Flute embouchure, part II
This is all about flute.
Could anybody here be interested in embouchure technique?
That could evolve right here on The Session.
This is all about flute.
Could anybody here be interested in embouchure technique?
That could evolve right here on The Session.
Not sure what you are looking for, but flute embouchure is an interesting topic and I, you might be surprised to learn, have some notions on the subject.
But, please, you start the discussion.
And such a discussion it could be!
But there could be those interested in such a discussion.
And so let us, you and I, Ailin, make that happen, right here on The Session.
Flute embouchure skill can be learned, if a student is interested, willing and dedicated to the art. And being dedicated to the art is where a student gets put to the test, requiring a love for music and dedicated work.
I tried learning the art, but huffing and puffing on my flute tends to make me retreat to my whistles.
The more I practise and play out, the better my embouchure. The better my embouchure the better my tone, the longer I can play for, and the more enjoyment I get out of playing.
OK, great! You are off to a good start.
What I am going to say goes right down to the beginning, rather dull and dreary, but this is where the action begins. Oh, sure, you could then dance and flirt such as does Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, but you must first have certain elemental basics behind you. And once those basics have been mastered then the Devil may care what you do!
The embouchure is thought of as lips, but there is much more to it than that, and the beginning starts with your posture and how you hold a flute. First is with the assembly of a flute, with the centers of all of the tone holes aligned and with the center of the embouchure hole in alignment with them, all in a straight line. Then, standing or sitting, your back needs to be straight, your neck needs to be straight in order to help keep an open throat and your head needs to be kept in a straightforward position, too. With your body so set, rest the flute on your chin with the embouchure hole pointed straight up and with the flute horizontal, parallel to the ceiling and to floor.
Huh? What? How the hell are you supposed to blow into a flute held like that? Ah, but this is where the magic begins.
You know that a small amount of the flute’s embouchure hole needs to be covered up by your lower lip, and so now wrap your lower lip outwards so that the tip of your lower lip just covers a small amount of the embouchure hole.
Your upper lip is then positioned by the power of your breath stream.
Both lips work as a pair, but in general the inner surface of the lower lip controls the tuning while the inner surface of the upper lip controls the tone. Indeed, it is known that the upper lip requires the greater strength, but the lower lip does all of the work.
OK, I am going to leave it at that for now, but that is a good beginning.
“First is with the assembly of a flute, with the centers of all of the tone holes aligned and with the center of the embouchure hole in alignment with them, all in a straight line…. [etc, ad nauseum]”
I have been playing the flute for over thirty years. My finger holes are not aligned (I don’t know what a “tone hole” is). The center of the blow hole is not in line with the finger holes. My back is often bent. Sometimes I lean forward or twist my neck to the side. The flute’s blow hole is seldom straight up and my flute is seldom parallel to the ceiling or floor.
My point is that there are as many ways to hold the flute, and to hold one’s body, as there are players. Look through the youtube videos. From Harry Bradley to June NiChormaic, position of body and flute are seldom as prescribed in the above quote. My advice is to experiment until you get the good tone. It will come. But it will take time. Maybe a long time. There’s no rushing it.
Most prescriptions in the quote are similar to the exhortations of classical players to do this or that (flat wrist vs bent wrist, etc) and have very little to do with the actual process of getting on to making music. As Terry McGee says, “Turn the head of the flute in towards you, typically so the far edge of the hole is in line with the middle of the finger holes. Cover as much of the embouchure hole as you feel comfortable doing. None of this is critical, so don’t obsess over it!”
I have been playing the flute for just under two weeks and have no idea what I’m doing…I have no teacher, so I’m experimenting with my embouchure and trying to get the least objectionable noise that I can, but I can get a noise, so, hey, that’s a good first step.
Last night I was experimenting with pushing my upper lip out a bit to direct the air stream more into the hole than across it, and I liked what that did to the tone, but it is still too breath sounding.
This page is often referred to….‘put your lip into it’
There are many, many ways to skin this particular cat…..
“Oh, sure, you could then dance and flirt such as does Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.”
