Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Hi there,

I am interested to hear what musicians and/or flute players think about the issue of flute players blowing too hard on the flute

In my opinion, it makes no sense to overblow the flute (and I find it irritating to sit next to a flute player who belts out the notes and then can’t last out the set because they overblew the flute at the start).

The flute sounds sometimes sharp and others flat.

If you don’t overblow, the tone lasts longer.

Sadly though I think all flute players are culprits (and it does irritate fellow session musicians, don’t say it doesn’t).

In CCE, they encourage those starting off to blow hard into the flute and that can’t help things.

What are your thoughts?

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

I think I don’t understand exactly what do you mean by “overblowing” the flute

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Me neither. If you overblow you go up an octave. If you blow with a big full tone, it will sound loud enough, but should be sustainable. If a player can’t last out a tune they’ve either got a crap or leaky flute, or they’re not breathing in or holding in enough breath.

I think.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

I thought you had to blow fast rather than blow hard to get the high notes, ie decrease the size of your mouth.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Key Maniac
To go up the octave, you tighten the embouchure not blow harder. And this is what I’m getting at….!

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

I think it’s also important to play into the session, and ensure that the tone is even.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

play into the session?

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

You guys are funny… 😀

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

If you have any range of dynmics at all in your playing then you will have the problem of the flute being sharp when loud, flat when quiet. Any good flute player must be able to correct for this.

If someone is blowing hard, but not properly supporting their breath, then they will have problems producing a steady tone. And also a problem with having enough air since they will be wasting it. And if your tone isn’t supported then the air in your body (windpipe and oral cavity) will not be resonating, losing you at least half of your tone and all of your projection.

That said, I’ve met quite a few ITM flute players with a rather woolly/hollow unsupported tone - they obviously think that is what it is meant to be like. And I’ve met some who appear to be trying to get the flute to imitate an angry bumblebee. And I’ve even met some who can make the flute sound like it fits the music… Sometimes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes hard, sometimes quiet but penetrating…

Chris

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

I like your analogy “I’ve met some who appear to be trying to imitate an angry bumblebee”. I find that some reputable players (though I’m not saying that they’re good) get that hollow tone from starting off blowing too loud.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

What’s wrong with different styles. Personally, I like the music a bit rough around the edges if that’s the right way of putting it. The trad. flute IMHO, is best when it’s not too sweetly played.

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Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Some think that getting the characteristically Irish sound - usually described as “reedy” - requires blowing harder. In truth, the technique is mastered by directing the air more downward into the flute and supporting the air in such a manner that it feels more like a push from the diaphram than a blow from the mouth.

This stylistic approach to playing ITM is the hallmark of a good trad player. If one doesn’t care for it, I can’t offer any suggestions. However, if the player is simply overblowing in a failed attempt at getting that coveted “reedy” sound, someone should gently try to redirect their efforts.

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Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

There are several factors at play here (reading between the lines). As a classically trained flutist who played the Bohem flute for over 20 years before venturing into ITM, I can say that the techniques are very different. Running out of ‘steam’ before a set is through has a lot more to do with efficient embouchure and cardiovascular conditioning than with volume or ‘blowing too hard’. The fact that most tunes have no rests in the melody line, force the flute players to breathe strategically and often (especially when playing ‘hard’). Also, hitting the beginning of a phrase ‘hard’ with a burst of breath is one of the many embellishments that make Irish style flute playing distinctive. It aint supposed to sound like a concert style flute! ITM is just taxing on flute players; practice, conditioning, and embouchure control are the only way to survive a session without passing out!

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

a nice “reedy bark” is produced mostly with embouchure. blowing hard just makes it sound raspy, which is a very common way to play. if you have a focused tone, with nice overtones, it isnt very taxing on the embouchure. it should be effortless.

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Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Couple points.. . .

1) I think a lot of this is stylistic preference. . . the huffy, reedy, “raw”, crackly tone takes a bit of getting used to, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. I’m not sure if this is what the original poster meant?

2) Embouchure and tone (really the same thing in practice) is really, really challenging to develop without access to a good teacher, in the flesh. At least it is for me. For one thing, none of the written descriptions of embouchure can really accurately convey the complex position that the mouth muscles take. What does “relaxed but firm” mean? What does “focus” mean? What does “Corners stretched” mean? Putting these and similar descriptions into practice is not intuitive. In addition, everybody’s mouth is different, hence different optimum solutions.

This may be a stupid question, but I’ve read about it, talked about it, etc. and want to know the insights of the board here. What exactly is meant by the term “breath support?”

