If you play a brass or reed instrument, there is a certain kind of consistency built into how you blow into the instrument by the mouthpiece itself. The internal dimensions and type of material of the mouthpiece play a huge part in determining tone quality on the instrument. The reason why there are so many kinds of mouthpieces for any given instrument is because we, ourselves are so variable….in terms of lip size, teeth size and shape, tongue size, and size and shape of the oral cavity and internal dimensions of our throat. And it is also partially why there is constant research and experimentation in the design of mouthpieces (another reason being because tastes in tone quality change with time). Brass and reed players are aiming at producing a characteristic and consistent tone for their instrument, as well as improving response and flexibility. If you want to improve the tone quality, try other mouthpieces.
The big difference with the flute is the player has to relate to a hole. It’s rather like having kids. As you well know, kids don’t come with directions. “Congratulations! You are a new parent. Go!” Nobody can tell you exactly how to relate to that hole. And yet flute players need to develop a consistency of approach with how the flute rests on the chin/bottom lip and maintaining the optimal distance between the aperture of the lips and the blowing edge (known as the transit time – the time from which the air exits the aperture to when it strikes the blowing edge). If you change it up by rolling in and out, you have no control of tone quality, tone color and intonation.
Here’s the challenging thing about learning correct placement and blowing angle…Each flute player has to discover this best place for themselves because of all the other inconsistencies of lips, mouth, tongue, teeth and throat. It’s somewhat akin to learning a string instrument, except maybe a bit less daunting. With strings, every parameter of playing is up for grabs including placement of the bow between the bridge and fingerboard, bow angle, placement of the fingers on the fingerboard for correct pitch, bow speed and pressure. Or like trombone, where one needs hear the pitch to know where to correctly place the slide for the note to be in tune. With the flute, we need to learn consistency in order to maintain the correct blowing angle and have control over tone quality, intonation and color.
Finally, I’d like to share a couple videos with you of flute players who know the importance of being consistent with maintaining the correct relationship with the blowing edge under extreme circumstances (i.e. while dancing). If these players didn’t understand this relationship as thoroughly as they do, they would not be able to maintain their beautiful tone throughout their performances. Here is Zara Lawler with Neil Parsons and Hilary Abigana of the Fourth Wall Ensemble. Be sure to check these out because you will see clearly that no matter what else they are doing, these players maintain the flute in relation their aperture at all times. There is no rolling in and out.
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