Flute players I need help!

Flute players I need help!

Hello! Last easter, I took up playing a keyless D flute after years of playing classical flute. I admire my teachers playing and methods he has tried to help me with this, however I am still struggling with the embouchure. I have tried holding hand and paper in front of my mouth when blowing and (I could already tell by the sound) i’m losing so much air over the hole. I’ve tried blowing into the flute more (directing the air flow to my chin or ‘2nd button on shirt’), turning the head more inwards, tightening my embouchure and stretching my mouth outwards moving my arms forwards and backwards to change the angle of the flute..None of these things seemed to help, and a lot of the time when I direct my air flow into the flute more, I completely lose any sound that I was making. I think I got the tone I liked once, but never again because I didn’t know what I did to get that tone! I feel really upset that after a year, I still don’t have the tone that I like and I still can’t play a tune through 3 times without losing sound at some point. PLEASE HELP ME!

Re: Flute players I need help!

Try just blowing into the head-joint without the body attached. Keep your lips so tight that a thin piece of pasta wouldn’t pass through. Blow as gently as you can. Don’t worry about a big sound at this point. If your lips tire after three times through a tune I wouldn’t worry. After eight months your embouchure is still bound to be a bit weak.
Have you tried a different keyless D flute to make sure that it isn’t your flute that’s the problem? Some flutes are harder to get a sound out of than others. Where was your flute made, and who made it?

Re: Flute players I need help!

Presumably you don’t have a problem playing your classical flute?
How do you get on just playing the headjoints of the two flutes?

Re: Flute players I need help!

After you do get a sound, take a look at the pattern of condensation that forms on the embouchure hole. When the tone fairies are happy with me, I see a small precise fan of moisture centered on the far side of the hole. When I have a weak or nasty sound, that pattern is always blobby and off-center.

I notice that my position slips a bit when I am tired, and the tone is weak or just not there, so try shifting up or down along axis of the flute and notice where the sweet spot is. (When I figured this bit out, I practiced for a week or so with a small dot of beeswax stuck on so that my lip could find home. By the time it falls off and you lose it, you have trained yourself and it is no longer necessary.)
David’s suggestion is good—try a different flute. There can be a huge difference. I can always get a great sound from my daughter’s silver Pearl, but simple flutes are all over the place. Maybe your flute doesn’t suit you right now?

Drives you crazy, doesn’t it? 😏

Re: Flute players I need help!

Similar to blowing into the head joint, if I can’t find my embouchure, I’ll look for higher notes than the bottom ‘D’ (usually the ‘G’, if not before) until I find something solid. Once I find one, I’ll take the time to simply concentrate on mouth form, correcting myself and holding a long true note while working on breathing and perhaps the bare-most of simple articulations to give an air’s sense of rhythm. If I’m in a hurry, which I sometimes tend to be, I’ll go right back to being bold and lose it again. I should probably take more time to such simple meditations, though as needed should probably suffice.

Embouchure does change (and quite a bit, depending on your sensitivity) as you move through the full range of notes and especially if you have a keyed flute with low C (as I’m currently struggling with). Once you find a solid note and feel comfortable with it, try moving through the range of notes in sequence and becoming more aware of the slight shifts that are made to maintain solid notes, then perhaps some intervals.

I tend to keep a rolled up paper towel near me for moisture when I’m playing at the house and tend to notice when moisture is what is fowling the sound. If you have a one-piece, you will need a rod. Otherwise, be aware of moisture build up in the lower sections - while not as significant, it can effect the overall sound.

BTW- I tend to turn the head more outwards than inwards, exposing more of the lip of the tone hole to better cut the air stream. As a person’s lips and how they hold them can physical differ significantly with relatively similar results, this may also be of help.

The flute is the tone of the instrument, the performer simply changes the opportunity given to the flute to sound it’s best!

Re: Flute players I need help!

@mrkelahan - I agree with everything you said, so this post is intended to build on yours.

Hi, Rosie! Your statement that you can’t get through a tune three times without losing the sound is perhaps revealing. Your problem may be the fingers rather than the embouchure. If you start out okay but lose the sound, you likely are not covering the holes sufficiently. Unlike your Boehm flute, it is not obvious when the fingers shift a bit. When you lose the tone, stop and pull the flute away. Position the fingers while actually looking at them, bring the flute back to position and find a solid low G, then play the tune. If you magically find you are now getting your tone again, you have found your problem. After 30 years of wooden flute, I still have to do this. Check out YouTube for live performances and you will find that even the likes of Matt Molloy toodle a bit before they start a tune. This is to get positioned. Boehm players don’t do this.

I position the embouchure hole the same way I do on my Boehm, but my lip formation is different. I drop my jaw as much as I can without losing control of my lips and I form my mouth as if I had an overbite. This gives me a fuller, richer tone and more power. Experiment with that.

