flute embouchure

Re: flute embouchure

Disclaimer; I am not a fluter, but I play quite often with a very good one. There is another fluter who comes to our sesiun quite often, who is more of a student player, and sometimes gets advise from our regular guy.
One evening he was asking about embrochoure and was shown a little exercise; Hold the flute as you usually do and play a long note. As you play, rotate both your arms right and left, so that the flute pivots across your lips (you hold your head motionless while doing this). You will be suprised by how much your tone and volume will vary as you do this. Try to find the "sweet spot".
Then experiment with "rolling" the flute towards and away from your lips and notice how it affects he sound as well as the amount of effort needed to produce it.

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Blow harder.
(Only kidding!)

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being a classical flute player i can only say this: experiment.
vary position, lip tension, airspeed, pressure etc.., but above all don’t get to much tension in your lips. The only way(in my experience)to open up your tone is to relax your embouchure.
If this will get you to produce the "ITM sound" is a whole different matter though.

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Make sure you don’t get into bad habits. An easy one for session players to get into is to not keep the chest up because you are sitting down. Another habit that kills volume is leaning into your shoulder with the head of the flute. Keep the cavity of your mouth behind the embouchure as open as possible (this really helps). Don’t press too hard with you lower lip against the head (you close off the hole). Play with a hard exhale (try literally coughing into the flute - Grey Larsen calls this "throating" - instead of tonguing the note)rather than blowing as if you were blowing out a candle.

Different flutes can have radically different volume levels. If you are not experienced, have someone who is evaluate your flute for volume. I have an 8-key that plays beautifully, but does not have nearly as much volume as my Casey Burns flute, which is my workhorse. If your flute cannot produce the volume, my suggestions will help, but only so much.

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Good flute embouchure is counter-intuitive, good tone and volume aren’t a result of blowing harder. I asked Kevin Crawford about this once and he said, "Playing the flute used to be really really hard, and then it got easier — and now it’s really easy." You should be blowing a similar amount of air as you would use to sing the tune, or speak. Your lips will feel like they’re touching and the stream of air will feel as though it’s blowing through closed lips. When you can direct a minutely thin ribbon of air directly on the opposite edge of the embouchure hole you’ll notice a profound difference. Maintaining this relaxed, but fixed position while executing the fingering is the next hurdle. Gluck.

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Oh, I should have added… Kevin’s comment puzzled me at first, but as I developed a better embouchure his words made more sense. The next time I saw him he was watching me play and he said, "It shouldn’t be that hard." For these reasons I kept trying to make it easier. Anything that was "hard" I would stop doing. When the tone took a turn for the better — it was way easier – just like Kevin said.

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Get the flute out at home and sit in front of the TV watching soaps, and practise your long notes.

Soaps are usually sufficiently dull to be able to ignore for the most part as you mess about with your tone… but your subconcious will be so busy filtering the TV out that with any luck you’ll forget to tense up or whatever people do when their minds are preoccupied with figuring something out.

Funny how the biggest breakthroughs tend to happen when you’re distracted.

Anyway, play long notes without concentrating too hard, but observe what all your bits are doing, especially with diaphragm pressure, open thoat and get alarge cavity behind your lips, as Ailin says above. Tongue pulled back. roll the flute out & in, pull the lower jaw back… keep the pressure going from your tummy - etc. Loooooong notes.

There. Did it work?

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Come to think of it… it’s a bit like the learning to fly advice from Douglas Adams - throwing yourself into mid-air and then forgetting to fall to the ground because you’ve been distracted by something else in the meantime.

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Good one Q - the Douglas Adams flying advice. Also the soaps - have the sound down so that it’s just moving wallpaper…most of the time - then up if you want to emulate pub session conditions.

Also use the diaphragm. And have your mouth, or your jaw, open (although your lips have a tight embouchure). Quite difficult to explain that one - if you can’t visualise it just ignore that last point.

I know this is an aside, not actually embouchure, but instead of tonguing, try coughing for punctuation with a dynamic - takes ages to get out of the habit of tonguing and I still haven’t been cured.

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Sorry Ailin - just read your post and it gives the same advice as mine - well, there you go, Jim - same advice from 2 independent sources!

A couple of exercises

The only tension in your mouth should be in the very tiny muscle right under your nose on your upper lip. Everything else should be incredibly relaxed. To build that muscle you have to exercise it.

One method I use is to push out on my inside upper lip with a pencil while pushing back with my upper lip.