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Regarding breath support, try this: Hold the palm of your hand in front of your mouth and blow as if to extinguish a candle. Now keep your lips in the same position, but instead of blowing, try to push your stomach outward (which will cause your abdominal muscles to tense). You should get a blast of air the occurs without actually blowing at all.

Playing flute uses a combination of both techniques. When mastered, your supply of air should last a long time, and you should not need to gasp or gulp for air when you need it. A quick breath will do.

I warn you that being really good at this requires concentration and practice. It is not a natural way to breathe and requires more effort that classical flute playing. The trap is that you can produce an acceptable tone without using your diaphram as much as you should/could. Therefore, you have to be the judge of your own tone production. I recommend playing in front of your bathroom mirror. The BR allows you to watch yourself (posture, you know), and the accoustics will train your ear to hear when you’re getting it right.

Although it never did dick to improve my shower singing, but that’s another story. . .

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Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

wormdiet, think of how a uillean piper controls pressure on the bag to keep the reeds going, notes in pitch, while pumping the bellows as needed to keep the air available in the bag, etc. That’s what a flute player does with their body (abdomen, sides and low back muscles, thoracic muscles, shape and openness of throat, mouth and lips).

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

There are lots of different ways of playing the flute. You don’t have to sound like Matt Molloy or Kevin Crawford (Not that you would be wrong for wanting to). Listen to John Mckenna or some of the old players for a completely different style. Listen to Harry Bradley.
If there is an ‘approved’ way of playing the flute, I’m against it!

😉

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

We get a lot of “all fixed reed instrument players are culprits” threads as well as a lot of “all bodhran players are culprits”, so as an aspiring flutist it’s nice to feel included. Thanks!
Of course, “”all fiddle players are culprits“ is also quite common, and ”all pipes are too loud and out of tune" gets a good look in too. Have we missed anyone? Oh yes, fretted istruments, but they got a good blast quite recently. Looks like we are all in the same club!

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Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

It seems to me that good ITM flute playing is to do with ‘lift’. The ability to get life and bounce out of a tune, strategically emphasizing the the right notes by giving them a bit more blast, is what a ‘good’ flute player should demonstrate. Listen to H. Bradley. I have listened to many players with wonderful technique with crans and stuff whose playing is finally dull because they lack the ability to inject the magic lift.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Well said jeandegingins! Being among the “approved” ITM session instruments, the flute struggles to be heard. I’ve first-hand knowledge because for 15-odd years I played a “quiet” flute in sessions, and sometimes had trouble hearing myself. I’ve recently acquired a newer and stronger instrument, and yes, flauta dolce, I DID, in my excitement, tend to overblow it at first, and found myself being the culprit you’ve described. But a year later, I’ve realized that jeandegingins’ concept of “lift”, which does indeed sometimes find me “blowing” harder, is what playing the ITM flute in any circumstance is all about.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Good one, fd. I don’t think anyone will ever accuse *you* of blowing too hard - you have a lovely sweet tone.

… But there are some players who do blow very hard indeed and who still make a nice sound, though admittedly not as sweet as yours. There’s a fella up in Sligo (I’ll mention him, although people up there who know him will doubtless groan - Pat Mahon - great musician, though) who blows really really hard. You can hear him a mile off, but, to me, it sounds great. Strangely, there’s an odd sort of *delicate* quality to the sound - it’s sometimes difficult to tell what octave he’s playing in …

How’re you keeping anyway? I’ll be over in July, so maybe I’ll see you then.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

FD, I think some players try to play too loud for their particular instrument. Maybe each flute has a max volume, no matter how strong your embouchure, and if you try to crank the vol. up to number 11 the bottom sporadically drops out of the sound. A lot of flute players do get over-excited and try to play in the manner you describe, but it’s not surprising, as the flute is obviously a very exciting instrument to play - all that buzzing under your fingertips and in your brain as those vicious swings between hyperventilation and oxygen deprivation curdle the Guinness molecules.
But that ‘on the edge’ playing can inject a lot of lift into the session. Sometimes if everything meshes together too prettily it all sounds a bit diddly-dee and polite ….

Nice tunes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YIrzeY9iwo

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

Hi there, Ben. I am trying to organise accomodation at the Willie Clancy, without any joy. If the worst comes to it, I will probably end up in Drumshanbo (virtually the week after WCW). I will be in Donegal for the Fiddle week as I have somewhere to stay. Drop me a message when you’re sorted out.

Re: Fellow sessioneers: blowing hard in the flute.

I like the quote “crank the volume up to number 11”. (“That” film was great.)

But also, some sessions have a lot instruments in them (20- 25 instruments) and I believe that this may not be condusive to playing the flute with a good all-round tone.