Flute Punch

Archive for the ‘Tone Production’ Category

Tone is influenced primarily by three factors:

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

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

Have you ever sung in the shower? Have you ever played flute in a bathroom or other space with a lot of hard surfaces? At one time or another, most musicians enjoy performing in these spaces because they are resonant — the sound lingers a bit longer and sounds fuller.

Believe it or not, you can achieve a similar quality inside your head by having a relaxed, “open” throat. The easiest and simplest way to create this space is to image you’re riding in a car on a cold morning. The windows are foggy. What do you do? If you’re a kid at heart, you take your finger and write something in the fog. Several minutes later, the windows have cleared up. What do you do? You breathe hot air to fog it up again!

Try this exercise right where you are (no car necessary!). Hold your hand in front of your face, pretend it’s a window, and fog it up. (Or pretend you’re checking for bad breath!) Do it several times and feel the space in the back of your mouth at the top of your throat. Notice how the throat is relaxed. If you try to create a space that is too large, you will develop unhealthy throat tension.

If you tried my tips in the previous posts over the last couple of weeks, you’re now in a better position to apply this third technique. You should notice the sound become warmer, fuller, and more vibrant.

Tone is influenced primarily by three factors:

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

In my previous post, I discussed embouchure, particularly lower lip placement and formation. In today’s post, I’ll be covering tongue placement.

To produce great tone, the back of the tongue should be placed higher in the mouth. This causes the air to pass over it in a more “compressed” fashion and exit the aperture (the hole your lips make) at a higher, more energized speed. If the tongue is too low in the mouth, placing the tongue higher almost always results in a dramatic improvement in sound.

Two concepts I use to achieve this:

  1. “Mountain” tongue — think of the tongue as a mountain range inside the mouth. Just as with mountains on earth, the air passing over them moves at a faster rate.
  2. Say the word “key.” Say it several times while noticing where the sides of your tongue contact your teeth. You should feel the sides contacting your upper molars.

Make changes gradually! After you have done the “key” exercise, play a long note using the new tongue position. Assuming you are moving enough air and have established breath support, you should hear the sound become stronger and more defined.

Once you’ve achieved this, try tonguing. If you notice the sound is negatively affected, you may be tonguing between the lips. This is an established method of tonguing, usually taught with the “spitting rice” technique, but it’s not the tonguing I teach for multiple reasons, and this is one of them. In my opinion, it’s difficult to tongue between the lips while maintaining a high tongue position. It’s almost as though the tongue isn’t long enough to do both. If you feel this is your difficulty, try tonguing so the tip of the tongue lands on the backside of the upper front teeth, as though you are saying “too.” Once you’ve got the hang of that, go back to the high tongue placement exercises.

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.

 

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.”

I recently queried a listserv I belong to about books useful for working out in the low register of the flute. I thought it would be interesting to list their suggestions here along with their comments:

  • Building the Flute Tone from the Bottom Up – A Guide to Lip Flexibility by Robert K.Webb and Kathryn Webb Thorson. It has some great exercises for lip flexibility using harmonics in addition to interval work on the lower notes.
  • Moyse’s De La Sonorite is THE book to have. A cornerstone of the flutist’s
    library and in many people’s view, the “Bible” for tone and low register development.
  • Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for the Flute, Volune 1 – Tone. Great for low register tone studies and excellent comments by Trevor.
  • Emil Eck’s Tone Development for Flute for high school students

I haven’t yet previewed these myself, except for the Eck, which you can see a few pages of on Google Books. Pages are missing from the preview, granted, but I don’t think it keeps the player in the low register the entire time, which is what I would like to find in a true low register development book.

Robert Dick started a YouTube channel in conjunction with a flute manufacturer. I thought this video on what he calls “throat tuning” was interesting. I definitely agree with his comments about singing. I think as instrumentalists, particularly when we are younger, we resist singing as some sort of “inferior” form of musicianship, probably because of the perceived differences between “band kids” and “choir kids.”


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