“What??? But, but…….how can a wind instrument sound good without support?” That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying we need to stop paying attention to “support” as a concept. Let me ask you a few questions. If I tell you to support your sound, what do you do? Can you explain what you are doing or how you are doing it? What is your definition for “support”? How do you explain “support” to your students? What do they do in their attempts to follow your instruction?

First, my observations about flute students who have been told to “support”.

  • They are pinching the aperture, squeezing their lips
  • They are clenching in their throat
  • They are generally tense in their shoulders, torso, even in their hands and wrists

Secondly, here’s my definition for “support”. Simply put, it is having body energy behind the blowing. It involves using abdominal muscles, pelvic muscles and intercostal muscles of the rib cage. In other words, its a full body activity.

DSC_3214Rather than talking about “support”, let’s talk about blowing. If I say, “Blow fast (or faster) air,” do you understand what you need to do? Do you think students will know what they need to do if you give them that direction? If the air is moving sufficiently fast, the tone will be supported automatically. Support is the consequence of blowing quickly enough. All those supporting muscles are engaged in the process of blowing. You don’t need to “do” anything else besides blow with sufficient air speed to have a supported sound.

Beyond blowing sufficiently quickly enough, there are, of course all the issues of finding the right placement on your chin, having the blow hole open just the right amount, shaping the aperture, blowing at the correct angle for the register you are playing and so forth. But a lot of these issues will largely take care of themselves if the student is blowing fast enough air to begin with. So encourage your students to blow faster air.

Finally, air speed is different than air quantity. You can blow a lot of air through a large aperture and nothing will work well because the air isn’t moving fast enough. Not low notes (they will be wooly and unfocused), not the middle register because it will keep dropping down the octave, and not the third octave because it will either be so pinched as to not speak at all or keep dropping down to a lower partial. With the correct air speed and direction a flutist can play rich, focused low notes, have a clear, singing middle register, and be everything from heroic to ethereal in the third octave. It all starts with sufficient air speed. The rest comes through refining the direction of the air and sensitivity and flexibility of the aperture.

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 dr_cate@sbcglobal.net. For information about clinics, workshops and performances, click here.