‘Mind-blowing’ tuba player holds a five-minute note using circular breathing

31 January 2020, 12:25 | Updated: 18 September 2023, 09:57

"Mind-blowing" tuba technique earns Orillia student top grade

By Helena Asprou

The 16-year-old musician had set himself the challenge of mastering circular breathing to attain top marks in his school studies – but now he’s exceeding expectations with his impressive technique.

A young tuba player from Orillia, Ontario, has developed the rare ability to sustain a single note for five minutes – without a break in sound.

The talented musician, Matt Marzano, who is a Grade 11 (Year 12) student at Twin Lakes Secondary School, uses circular breathing to hold the same tone uninterrupted.

The 16-year-old tuba enthusiast decided to take up the challenge after asking his teacher, Christina Bosco, for tips on how to score top marks in his music class.

Read more: How do you circular breathe? We asked an expert >

He said: “I had to think of something random, something that I thought was unachievable.

“The next period I had chemistry and we were watching a movie and I wasn’t paying attention, so then I just decided to try to start.”

Circular breathing was originally developed in the 13th century by Mongolian metalsmiths, who used the technique to craft decorative items by blowing continuously to the flame through a pipe with a needle-like hole, as a means of softening the metal.

Harry Carney, a saxophonist and clarinetist who became known for performing with Duke Ellington during the 1920s, is one of the first musicians to bring the method to the mainstream, and it has since been used by people all over the world.

After hearing Marzano master the technique, Bosco told Simcoe.com: “It is pretty mind-blowing!”, and added that she has yet to meet another student capable of doing so in her 20 years of teaching.

Since picking up the impressive new skill, Marzano has achieved full marks in his music module.

How do you circular breathe?

Learning how to circular breathe is a tricky task on any instrument, but it’s even more difficult to achieve on a mighty tuba given the amount of air required to produce a sound.

Tuba player Marzano explains: “You breathe in and then, as you’re running out of breath, you pool up air in your cheeks.

“And then you push out the air in your cheeks as you breathe in... It creates a constant flow of air.”

The young player admits that circular breathing can feel “weird” at times, as the muscles in his neck feel tired after five minutes of practise.

In the video below, Australian Saxophonist Amy Dickson explains the technique to Classic FM’s Alexander Armstrong, noting the three important steps below for producing the technique.

1. Fill your cheeks with air, and blow a continuous raspberry

“The first step is to imagine you’re in a swimming pool and want to spit water at somebody – what you do then is fill your cheeks with water,” Dickson explains.

“For circular breathing, it’s with air. But without breathing in first. So you just let your cheeks puff out.”

The “spitting out” part is your raspberry, which Dickson demonstrates in the video.

2. Breathe in (or “sniff”) through your nose at the same time

The trick after that is to learn to breathe in while you’re breathing – or raspberry-ing – out. Try a “sniff” and go from there.

3. Add the air from your lungs back into your cheeks

The final step is to use the air that’s filled your lungs from breathing in through the nose to refill those puffed out cheeks.

”You need to allow the air back into your cheeks again,” Dickson summarises in the video above. “You get very strong stomach muscles!”

Once you’ve trained your body to do these three-step all at the same time, around and around you go – and you’re circular breathing!