The number one observation I hear from band directors about teaching flute is, “Flute is my weakest instrument.” This isn’t surprising because the major difference between other winds/brass and the flute is there isn’t a mouthpiece on the flute. It’s just a hole we relate to. There are seemly an infinite number of variables to learn to define relating to placement on the chin, blowing angle, blowing speed, shape of the lips, use of the lips and facial muscles. If all this is bewildering for you, the band instructor, to conceptualize, how much harder it becomes for you to try to explain flute embouchure to a kid.
So let’s distill flute embouchure down to its basic elements. Come to the flute with an open mind, without preconception, if at all possible. Let go of whatever you know about embouchure on any other instrument, brass or reeds. To make a successful flute embouchure, you have to take it for itself, on its own terms.
- Bring the flute up to your chin from below. Let the inside edge of the blow hole rest where chin and lip meet. Adjust up for a fuller bottom lip or down for a thinner bottom lip. Experiment to find the place that gives the fullest sound. There simply isn’t a one size fits all solution to this one, just a general guideline.
- Shape the aperture with the middle of your lips. Imagine how your lips would wrap around a small straw or an oboe reed. It isn’t necessary to think about the corners at all. They will seal themselves. Pay attention to the size and shape of aperture you make with your lips.
- Direct the air up and down by rolling your bottom lip out a little to go higher, reaching over a little with your top lip to aim the air lower.
- Maintain the size and shape of the aperture regardless of register or dynamic. How you angle the air as described above determines register and controls pitch. You can control color and dynamics by adjusting the firmness of the edge of the aperture.
Here are a few things you may tell your students about flute embouchure based on your reference as a brass or reed play that don’t work well: Kiss ‘n Roll, Tighter Higher-Looser Lower, Tight Corners, Warm Air/Cold Air, To Roll or Not to Roll. This is why it is so important to take flute for itself rather than trying to relate it to any other embouchure. All of these issues are a result of trying to fabricate a relationship between brass or reed embouchures and a flute embouchure. Remember, Our Lips are our Mouthpiece. The lips of a flutist have to do for us what everyone else’s mouthpieces do for them.
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