Flute Punch

X-Ray Videos of Flutist

Posted on: May 17, 2009

I came across this on Larry Krantz’s website — really wonderful. I’m always interested in anatomical explanations of how we produce sound on the flute.

Here are 4 short videos of Patricia George playing various things while under a fluoroscope. In particular, I noticed placement of the tongue as being fairly high in the mouth, and you can also see the soft palate in the back of the mouth lift to provide an open and resonant oral cavity.

I thought it was also interesting to note movements of the larynx, particularly as it relates to vibrato. We know that this happens because we can observe it during normal playing, and it also seems that the abdominal muscles do not tend to move. But we also know that often, if vibrato is taught from the throat instead of from the abdominal area, it tends to produce the infamous “billy goat” vibrato.

It was suggested to me by a medical professional that the larynx affects vibrato because as it closes, the air is forced to move faster, thus raising the pitch, and conversely, as it opens, the air moves more slowly and the pitch lowers. This makes sense to me according to my understanding of vibrato as modifications of the pitch (sharpening and flattening around the center of the pitch).

It would still be nice to have a better understanding of why, if the above is true, vibrato is still more successfully taught as a series of “ha ha ha” breath surges. The most I can figure is that teaching vibrato with the breath trains the ear to understand vibrato as variations of the pitch center, and as the ear becomes accustomed to this, the flutist automatically begins to transition to making these modifications with the larynx, as they would when varying pitch during speaking or singing.

It would be great to see a laryngoscope of a flutist while playing so we could further examine the action of the larynx.

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