Watch it, laddybuck, you’re treading on sacred ground, here. In my humble estimation, there are three supreme masters of flute; they are: Matt Molloy, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Ian Anderson - not necessarily in that order. If you want to know why, I will be happy to elaborate.
What about Jimmy Galway? He plays Irish music and wears Green coats.
I love Galway, but for me, his tone production does not rival Rampal.
I’ve been playing the flute for almost 10 years and every time I play the flute I don’t really have a clue of what I am doing… There are days when I feel that all is going well : proper sound, steady rhythm, good emphasis etc.. and there are others when I do not know what’s going on : no sound at all, feeling dizzy. Honestly, there were times it really got on my nerves and I asked myself how could I keep playing the flute. But eh I am still here trying to learn a bunch of reels every week.
Imo I don’t think embouchure is the Holy Grail. There are also some others factors like : tiredness, heat, moisture, oiling etc…
I was a bit disappointed when I realized the flute wasn’t a rustic instrument at all but rather a delicate one. Especially if you have keyed flute. It requires a constant and proper maintenance if you want to keep a good and fresh tone ! So yeah it’s not only about embouchure I guess…
Plus when you play outside and if you have a cold weather you may often end up whit no sound at all. Obviously it has to do with the muscles of your lips being too tense because of the low outdoor temperature (also the column of air is oscillating less quickly because of the temperature)
Finally, I find the tiredness factor also important. There are days you cannot simply get a proper sound or not the one you are expecting. You can play a tune but you cannot reach the hard dark tone…
Flute is definitely a bi#!h
Interesting experience today precipitated by Ailin. I listened to Jean-Pierre Rampal through headphones, hooked up a mic through my mixer (flat response) to the same headphones and tried to match that sound with my wooden flute. Yeah I know it’s a bit of apples and oranges here but it’s the exercise that’s important. Rampal was the target and IMO the best one to shoot for. You may feel differently and that’s OK. The point is to pick “somebody” and be consistent. I didn’t think about it, didn’t concentrate on anything in particular except the sound I wanted to match and staying totally relaxed. No, while I didn’t get that perfect match, I did find a sound I really liked. Really I can’t tell you anything about the shape of my lip, air pressure, position of my lip over the hole or anything like that. I put it aside for a while and came back to find that sound again trusting that the magic would happen. It was easier. Hopefully, if I keep it up, that will be the sound I always have. The trick is to listen as objectively as possible (objectivity is a whole ’nother discussion). So far so good.
You’re on to something, Ross! Your brain knows more about it than you do. That might seem a strange statement, but when you attempt to imitate a celebrity voice, do you really understand what it is you are doing to mimic the various attributes that make that voice unique? You find your way to it, somehow, and that’s exactly what you are doing when you attempt to find Rampal’s tonal qualities. With knowledge and practice you can find it more quickly, but most of it will always be about feeling your way until you get it. The trick is to find the sound worth emulating. We flute players tend to go off on tangents, and what seems best one day is quickly abandoned for something else that catches our fancy the next. Sigh.
Boy how right you are. I’ve bounced around trying to emulate the last guy I heard. The difference here is a deliberate method. Too, I’ve finally ( I hope) reached the point where I can admire a player without trying to play just like them…I just can’t be everybody. I can only learn from others until I firm up my own way. Some people that I’m too easily distrac….I wish I had a banana.
Jean-Pierre Rampal !! - I thought you were on about some Breton trad fluter, turns out he’s classical - you people got the the wrong forum here this is a trad music forum.
“We flute players tend to go off on tangents, and what seems best one day is quickly abandoned for something else that catches our fancy the next” speak for yourself mate.
I read somewhere that Ailin plays a boehm system ? maybe that’s why he made a Jean-Pierre Rampal reference ?
I’m just talking flute - doesn’t matter what kind. I was also responding to a reference to Ian Anderson, who also plays a Boehm flute. I play Boehm and wooden eight-key. Embouchure issues are exactly the same, but the approach and the desired result differ.
Regarding the remark about flute players - that’s just a light-hearted observation - mate.