Finally, if you still play your Boehm, be aware that the embouchure hole is likely bigger than your wooden flute. It probably has more of a rectangular shape, even though the sides are rounded. If you switch back and forth between flutes, you’ll fare better on the Boehm than you will on the wooden flute, which probably has an oval shape and is somewhat smaller. That’s what gives wooden flutes their sweeter tone and one of the reasons why they are not as loud as the Boehm. Lay off the Boehm for awhile and see if you get more consistent with your tone production on the wooden flute.

Let us know how you do.

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Re: Flute players I need help!

Thanks ‘Ailin’. ‘David50’, you gave away one of my sources!

Re: Flute players I need help!

I have experienced similar problems with getting consistent sound and tone that you describe and it can be very frustrating but I’m fairly new to Irish flute so I thought it was me. I’m sort of glad that others have had similar problems even after playing for a long period of time. All of the suggestions and recommendations described by others above have helped me but playing in front of a mirror so you can see what you are doing and having a teacher provide feedback and advice about positioning has also been useful. However, for me, I recently got another flute and it has been a big improvement. I no longer have to fight with the instrument and battle to get a sound. My bottom D can still be "wispy, mushy, flabby" as McGee describes it but at least now I am getting the bottom and second octave D more consistently. I’m still working towards improving embouchure and breath support/control and know that it will come with time and practice. As David and Michele also suggest try other keyless D flutes to see if that makes any difference.

I also recommend that you have a look at Conal O Grada’s book An Fheadóg Mhór
https://thesession.org/discussions/28966
http://www.conalograda.com
as it covers all these topics and offers a different perspective on learning Irish flute.
Keep at it. Good luck.
Dale

Re: Flute players I need help!

1. I’m surprised a classically trained flute player would have
any problems with sound production. Good classical flutists
I’ve known have a huge sound on tap - also a very quite sound on tap.
2. Some simple system flutes are just flute-shaped objects.

Re: Flute players I need help!

I, too, wonder about the quality of the Irish Flutes these people are having trouble with.

I’ve taught many Irish Flute workshops over the years, usually full of Boehm fluteplayers, and I can’t ever remember anyone who could get a good tone out of a Boehm having any problem getting a good tone out of a GOOD Irish Flute.

I’d wager that if you had a Patrick Olwell flute you wouldn’t have any trouble with the embouchure.

Thing is, the "Irish flute market" is flooded with inferior instruments, flutes with embouchure holes more poorly cut than would ever be acceptable in the Boehm flute world.

Sorry but I disagree with two statements made above, that Irish flutes have a "sweeter tone" and are "not as loud" as Boehm flutes. Many good Irish fluteplayers get a huge booming reedy edgy sound out of their flutes; indeed the Nicholson and Pratten models were specifically designed to be as loud and reedy as possible, with big embouchures, big fingerholes, and big bores.

Re: Flute players I need help!

"Sorry but I disagree with two statements made above, that Irish flutes have a "sweeter tone" and are "not as loud" as Boehm flutes. Many good Irish fluteplayers get a huge booming reedy edgy sound out of their flutes; indeed the Nicholson and Pratten models were specifically designed to be as loud and reedy as possible, with big embouchures, big fingerholes, and big bores."
# Posted by Richard D Cook

This is a true statement, but you must realize that to equal a Boehm requires an effort the Boehm does not demand. If the same player played a Boehm the same way they play their wooden flute, Pratten or otherwise, they will get much more sound. I play a Siccama flute, which is louder than a Pratten (Pratten himself played one). It’s the closest thing to a Boehm in terms of power to anything out there, but the Boehm still wins unless I use my wooden head. Boehm designed his flute after having heard Nicholson, who was known as being the most powerful player of his time. Boehm succeeded in letting the everyman equal Nicholson for power without having to be Nicholson.

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Re: Flute players I need help!

Who can I listen to with a booming reedy edgy sound? I’m trying to tune myself in to flute playing.

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Re: Misconceptions

@ Ailin — I haven’t yet met the Boehm player or the Boehm flute that could generate the power that somebody like Hammy can put out with one of his own flutes. I never thought that a Boehm flute had the volume, clarity or "edge" of a good simple system flute. I never met a Boehm flute that I thought sounded louder or better in any way than my own Olwell cocus flute. Or any of the other top makers, like Wilkes, Doyle, Hamilton.

You said: "…the Nicholson and Pratten models were specifically designed to be as loud and reedy as possible." I thought that Theo Boehm "specifically designed" and developed his flute primarily because of 1. Tuning issues with the simple system flute, and 2. Issues with finger stretch that the keys resolve. Volume was never the issue, so far as I understand the history.

Re: Flute players I need help!

@David50: no doubt Frankie Gavin is a brilliant musician, but his kind of virtuosity doesn’t appeal much to me, can you suggest anyone who plays in a less pyrotechnic style?

