We all know that sports equipment often has a sweet spot. A baseball bat, tennis racket or skis are good examples of sports equipment with a sweet spot. If you make efficient use of the sweet spot, you maximize the response of the equipment. When you hit a baseball or softball with the sweet spot of the bat, the ball travels much farther than if the ball makes contact with another part of the bat. You have more control over the placement, velocity and spin of a tennis ball using the sweet spot of a tennis racket.
The sweet spot of downhill skis are probably most like the blow hole of a flute headjoint than any other sweet spot in sports. Skis for beginner and intermediate skiers generally have a larger sweet spot and therefore are more forgiving of a skier’s technical weaknesses, but you also sacrifice something in terms of finesse and control on the hill with the larger sweet spot. On the other hand, advanced skis have a narrow sweet spot that gives a lot of control in turns and with speed. However, you need to understand how your center of gravity works in tandem with the skis to benefit from the precise response.
Yes, flute headjoints most definitely have a sweet spot. And like skis, beginning flute headjoints are more forgiving of inexperienced players. Professional headjoints tend to require more precise air direction and placement to maximize the response. If your students have windy tone and/or pitch problems, they simply haven’t learned how to direct the air to maximize the response of the headjoint’s sweet spot.
- We blow down at about a 45 degree angle at the blowing edge, not really across the blow hole at all, as is so commonly believed.
- Most flute players are directing the air slightly to their right at the blowing edge. Headjoints are cut in such a way to allow for this. The exception to this is someone with a teardrop top lip who plays off to the right of the teardrop, rather than the more common left of the teardrop.
- How do you know if someone has hit the sweet spot? The sound is focused, full, round, in tune, has depth and resonance.
Every flute player has to discover their own best blowing angle. There really is no One Size Fits All solution, only general guidelines:
- Rest the inner edge of the blow hole approximately where chin skin and lip skin meet.
- Allow no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the blow hole be covered by the bottom lip.
- Reach over slightly with the top lip to angle the air down at the blowing edge.
- Shape lips as if to say the letter “W”
- Blow through the resulting aperture
- Experiment, experiment, experiment with all of the above until you discover the best combination for you
- Practice to make it reproducible, so you can do it every time you put the flute on your face
As always, if you find these entries useful, please subscribe, share with your colleagues and come back regularly. Feel free to comment. If you have a topic you would like to see explored more fully, you can contact me via IM/Messenger on Facebook or email me at email@example.com. For information about clinics, workshops and performances, click here.
Dear Dr. Cate,
I thoroughly enjoy your blog! I am a band director in Texas, a french horn player, teaching beginner flute class. I have had issues all year with students not hitting the sweet spot, and also with adjusting their aperture for tone production. After reading several of your articles, I have applied your techniques and examples to my beginner flute class. It has made a huge difference already. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I have subscribed to your blog. You are very eloquent and have a talent for teaching, even in your writing!
Assistant Band Director
San Augustine ISD
Dr. Cate Hummel said:
Natalie, thank you so much! I’m glad to be a help.
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Benjamen Ulanday said:
Dr.Cate for this very imformative knowldege of yours more blessings to you