The problem with the flute is that there is no mouthpiece so to speak. In fact, our lips are our mouthpiece. If your primary instrument is any other wind or brass, you are used to engaging with something you either put in your mouth or that is in direct contact with both your lips. How do you teach beginners to shape the aperture and direct the air properly in the absence of a mouthpiece?
First of all, let’s start with something we all can relate to: a coffee straw. It’s about the same size and shape as a good flute aperture. Another good visual reference is the opening of an oboe reed.
Take the coffee straw and put it in between you lips and seal your lips around it. That’s pretty much it, except we are wrapping our lips around the airstream rather than something we can hold in our hands. You can even try blowing through the coffee straw. Keep blowing and remove the straw so you can feel the airstream moving through the aperture you just made with your lips. Then take the headjoint and bring it up into position from below, feeling the edge of the blow hole against the edge of your bottom lip. Aim the air at the blowing edge with the aperture you are making with your lips. You should get a sound right away.
Another way to understand how to shape the aperture is to study the shape your lips make to say the sound of the letter “W” in English, like “water” or “weather”. Blow the air through this opening. You can even have the kids say “woo woo!” to get the idea.
Some important points to keep in mind with shaping the embouchure:
- It is all about orbicularis oris
- Anything that involves stretching the lips laterally is to be avoided. This includes smiling and even frowning.
- See all those other cheek muscles? Forget about them
- Channel the air through the wet inside of the lips.
- You may need to purse your lips slightly as you would when giving someone a kiss.
Actually Bogey and Bacall said it best, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and…blow”. Check it out when he whistles. Bogey would have made a great flute player! You can’t smile and whistle or smile and give someone a kiss at exactly the same time. The muscle groups are working against each other. Same for playing the flute.
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