And I’m not talking about the flute itself. The flute is the same size regardless of different adaptive configurations to accommodate players of different sizes or with specialized requirements due to physical limitation. Rather, I’m talking about how we teach, whether it is basics like embouchure and hand position, or advanced musical concepts such showing the beat hierarchy or phrasing.
In the course of this blog we have discussed the value of a number of “techniques” for teaching basic embouchure, headjoint alignment and intonation. These include the so-called “kiss and roll”, aligning the flute headjoint with the keys, and rolling in/out to correct intonation. It seems to me that each of these dubious “techniques” were devised by non-flute specialists in an attempt to create a solution that would work for every kid who plays flute. Unfortunately, these simplistic quick fixes have long term negative consequences in terms of tone and embouchure development, hand position and developing a solid technique, and the ability of students to develop their ear and learn how to correct their own pitch. They seemingly solve a short term problem but create many more long term problems. You will see ongoing problems among your flute students with hand positions, technique development and pitch awareness. And you will find that you are constantly having to address these issues in rehearsals and sectionals.
Rather than applying a cookie cutter cure-all, it takes a bit more time, and the ability to observe and evaluate, in order to give your students the tools to develop a mature sound, solid and reliable technique and to be able to control intonation. And while there are general guidelines that can be applied, how a student understands and processes the information is as unique as each kid. As an example, if you are teaching a student to make a sound on the headjoint, you can show them how to bring the headjoint into position from below. But then they will likely need to experiment with how much of the blow hole to cover with their bottom lip (usually 1/4 to 1/3, no more). They will also need to experiment with how their top and bottom lip can move independently (general rule, the top lip should be slightly in front of the bottom lip to find the correct blowing angle). These guidelines need to be adjusted for each student’s unique anatomy. It is vitally important to make sure each student is encouraged to experiment with the various parameters of making a sound under informed supervision, with meaningful feedback on their attempts.
The advantage of teaching this way is you are giving your students tools for overcoming problems they experience in their playing. Though it takes a bit more time and effort from you up front, it will save you a huge amount of time in the long run. Rather than having to tell your students how to make corrections in tone, technique and intonation in every situation, they will know how to do it for themselves and you can focus on rehearsing the music.
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