to punch you hard in the stomach. You will brace your abdominals so they are quite hard so your opponent will do less damage.

All these examples explain how to brace your abdominals.

Putting it into practice

A great exercise that works well with my students is playing in the upper register without tonguing. Try it with a scale like this, and remember, no tongue:

Exercise 1 for developing 'support' for flute players and other wind musicians

Then try it slurred, accenting the notes using your new found abdominal muscles:

Exercise 2 for developing 'support' for flute players and other wind musicians

Play it at different dynamics and registers, and then put it into practice with your pieces. If you have trouble adjusting it to a musical setting, just play the first phrase of a piece using this untongued method before playing the music as written.

I hope this has helped explain the concept of using your abdominals to support your airflow. Feel free to pass this information around as the more wind players understand this, the better we’ll all be as musicians. I am also a personal trainer so if you still have trouble bracing your abs, let me know and I can give you some more exercises to help.