Flute Punch

Great Tone: Part 1 of 3

Posted on: August 27, 2014

Tone is influenced primarily by three factors:

  1. Embouchure, particularly the lower lip
  2. Tongue placement
  3. Oral space/open throat

In this first of three posts, I’ll discuss the lower lip and its role in tone production.

Ever had chapped lips? The surface of the lips frays and dead skin peeling causes the lips to feel fuzzy and flaky. Even on a day when the lips are not chapped, the outer edge of the lips is still rougher than the inside edge.

A trained embouchure will expose more of the inside of the lip by rolling it outward. This, in turn, means that the corners of the mouth must pull the lip a bit more taut. The result is a smoother surface for the airstream to pass over.

The best way to evaluate this (or any) aspect of your embouchure is to look in a mirror while playing. The primary characteristic I look for in students is contact between the lower lip and the lip plate. You should see the lower lip contacting the lip plate on either side of the embouchure hole.

Average lower lip position

This is a typical flute embouchure. It’s nice, but not much of the lower lip is contacting the lip plate. It also tends to play sharp.

Better lower lip formation

More lower lip is contacting the lip plate. More of the smooth inner surface is exposed. Corners of mouth are directed downward.

If you’re struggling, try the following concepts:

  • “Smash” or “squish” the lower lip against the lip plate
  • Roll the lower lip out
  • “Pout,” which will roll the lip and engage the corners of the mouth

It’s important that the corners of the mouth engage, usually in a backward or downward/frowning motion.

Two parting words of caution:

  1. Leave smiling to the vocalists. On flute, smiling will pull the lower lip up and away from the lip plate, which is the opposite of what we want to achieve.
  2. Double-check lip plate position. Many players place the lip plate slightly too high on the red part of the lower lip. Using the mirror, make sure the edge of the embouchure hole contacts the face at the point where the chin skin meets the red part of the lower lip.

If you find your placement is indeed a bit high, and you make this adjustment, it’s possible that at first, no sound will come out. That’s OK! If that happens, keep the new placement while trying the tips above. Placing the lip plate at this point on the face will require you to use a better embouchure. When working with students on this aspect of playing, it only takes a couple of minutes before sound is again produced, and it is always a higher quality sound.

 

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4 Responses to "Great Tone: Part 1 of 3"

Bravo for posting this!! I’ve experienced progress recently by working on the lower lip. Probably a neglected area of teaching as is HOW to get an open throat and HOW/WHAT TO DO with oral space and tongue – VOWELS. Tonguiing at the lips can also influence the quality of tone. So much and often so vague and mysterious – too vague and too mysterious.

Tom Parker

Hi Tom, thanks for reading! Do you have any visualizations or vowels you’ve found particularly helpful?

[…] my previous two posts, I discussed lower lip placement and formation, and tongue placement. This final post in series will cover oral […]

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