The paradox is that your face and lips feel totally relaxed when you are getting a big tone. There is virtually no tension in your mouth. But, it takes an incredible amount of muscle development to get this relaxed!

It takes *years* to get volume and tone, not weeks or months. A classical flute player I know said "7 years" to fully develop your embrochure. I’ve now been playing 8 years, and it ain’t all there yet (but it’s getting close).

Someone mentioned watching soaps and playing long tones. For me, I watch golf or Columbo, and play long tones 8-)

—E

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And then, of course, as you age, eventually your embouchure gives out, and then you’re right back where you started, and it’s time to take up the spoons…

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More like the straws, for eating, anyway….

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That’s why God gave us chopsticks, Will… :)

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Just an added note regarding what Lord of the Flies said about trying not to tongue. That’s a prejudice that drove me crazy for years. The truth is, some tunes are damn near unplayable without tonguing (Jig of Slurs comes to mind, also Irish Washerwoman). Flute and whistle playing styles evolved from the piping tradition, where you can’t tongue. The positive thing about avoiding tonguing is that it causes you to find interesting ornaments that allow you to articulate without the use of the tongue. Still, sometimes tonguing comes in handy, and there is no law that says it is a taboo technique.

I think one of the great things that will come about as a result of Grey Larsen’s new book is that he covers this kind of thing in detail, and up-and-coming flute players can get this kind of question out of their minds early on, instead of feeling like they are doing something "wrong" if they don’t follow alleged rules about how to play ITM.

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*deadpan* Jig of Slurs and Irish Washerwoman, nearly unplayable. Tragedy surrounds us.

*snort*

Actually, I don’t mind either tune, but I know lots of people who do.

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Zina, you wound me! I used those those tunes as extreme examples. I know they are somewhat hackneyed (although I’d be ashamed not to say I still love them).

Got a kick out of the "tragedy surrounds us" line, though.

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Oh, ask Will how much he likes Jig of Slurs. Still, I think he likes it better than Atholl Highlanders. So to annoy him, whenever I see him, at some point I start up Jig of Slurs and go into Atholl Highlander…

I’ve been trying to think of some variations for Irish Washerwoman. Try as I might, it still sounds like the same tune, though. :)

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Ailin, your advice on keeping the chest open and not leaning into your shoulder with the head of your flute is good advice. But when I went to Frankie Kennedy Week in Donegal this past winter, I couldn’t believe some of the really bad postures some incredible flute players had while playing (not everyone). My teacher (I won’t say names) rested her flute right on her shoulder which seemed to twist her neck. But she’s a gorgeous player who didn’t have the slightest problem with volume or tone.

I guess my point is that we are all built differently (physically speaking) and you need to discover what works for you personally. **I think it’s a matter of doing a lot of experimentation with your flute.** Try out the different lip positions mentioned above and see if some work for you. And it also helps to play/practice on a daily basis, especially in the beginning. There are just so many variables to having good tone and volume, including the type of flute you play. Eventually you will figure out what works for you and it will come together. And of course it takes time and patience.

For me personally, I don’t know what I do with my lips, but I keep my face and body relaxed….or at least I try ;-)

I would also do a search on Chiff and Fipple too.

Joyce

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I am a shoulder rester, whether I’m playing my flute or cuddling. :-)

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hehehe

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By all means use the diaphram, but watch that it doesn’t fly across the room when you take it out.
…. I’ll get my

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And don’t forget the condom for your flute.

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Jim, I’m a wanker on flute, so take this with a lump of salt. The way I was told to support the diaphragm is to find the muscle way down low, below your belly button, a spot in front between your hips that makes a fist feeling when you cough (sorry for raising unpleasant memories of grade school physicals…"Cough!" poke :o). In other words, you want to push (not really the right word, it’s more just supporting) your breath from way down there.

I find it also helps to keep my mouth and throat "large"—it’s that feeling you get when you yawn, a stretching of the back of the mouth and upper throat.

But I’m convinced that tone and volume come mostly from a relaxed but highly efficient embouchure. A small, focused air stream is what it’s all about.

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Jig of Slurs unplayable without tonguing, huh? Have you heard Matt Molloy’s version, on one of his early albums (the black one, maybe)? I’m thinking you probably haven’t, or you wouldn’t be making that statement…

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A lot of excellent advice has already been given! All of these things have helped me, and like jmh, I don’t really pay attention to what my embouchure is doing (although I probably should). I just know when it’s good and when it isn’t.