It would be great if they were on Spotify.

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Re: Flute players I need help!

Bernie. You were interested in comparison with an instrument (boehm flute) that Richard Wagner said sounded like a ‘cannon’ so I suggested Frankie Gavin because a ‘pyrotechnic’ style illustrates the power of the instrument. Listen to Matt Molloy instead maybe.

Crossing - kkrell’s suggestion may suite better.

Re: Flute players I need help!

Bernie. If you are interested in bore construction affects of boehm versus earlier (and ‘Irish’) flutes rather than embouchure cut (in which case you would get into the issue of wooden heads on silver flutes) have a look at this thread:

http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=90136

Plenty of power and edge here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R_YLmuPEmw but I am not sure which flute it is without comparing photos.

Re: Flute players I need help!

A quotation from old Theo Boehm himself
"I did as well as any continental flutist could have done, in London, in 1831, but I could not match Nicholson in power of tone, wherefore I set to work to remodel my flute. Had I not heard him, probably the Boehm flute would never have been made." He also says "I was struck with the volume of the tone of Nicholson, who was then in the full vigour of his talent. This power was the result of the extraordinary size of the holes of his flute, but it required his marvellous skill and his excellent embouchure to mask the want of accuracy of intonation and equality of tone resulting from the position of the holes, which was incorrect and repugnant to the elementary principles of acoustics".

Re: Flute players I need help!

I love all this flute history stuff!

When I was at university, the library had a copy of Nancy Toff’s "Development of the Modern Flute" which I read cover to cover. It was a fascinating look both at Boehm’s work, and the mixed reaction that Boehm flutes received amongst professional flutists in England, which spawned all sorts of attempts at compromise between the Boehm and the pre-existing wood 8-key flute (which we call an "Irish flute").

One thing to keep in mind is that the tonal ideal in England in the 19th century was quite different from the current orchestral ideal. One English writer said that the tone should be as reedy as possible, combining the tone of the clarinet and the oboe. What’s interesting is how this old orchestral tonal ideal has survived in the Irish flute world.

So yes a Boehm flute, due to its huge bore and holes and embouchure, is capable of a huge reedy tone; after all, that’s what it was designed for! It’s ironic that the "Continental" tonal approach has become standard nowadays, for the Boehm flute was specifically designed to imitate the English wood flute tone.

But anyone who dismisses Irish flutes as being soft and sweet must never have heard a really good Irish fluteplayer in person and heard the enormous volume that’s possible, louder than several sets of uilleann pipes or accordions. I’ve heard a single fluteplayer blow away a 20-person session.

(I’ve also heard a group of three or four fluteplayers with wimpy tone that couldn’t be heard over a single accordion.)

Re: Flute players I need help!

I enjoy playing my Boehm flute, but with the double-edged feeling that it’s a wonderfully efficient and effective mechanism………
What lazy trad players 😉 could do with on a Boehm is an arrangement a bit like the Briccialdi lever on B, so that F fingering gives F# by default!

Re: Flute players I need help!

I was going to mention up the thread that every boehm player who has picked up my ‘Irish’ flute got a reasonable tone out of it straight off. After they took their thumb off the Bb key they even got the note they expected 😉

Re: Flute players I need help!

"@ Ailin — I haven’t yet met the Boehm player or the Boehm flute that could generate the power that somebody like Hammy can put out with one of his own flutes. I never thought that a Boehm flute had the volume, clarity or "edge" of a good simple system flute. I never met a Boehm flute that I thought sounded louder or better in any way than my own Olwell cocus flute. Or any of the other top makers, like Wilkes, Doyle, Hamilton.

You said: "…the Nicholson and Pratten models were specifically designed to be as loud and reedy as possible." I thought that Theo Boehm "specifically designed" and developed his flute primarily because of 1. Tuning issues with the simple system flute, and 2. Issues with finger stretch that the keys resolve. Volume was never the issue, so far as I understand the history."

Oh, David! Whoa! Please do me the kindness of not putting quotes around a statement no one ever made. I never said a word about Pratten or Nicholson flutes, nor did I ever mention reediness in any context. Where did you get all that from?

Regarding volume, TomB-R’s post covers that very nicely. He used the same quote I would have.

Boehm flutes suck for Irish trad, so please don’t get the idea that I was suggesting otherwise. But for power, the Boehm is unrivaled.

@Richard D. Cook - My description of the characteristics of simple-system flutes was in no way dismissive; it was simply a statement of facts as I see them. Google "flute headjoints" and you will find that every maker who addresses the design will tell you that 19th Century flute embouchures (oval) impart a quieter and sweeter tone. That Irish players overcome that with aggressive breath and embouchure technique does not diminish this fact. I’m pretty proud of the punch I get out of mine, so I am not disagreeing with your basic premise, only your interpretation that I was somehow slighting our beloved simple-system flutes. On the contrary: I own two superb vintage eight-keys and two modern keyless flutes.

