Flute Punch

Posts Tagged ‘open

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.

Finally, some clarification is coming for me on the subject of tonguing, thanks to the flute listserv I belong to. I was taught “too” or “tu” as Americans say it, and my experience is that students who were taught something else — usually some form of tonguing between the teeth — have sluggish, unclear tonguing. I had always thought that this was French tonguing, but it is not. The French style is “teu,” which has the benefit of keeping the tongue high in the mouth, which is also something I teach my students (or at least try to!).

A helpful member of the listserv directed me to this fantastic article on the Joseph Allard website. The “thi” tonguing is something different from “teu” and “tu/too” (I’m not sure where “thi” fits in; more on that to come, I hope). Even though Allard was a sax player, this article does a great job of describing effective tongue and throat position. Basically, the French “teu” causes the air to flow more quickly over the top of the tongue, because the tongue is close to the roof of the mouth — an effect similar to that created by putting your thumb over the end of hose, causing the water to spray out.

I may have to rethink my position on the open throat, or at least how I teach it. With students, I usually ask them to hold their hand up and breathe on it as though it is a mirror and they are going to fog it up. I think that this in itself does not create throat tension, but when the “teu” style tongue position is added to it, it certainly may, as it is hard to do both of those things at the same time. So it could be that if the tongue is functioning in the “teu” position, then it is out of the way of the throat, and the throat is therefore “open” and needs no further attention.


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