Not tryin’ to pick a fight here. It seems to me that more or less a flute is a flute. You blow into a hole in one end of a long tube (are there any flutes you play by blowing into the middle?) and split a column of air. Unlike stringed instruments the wood in a flute doesn’t vibrate to create a tone. ( I think) The difference between one wood and another has more to do with porosity than anything else. Other than that it’s the bore (does anybody make a conical bore metal flute?) and the shape of the embouchure hole or lip plate. And it’s the shape of the Boehm flute that gives it it’s qualities…not to say superiorities, just differences…and no I don’t play one, I play with it! In fact I once had the pleasure of playing a Bhoem, unkeyed, wooden flute, Rosewood I think, on trial from Doc Jones, and it sounded remarkably like the metal one. I wish my arthritic right hand had let me reach the “d” without pain.
So, 3 things. One I suspect that the difference in tone has much, much more to do with the chair/flute interface than anything else. Two, I suspect that what we hear is very subjective, influenced heavily by what we want to hear. Remember the Stradivarius vs. student violin study where world class musicians couldn’t identify the Strad beyond random deviation. Last, I could be way off. It’s happened before. If anyone can show me the science, the physical laws, that would make a definitive difference I would really like a better understanding. Not a challenge..I’d really like to know.
the “classical” hand, shoulder, neck, etc positions weren’t invented out of the blue to annoy beginners.
They’re the result of hundreds of years of unbroken teacher-to-pupil relationships encompassing a vast amount of practical experience, as to what, for most people, will lead to the most comfort and greatest longevity.
Yes somebody can come along and hold the flute in a strange way, say, with the neck or wrists or shoulder twisted at extreme angles. Thing is, most people over a lifetime of playing won’t find this to work as well as the standard positions.
Ross Faison asks above “are there any flutes you play by blowing into the middle?”, and the answer is sort of yes. I once saw a flute player in the Shanghai Traditional Music Orchestra play such an instrument. It was in the shape of a tube of about D whistle proportions, and had a hole near (but not quite at) the middle. He held it up between thumb and middle finger of each hand, with the index fingers covering the open ends. He could get a small number of notes by closing or opening the two holes in combination. I don’t remember what it was called. It sounded very high, birdlike. Like everything they played, it sounded very well.
I say “sort of yes” because I’m not really sure if technically it is an example of a flute or an ocarina (i.e. whether it works on resonant lengths or resonant cavities).
Hmmm, I was so unimpressed by that response, I went down to the workshop and made one. I found I could get two notes fairly easily from each fingering by overblowing. The notes of course weren’t accurate - I just guessed the lengths - but here they are for your puzzlement (X closed, O open):
X X C5 G#6
O X F5 B6
X O Db5 Eb6
O O C6 Db7
It’s possible it is both a flute and an ocarina, depending on which mode you are in. Hmmmm.
“ (does anybody make a conical bore metal flute?) “
many modern piccolos are still made with a conical bore.
I dont think I’ve seen a recent flute but see Clintons,s flute for India.
also the French seemed to have made a good few as they show up periodically on ebay France.
the one I played was french and sounded and responded more like a typical cocus five keyed french flute.
If Tansey didnt play on the shoulder his top hand wouldnt be free for all those lightning flowery upperhand rolls that sound like no one elses.
pedagogy be damned.
beware of the internet gurus.
I once listened to a fellow rail on about how he found upperhand rolls were no harder than lower hand rolls and he couldnt figure out why all the other fluters were moaning.
A quick watch of his extensive youtube channel (“a lot of it was how to”) revealed he didnt quite grasp the rythmic effect of a roll at all.
I have been experimenting a little lately with my embouchure and last evening found that if I pull my jaw a bit in combined with pushing my upper lip forwards I got a significant different tone in my playing. It was darker and reedier than it used to, so I am really happy that I am at a stage where I can change, experiment and play around with my embouchure. I am of course prepared for the possible dissapiontment that it is all gone next time I pick up the flute and I’ll be back hunting for the tone again. But my point is that I have learnt not to overthink, but to focus on playing and let the tone come gradually to me.
Just a side comment to Ross: re “…the Stradivarius vs. student violin study where world class musicians couldn’t identify the Strad beyond random deviation.” My understanding is that the comparison wasn’t to “student violins” but rather to high end fiddles made by noted contemporary makers. I don’t think of a student violin as an instrument costing over $1,000.
