Playing Clarinet with Asthma

Clarinetists know that one of the most important elements of clarinet-playing is, well….air. So, what can asthmatic clarinetists do to overcome respiratory difficulties when playing the clarinet?

Asthma doesn’t have to stand in the way of your clarinet goals! The good news is that many studies have shown that playing a wind instrument “has the potential of being a long-term therapeutic agent for asthmatics” (you can read a few studies here and here).

Here is some advice for clarinetists suffering from asthma to maximize their respiratory potential:

DISCLAIMER: I am a clarinetist – not a qualified medical expert. Please consult your doctor before incorporating any of these into your practice routine. All advice below is given from the perspective of a classically-trained clarinetist (not a doctor). 

  • Keep your instrument clean. Always swab your instrument and remove the reed at the end of every practice session to avoid buildup of any germs or allergens which might trigger an attack.
  • Start with “easier” equipment. If you are first starting out on clarinet, start with soft reeds (I recommend Vandoren or JUNO reeds, strength 2 or 2.5, but you can always go down a strength if these are too hard). Make sure you are using a mouthpiece which will complement the reeds (softer reeds generally require more open mouthpieces).
  • Take frequent breaks. Start slowly and take frequent breaks to catch your breath throughout your practice routine.
  • Take slow, deep breaths. When you inhale before playing a note, take ample time to slowly and fully inflate your lungs gradually. Avoid sharp, quick intakes of air.
  • Embrace long tones. Start every practice routine with long tones to focus on smooth, controlled breathing before delving into trickier passages.
  • Consider yoga or meditation. Adding these or other light cardio activities can help optimize respiration outside the practice room and allow you to focus on controlled and intentional breathing exercises.
  • Practice breathing exercises. Many musicians swear by the Breath Builder or other devices aimed at increasing air support (some musicians simply use coffee straws or other objects lying around the house). Note: Please consult a doctor before adding any of these to your routine.

I hope this helps you along your clarinet journey! What other advice have you found useful for playing clarinet with asthma?


  • Nelson


    Asthma has been with me for around 70 years. My early years in England were the worst and I can still vividly remember using those primitive asthma pumps half the night with the gooey smell of the stuff we used to pour into them and then start pumping the rubber ball on the bottom of the pump to try for relief. My father wouldn’t let me take up the clt until I was around 18yo. It was often a battle but slowly went onto other forms of treatment and moved to Australia, Adelaide (Asthma capital of the world !!!) in hospital many times but around 1964 it seemed to clear up and has never returned with that severity. But in later years it has returned requiring the puffer things 6 x per day. But all this time I have kept up playing, Often a battle but with puffers, I can do it. Try to find the right puffer or combination of puffers for you, use the diaphragm, KEEP THE SHOULDERS DOWN. This next bit may be rubbish but I find breathing OUT while playing is not too difficult I can still hold the long solos in Steppes of Central Asia (Borodin) Symphony No 2 (Rachmaninov) by planning ahead. Sit up straight and don’t hesitate to seek second opinions. I play every day and still belong to 2 orchestras. There are of course different degrees of asthma and only recently my doc found my windpipe was constricting….so Spiriva came into my daily routine in addition to Spiromax/Simbicort. I guess I’m one of the lucky sufferers, but still playing at 81. Good luck/

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