Flute Punch

Posts Tagged ‘tone

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.

 

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.”

There’s plenty of examples of great flute playing for us to fill our heads with, but great piccolo playing is a little harder to come by.

In this 6 minute YouTube video, Dr. Leonard Garrison, flute professor at the University of Idaho, discusses techniques specific to the piccolo and also demonstrates some nice tone.

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

Try to practice several different aspects of flute technique every day. Your daily practice regime should include long tones in the high, medium and low registers. The purpose of long tones is [to] work for purity and beauty of tone while playing long notes. Be self-critical, always striving for a better sound. A good long tone exercise book is De la Sonorite by Marcel Moyse (published by Leduc).

Secondly, one should always practice scales and arpeggios — tongued and slurred. Start by learning all major and minor scales; practice playing them two octaves each. You should write out all these scales yourself.

Next, you need to work on etudes. Choose etudes which are challenging, but not so difficult as to be unplayable. Solos are the last essential part of a good routine. As with etudes, pick solos which appeal to you and are challenging, but not beyond your level.

from “A Little Bit About Flute Playing”


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