Modern violins often sell for many thousands of dollars, often for upwards of $30,000. A violin made by Samuel Zygmuntowicz, whose fiddles have been played by Isaac Stern and Joshua Bell, sold for $130,00 in 2013. Compared to these prices a collectable Rudall Rose, or a modern flute by Olwell or Wilkes, is a bargain.
Since there’s an active discussion on this, I’ll toss my query in here.
I’m a moderately competent whistler attemptiong to transfer onto a Hamilton “practice” flute. I can get reasonably reliable tone, I can play long notes, harmonics, and get up and down the scale OK. I wouldn’t describe it as fantastic, but it is reasonably full and resonant.
Where I am struggling is with the volume of air I’m getting through. O Grada’s tutor suggests the lungs should never be less than about 60% full; however I can’t get through the phrases he suggests with breath marks without completely emptying my lungs, at any speed.
I’ve been trying to narrow my embouchure to reduce the amount of air going out but I find myself struggling to do this and maintain tone. Pointers would be very welcome….
Bent wrists hurt after a while… There is a reason for a lot of this lore.
In terms of tone production, if you can ensure that the interface between your face and the flute headjoint remains stable even when you are moving everything else, then by all means jump around or sit slumped - the real problem is that most people, when they move themselves or adopt different postures, also end up changing the relative position of lips, flute and jaws. And usually not in deliberate, intentional ways…
On the other hand, being able to change those parameters consciously and under control is the path to being in control of what sound you are making at any given time.
And do not forget breath control and throat tuning while you are at it.
Remember, if it sounds right then it is!
Learn to move more air… I have problems with the whistle that I always have to leak excess air while playing🙂
But in terms of air efficiency; you _will_ use less air automatically as you start to discover which bits of air are important to making the sound and which are not. This comes with time and I would definitely recommend concentrating on getting the right sound first - air efficiency will come. Trying to cut the air consumption down too soon can lead to a pinched and miserly tone quality. We’ve all heard it before…
@Calum: “Where I am struggling is with the volume of air I’m getting through. O Grada’s tutor suggests the lungs should never be less than about 60% full; however I can’t get through the phrases he suggests with breath marks without completely emptying my lungs, at any speed.”
Use less air then. (tadaa!) I’m a megaflop on the flute myself, but I’d simply try to blow into the flute using roughly the same amount of air as with the whistle. This may sound weak and quiet at first, but it forces you to improve your embouchure to get a bigger sound, rather than using more air. Helps me anyway.
Just in case you haven’t seen it yet…
Beginning flute players almost always use too much air. Ignore breath marks and develop your own phrasing. When you anticipate breath marks, you tend to much up the phrasing and your breathing becomes highly unnatural. As a result, you end up huffing and puffing. When you speak, you don’t think twice about breathing. Breathing while playing is a matter of practice and experience. Practice the tunes you play without thinking and you’ll find that the breath comes pretty easily. Even now, I need more air on a new tune and my tone sucks because I’m concentrating on learning the tune. It may seem like you don’t have enough air, but the real problem is that you are trying to concentrate on too much at the same time. Relax and it will come. Also, as you get more experienced, your focus of air will improve, giving a louder and stronger tone with less air.
Tho’ I seldom agree with Ailin, I agree with this comment of his. He says it all:
“Beginning flute players almost always use too much air. …as you get more experienced, your focus of air will improve…”
Tone is all about having a tiny embouchure and focusing a small stream at the far side of the blow hole. It’s about developing the small muscles around your lips. A small piece of spaghetti is about the right size of opening for your embouchure. The height of one small dime. When your tone suffers the reason is invariably because you are using too much air – and using even more air in an effort to get a good tone – and because your embouchure muscles are exhausted.
One way to develop these muscles, or to test your embouchure, is to play the upper octave just as softly as you can. Use hardly any air at all. Playing the flute really takes no more breath than carrying on a conversation at normal volume levels.
@ gam– Thanks for posting that clip. I appreciate that Aine Heslin is an accomplished player but I really don’t like the “hooty” sound of the metal Boehm system flute.