When it’s not good, I go back to these two exercises which were given to me by an excellent flute player/teacher. I do them especially if I’ve had an extended period of not playing, and every time I do, they seem to help a lot…

The first one is in the spirit of the "looooong notes" advice, but with the added benefit of actually playing a tune… It is, quite simply: Try to play (slowly) as far into a tune as possible on one breath. I guess the idea here is that in order to play very far into a tune on one breath, you have to do a lot of things right. You have to (1) start with a huge lungful of air, (2) have a very good control of the stream of air coming our of your embouchure, and (3) play very softly (develop a sense for efficiently using your air supply). I aim for getting thru an entire A or B-part of a tune (including repeat) on one breath at ~60 beats per minute. I’d be curious to know how far into a tune some of the more experienced flute players can go?

Another exercise that was recommended to me is to play the 2nd octave D scale with the right hand only. D: oxxxxx E: xxxxxo F: xxxxoo G: xxxooo A: xxxxxx B: xxxxxo C#: xxxxoo D: xxxooo. Play the entire scale (four beats per note @ ~60bpm) up and down on one breath. Evidentally the second octave A, B, C#, and the 3rd octave D cannot be achieved with this fingering unless your embouchure is spot on - so this is a good measuring stick. For extra credit: try to play it as *softly* as possible. The softer you play it and can still achieve the notes, the more accurate your airstream is.

These exercises give me more volume and better tone quality when I finish them and go back to playing normally.

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John K, I was thinking the same thing.

Is tonguing okay in Irish trad? Well, some people do it and others don’t. Some people accept it and others don’t. Doesn’t bother me (unless it dominates the sound…then it starts to sound affected, a bit dainty, to my ear). But there are other ways to articulate notes—cuts, taps, coughing (with the diaphragm) and glottal stops. All firmly embedded in the Irish flute tradition. Tonguing isn’t needed unless you want to emulate a player who uses tonguing (Kevin Crawford, say).

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Yeah, Jim, they are both equally great flute players, but their playing styles are completely different. Very interesting, isn’t it? Kevin Crawford’s way is very authentic, I think, but it’s not ablusotely *correct* as you see. I prefer what John Wynne does. He is a bit quiet guy, but his flute playing is fairy loud!

I personally love Belfast fluter Hammy Hamilton. There is no video clip, but you can listen to a couple of full tracks from his solo album: http://homepage.tinet.ie/~hammie/cd.htm Whenever I listen to his playing, I’m reminded that technique is not that important. Yeah, we need to develop our own styles.

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Will,
If you diaphram is between your hips, you are in serious trouble or else you have the biggest pair of lungs in the world!
The diaphram is a dome shaped muscular membrane just below the lungs which is attached to your lower ribs and separates the thoracic from the abdominal cavity.
See http://www.vocalist.org.uk/graphics/respiratory_picture.jpg
the red bit below the lungs is the diaphram.
Try the following exercise:
Lie on your back with a book on your belly. Place your hands on your waist, fingers pointing towards your belly button. Take a deep breath .. no, deeper! The book should rise and you should feel your hands being pushed out at the sides. Don’t worry, your lungs have not relocated to your belly! You are feeling the result of your diaphram descending and displacing your abdominal organs. See also http://www.vocalist.org.uk/breathing_exercises.html
Now you are using more of your lungs, the rate at which you exhale can be controlled using the diaphram. The job of the embouchure is to direct the expelled air stream in the most efficient way. In my view tone production requires a combination of diaphram & embouchure.

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I thought I’d mention one more thing that can help tone, although we sometimes have no control over it. How about the weather? I love playing flute in summer when it’s warm and humid. Anyone else notice a big difference? It always sounds richer and fuller compared to playing during a cold, dry Vermont winter. Although this winter, I bought a nice big humidifier for the kitchen and this worked well. Jim, you live in Dublin? I guess lack of humidity wouldn’t be a problem for you. But for those who live in dry climates, I’m sure it’s a challenge.

Ok, time to stop avoiding work :-)

Joyce

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Thanks for that everyone - there is some really useful advice here. I have been tongueing the notes (when necessary) up till now. I am finding I can get a lot more control and power in the notes with breath control from the diaphram.

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Don’t stop tonguing just because you’re having success with other techniques… use all the tools you have to mark the notes where you want to.