If there is a secret to helping your students develop great flute tone, it is that you have to teach your students how to discover the optimal blowing angle. Once a flutist is able to define and understand the blowing angle for themselves, they will have it for as long as they play the flute. Since there is no such thing as an absolute one-size-fits-all solution for every flute player, experimentation is essential to developing a characteristic sound. Here are the parameters that need to be examined and experimented with:
- Placement on the chin/relation to the bottom lip – this is as variable as each of us is from another. Bring the flute up from below and feel the edge of the blow hole at the edge of the bottom lip for most people. People with a full bottom lip may need to put the flute up on the bottom lip itself. Conversely, if someone has really thin lips, it may need to be slightly below the lip. See The Legend of Kiss and Roll
- Aperture formation – whether the aperture is in the center of the lips or off to one side depends on the shape of the top lip. If the top lip is relatively straight, a centered aperture works well for most people. Otherwise, if there is a prominent teardrop in the top lip, an off-center aperture is the best choice. In most cases, it is better to have the aperture to left of center (toward the headjoint crown), but I have seen it work successfully with an off-center aperture to the right as well. See Flute Embouchure and a Teardrop Top Lip
- Help your students direct their attention to learning to use the aperture to focus and direct the air. Honestly, it isn’t necessary to give any thought to the corners of your mouth. Any attention on the corners causes the flute player to stretch their lips laterally, whether smiling, grimacing or frowning. It takes attention away from shaping and refining the aperture. Flute isn’t like other instruments where the issue is about interacting with a mouthpiece. For flutists, our embouchure is also our mouthpiece. The size and shape of the aperture is very similar to the opening in an oboe reed. Understanding the aperture is everything. See Our Lips are our Mouthpiece, “What do you do with your corners?”
- Give your students the tools to develop mobility and flexibility between top and bottom lips. The back and forth between lips gives control over register changes, pitch and dynamics. Of course you also need good control of air speed and pressure, but the flexibility is what makes the control of register, pitch and dynamics possible. A great place to start is with basic Octaves. See Independence for Lips, To Roll or Not to Roll: That is the Question
- Dealing with braces – the student who gets braces after playing for a while needs to reevaluate their blowing angle. The hardware in their mouth necessitates finding a different blowing angle. Experiment with placement on the chin and how open or covered the blow hole is. It will be different. It’s just a matter of finding a new angle. As treatment progresses and teeth move, this will continue to need reevaluation. It is an ongoing process and there isn’t a final solution until the student is done with the braces. See Helping Your Students Adjust to Playing With Braces
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Susan L. Rogers said:
Dear Dr. Cate,
I wrote you a few months to find out how to subscribe, and I was hoping you could help me again. After a twenty-year hiatus from the flute, I have taken it up again, and find that I have lost my embouchure. I think I left it wherever I left the embouchure mirror I used to have.
My question is: What do you think of the Pneumo Pro Wind Director? It seems like it would be even better than a mirror. I’ll buy it yesterday if it will help me regain my tone.
Thank you for you guidance, and for your wonderful blog.
Best regards, Susan Rogers
Dr. Cate Hummel said:
The PneumoPro is a great tool for visualizing how to direct the air. I always use it with my beginning students, and often with more experienced players when we are exploring control of the air direction. To follow the blog by email, there is now a button at the bottom of the left hand sidebar to click in order to sign up.
I enjoy how concise and to-the-point this post is! This is extremely helpful to those of us who teach beginning flute. I especially liked the idea of not giving any attention to the corners of the mouth. Many of my flute students struggle with a “smile” or “frown” embouchure, but I didn’t even consider just not mentioning the corners of the mouth at all.
Thanks! This is a wonderful blog!
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