Flute Punch

Archive for the ‘Embouchure’ Category

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.

 

The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Music Learning has some in-depth videos on embouchure. Professor of Flute Marianne Gedigian provides the flute embouchure demonstrations. Videos vary in length, so even if you’re short on time, you can still watch a short video and walk away with a better understanding of sound production on the flute.

There, there, Band Director. We flutists know that 99% of you are not flutists, and we forgive you for that, as long as you grovel appropriately. Following is a tidy summary of a Facebook convo some of us had recently that produced a number of helpful tips that actually did help the flute section in question (gasp!).

Question:

Major flute intonation issues in my flute section. Some have the head joint way out and are rolling out and are still sharp. Others have other issues. Help me help them. I wanted to be there for them, but I wasn’t sure where the reed went . . .

Answers:

  • Check the cork. Put the end of the cleaning rod into the headjoint. The little line needs to be fairly centered in the embouchure hole.
  • Check alignment. The embouchure hole should be roughly inline with the keys. Students sometimes place it rolled too far one direction to compensate for improper embouchure or poor hand position (particularly the RH thumb).
  • Young students usually tend to pull the corners of the embouchure to tight. Adjust air stream by having the student pull the tip of their nose down. Try pulling down a bit more in the midrange and letting the nose up in the higher and lower ranges.
  • Don’t let students roll headjoints in and out while playing.
  • For beginning students, try having them pretend they are blowing out a birthday candle. This helps them get a more relaxed embouchure and the type of air stream that is helpful.
  • Posture should be correct but also relaxed.
  • Make sure they are not overblowing to hear themselves, particularly in a marching/pep band situation –¬†when you can’t hear yourself, you have to rely on feeling – what does it *feel* like to play in tune, with centered tone. Younger players don’t have that yet, especially if they don’t practice much.
  • Give them general guidelines, like ” line up your head joints” or “tip your head down just a bit” (can help prevent sharpness in upper register, but you don’t want a lot of movement) or “blow a little lighter.”

Flute Talk is a great magazine, but it seems to me that their recent issues have been exceptionally excellent. The March 2009 issue contains an article by Alexis Del Palazzo titled “Teaching with Extended Flute Techniques” that discusses the benefits (such as tone development) of exploring extended techniques (such as harmonics, vocalization, and whistle tones) with younger players.

I appreciated the mention of numerous resources in the article and thought I would post a few links to them here:

The article points out that studying extended techniques as a beginning/intermediate student doesn’t have to be difficult; on the contrary, it can be quite fun, and in addition to developing tone, it can open up the mind to a wider variety of tone color possibilities.

I finally put up the first sets of flute/piccolo embouchures on Flickr. Check out my photostream to see pics of different flutists playing in the low, middle, and upper registers. So far I have 5 different players and I’m looking forward to adding more in the future. These are all players with at least several years of experience who are getting a decent sound.

Courtesy of Ann Yasinitsky, Clinical Assistant Professor of Music, Washington State University

Everyone’s mouth and lips are different, but there are a few basic principles of embouchure. For the low register, the bottom lip is drawn back (corners frowning), and the airstream is directed somewhat downward. The bottom lip moves slightly forward for the middle and upper registers and the air is directed more across the headjoint. The higher the note, the smaller the aperture. Do not pinch the lips in the high register! Instead, relax the mouth and produce high notes by supporting from the diaphragm. If you think of the syllables “ah” or “oh” while playing, your tone will have a fuller, rounder quality. Do not press the lip plate [of the flute] hard against your lip. Remember that any tension in the mouth, lips or throat will result in an ugly, choked tone.

from “A Little Bit About Flute Playing”

I forgot to mention in my previous entry that these excerpts are taken from a handout Ann uses when she gives workshops.


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