It seems to me that understanding how to shape a flute aperture with your lips is likely the biggest mystery for non-flutists who teach beginning flute players. Surprisingly, this is one of the simplest concepts to grasp if you know the trick. The trick is to shape your lips as if you are saying the sound of the letter “W”, as in “what” or “wonderful”. Notice a few things when you do this:
- Your awareness is focused on the middle of your lips, almost as if you are gripping a drinking straw
- The corners take care of themselves and seal themselves. No attention needed
- Your lips naturally form an elliptical opening
- The perimeter of the resulting aperture is actually rather firm
For yourself and your students, try starting out without a flute headjoint. Put an index finger under your lip and say, “what” or “water” a number of times. Then shorten it and say “waaaa”. Then just shape your lips for the “W” sound and blow through the resulting opening. Voila! Flute aperture 101.The next step is to shape your lips and tongue behind the teeth where gum and teeth meet on the top while blowing through the aperture, “too, too, too……”, keeping a steady air stream. Finally, go through the above process with a flute headjoint on your chin.
Of course there is more to getting a characteristic sound than just shaping the aperture. And there are seemingly more variables than specific immutable features to making a good sound. Pretty much the headjoint itself is the only constant. People, their lips, size of their teeth and oral cavity are unique to themselves. Remember to:
- Bring the flute up to the bottom lip from below to rest where the chin and lip meet. Adjust up a little for a very full bottom lip, adjust down for a thin bottom lip. Avoid the so-called kiss and roll because this puts the flute too high on the bottom lip for everyone. It’s a one size fits all solution that fits no one. The sound will be thin, light and probably sharp.
- Keep the blow hole open approximately two thirds. This is easier to do if the flute is a little lower on the chin than higher for most people. Having any more of the bottom lip in the blow hole than 1/3 will make a stuffy, dull and flat sound.
- The corners will take care of themselves, provided your lips are shaped as if to make the “W” sound. Really! Try for yourself.
- Roll your bottom lip (not the flute!) out a little to go up the octave or raise the pitch. Reach over a little with your top lip to play low notes or lower the pitch.
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Yejin Bann said:
Thank you so much for this tip! My little 6 yr old sister was interested in my flute so I tried to teach her to make a sound but she got frustrated. I tried this tip and she’s now periodically stealing my headjoint and practicing her skills! Amazing! I wish I’d known this when I got started, it took me the better part of 2 months to get the hang of the embouchure
Dr. Cate Hummel said:
So glad this has worked for you and for your little sister. Sounds like you are both on your way to being fine flute players!