Whether you are starting students out on flute in groups of ten or more, or one on one, the essential skills kids need to get off to a great start are embouchure formation and learning to balance the flute in their hands. Let’s look at each of these in more depth.
Unlike any of the other winds or brass, which have a mouthpiece to relate to, our embouchure is our mouthpiece. The part of the flute that rests on our chin is called a lip plate and the top joint of the instrument is called a headjoint. The actual “mouthpiece”, if you will, is how we shape the aperture with our lips to generate resistance for the air column.
Starting with the headjoint alone, have the student bring the edge of the lip plate up from below the chin to rest against the bottom lip at about the edge of the bottom lip. Please note that determining the optimal place on the chin/bottom lip to place the flute is different for each student. It will require some experimentation on both your part and that of the student to find the best place. Aids and demonstrations that help students develop a good embouchure include using your finger against your chin as a pretend flute, using the Pneumo-Pro and blowing through a coffee straw.
Do not use the so-called “Kiss and Roll”. I can pretty much guarantee you if you teach this to your kids when they start, you will observe the following characteristics in their playing down the road. These are big problems that require a lot diligence on the part of teacher and student to overcome. Why handicap the kids to begin with?
- windy, unfocused tone
- small sound without projection
- shallow blowing angle
- pitch problems
- they will be kissing and rolling loooong after they’ve learned to play. It’s a completely useless mannerism
Start by making sure that the flute is properly assembled with the headjoint turned back slightly so the blow hole lines up between the rods and the keys. This makes it possible to hold the flute in a balanced way, without having to brace or compensate for the weight of the rods pulling the flute backwards. With a C foot flute, it works for most people to line the footjoint rod with the middle of the D key (this might have to be adjusted for kids with smaller hands).
The balance points are the right thumb under (and a little behind) the flute and the right little finger on the Eb key,and the fleshy pad between the first and second joint of the left first finger. Jennifer Cluff, flute blogger extraordinaire, has a great video about aligning the flute. As Jennifer explains, teaching good balance right from the start leads to better sound and developing a fluid technique later on.
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