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Re: Flute players I need help!

TomB-R -I don’t have the book at hand,but somewhere in Boehm’s book on flute playing that you quoted he describes his method for improving the hole placement for intonation by designing and building a flute with movable holes. I’d like to see that instrument.

Re: Flute players I need help!

Some interesting stuff from Terry McGee here, backed up by a serious amount of knowledge and research, I think.
http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/heads.html

On the matter of the more modern rounded rectangle embouchure he says
"The flute is much easier to play - say about 30% easier.
It’s a little louder - say 15%
It’s quicker to respond - about 25% quicker
It feels more "immediate" and "focussed" - say 30%. The sound is "closer" to you. "


The interweb is strangely silent on the matter of "loudest flute." What an omission!

Re: Flute players I need help!

@5stringfool - As a consequence of this discussion I ordered a s/h copy of Boehm’s book! I enjoyed reading it years ago. I wonder if the moveable tone holes experiment helped him towards trying a cylindrical bore metal tube which would make it pretty easy.

Re: Flute players I need help!

@5stringfool - The English translator talks about this in his foreword. He states that Boehm mentions this contraption only once in his writings as a means to an end and never mentions it again. No one knows how it was made or what became of it.

The Siccama flute I own was developed at literally the same time. Siccama’s goals were the same as Boehm, but whereas Boehm was content to redesign the entire instrument, Siccama sought to preserve the prevailing 8-key design. He added a key for the third finger of each hand. In so doing, he accomplished two things. The bigger the tone hole, the louder the instrument, but the further down the tube it must be placed to be in tune. By using a key that covers the hole remotely, he could both place the actual hole to be covered where he wanted for optimum size as well as pitch. Since the hands operate independently of each other and the first two fingers of each hand are the strongest and have the widest comfortable spread, the third finger of each hand were the only two that had to be adjusted to obtain optimal volume and intonation. It is a brilliant design because it solved the main issues and preserved a basic design flute players of the era were loathe to lose. Where Boehm triumphed is that he vastly improved the ease of fingering, once his new system was adopted. Pratten loved the Siccama flute. I often wonder what he thought he "perfected" in his own flute, since his bore dimensions are the same as Siccama’s, his tone-hole sizes are smaller and the lack of the two extra keys compromises intonation. I’ve communicated extensively with Terry McGee on this, and he agrees. He and I seem to be the only ones who believe the Siccama flute is the best-kept secret in Irish flute playing. My flute is featured on his website in the section on Siccama flutes made in America. Fun stuff to research.

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Re: Flute players I need help!

TomB-R -your premise seems logical,since it is hard to imagine a movable-holed conical bore but according to mcgee Boehm first introduced a conical flute with his new hole placement, in 1832, then switched to a cylindrical bore after Siccama brought out his cylindrical design in 1842. Either way I wouldn’t want to have to put together and tune that movable -holed flute at a gig/session.

Re: Flute players I need help!

Of course none of this is going to help Rosie 1234 play through a tune 3 times without losing her lip…

Re: Flute players I need help!

Check the head of your flute for leaks. The description of the problems you are encountering suggests a leaky head joint.

Re: Flute players I need help!

Thank you for all the tips and advice guys! I think i’ve done it!! I found watching videos of players helped a little bit then looking in the mirror to use a similar position. Also I had no beeswax, so I got some masking tape and took a tiny bit, placed that down for a little while which i’m not sure if that helped, I took it off after a while, but that’s because I found the sound. I changed the way I was blowing down the flute and that changed the whole sound, made it effortlessly louder, which meant after that I could tighten my lips to get a darker tone. I was amazed! Instead of blowing from my mouth and lips, I was blowing from my throat, or at least the very back of my mouth and that completely solved the problem! I had never really been taught that, or at least nobody had pointed it out as a big part of playing. I have also started practicing tunes in a really tedious way so that I can get the flow of the tunes to play them round and round. I was struggling with my breathing to create a nice rhythm and breath in good places, so I would always run out of breath at a bad time. I tried notating the tunes and switching notes for breaths, and putting in marks, then I was able to play and has space in my breath for ornaments, it was such a nice feeling! Now it’s just practice to get the stamina and finger work I think! The flute is a Martin Doyle flute, so I knew it was my playing because a lot of people had played the flute for me! Thank you for all the advice everyone!

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I’m teaching myself to play the Irish flute and the tune named ‘The Butterfly’. I play it slowly but when it come to the high or low D it’s hit or a gush of air. I have taught myself a couple of instruments but the Irish Flute is the most frustrating.

The one piece non-tunable Dixon is not too bad but I’ve have borrowed what looks like one of those Mid Eastern mass produced 4 piece wooden - Grrrrr……