Treading into treacherous waters, but here goes.
Here are two exercises which really help in refining a flute embouchure. Well, one exercise and a visualization… still, I’ve been told that both are very helpful.
Caveat - you have to have at least a modicum of control of your fingers for these to work; if you’re leaking air all over the place there’s little you can do with your embouchure to improve your sound, but if you can adequately cover the lowest octave of your flute…
The visualization: Part of the problem with flute is refining your airstream so that you are making the most economical use of your available air. (to paraphrase Ailin) Instead of thinking of blowing across the embouchure hole (or into it, I’m not going near that can of worms) try to imagine blowing your air through a tiny hole some distance PAST your flute. For example, focus your airflow six inches past your flute… arm’s length… a spot on the wall. The amount of air you blow probably won’t change, but its speed will most likely increase with the imagined distance beyond your instrument. For some players, all it takes is to look at a more distant object to key in to the more focused embouchure necessary for higher notes.
Keep this thought in mind as you try the following…
The exercise: Step 1 -Play a VERY simple melody in the lowest octave of your instrument. (the fundamental pitches of the flute) Step 2 - Using the same fingerings, increase the air speed so that the melody pops up the octave. (the first harmonic) If you can hold your pitch throughout the exercise, move on to… Step 3 - Still using the same fingerings, increase the air speed and focus so that the pitches move to the next harmonic, a fifth above the second octave. Too easy? Try the second octave. (third harmonic… you probably won’t be able to lift any but the lowest pitches up a full two octaves, but it’s an interesting exercise) This requires slow, patient work, and you may not get it the first hundred (or thousand) times, but eventually you should be able to get a firm and focused sound throughout the range of your flute.
There are two immediate advantages to these exercises. First, after focusing your embouchure/air for the higher range, your lower octave should feel much more steady and relaxed. The air demands should be much less taxing in the lower range.
Secondly, after over-blowing/focusing the basic fingerings to produce the higher ranges, when you switch to using proper, vented fingerings for the higher notes your tone should be very clear, and the pitches should snap into place with much less effort.
Final note - these exercises come from working with a generation of Boehm-system “flautists”, but I see no reason they should not work with any flute embouchure.
Suggesting that over-blowing has aught to do with playing in the upper octaves on a timber flute is not helpful. Overblowing always results in problems with tone and intonation on the timber flute.
The comment on ‘venting’ is equally inappropriate. Any beginner most likely plays a keyless flute. How is a player to vent a keyless flute in the upper octave? In fact, of all the players that I know who play timber flutes I don’t know of a single player who vents, in any octave. There might be some, and I suspect they are great players (Niall Keegan and Jean-Michel Veillon come to mind), but I don’t know them to play with.
Technique on the Boehm system flute does not always transfer to the timber flute. People who have been playing ITM for less than a year (and not at all on the timber flute) should be very careful about offering advice to other beginners.
Thank you, David. I should have thought twice before making these suggestions. My apologies.
A little help here.
The term “venting” is new to me. What is it. How do you do it? Why should I do, or not do it? I do occasionally attempt to make acceptable noise on my Boehm flute, would venting help me there? Thanks.
Venting means opening a key further down to make an opening in the tube. Most often referring to the Eb key. Most 19th century flutes were designed to have the Eb key open except on D,d.
Not all however, following Monzani fingering charts show unvented E which is how I play on my Monzani.
One can be quite happy ignoring it or one can look at is a a skill to be used in certain appropriate places. Or one can slavishly vent as most fingering charts would advise.
Ross, to elaborate a bit on what dunnp posted, sound on the flute comes out wherever there is an opening. Notice how much further the air has to travel to get from D to C than from E to D. The further the air has to go, the flatter the tone. Holding the D#/Eb key open provides a shorter route for the air and makes E brighter and in better pitch. I’ve never noticed much effect on the notes above E because the E key is now open (and also D), so venting is less critical. You may also experience a better middle D and D# if you open (vent) the B key.
Interestingly venting the E seems to come about as holes got bigger.
Contemporary baroque flute charts often show e unvented.
Same a bit later for Potter, Monzani.
Venting is shown for most other notes ( nearly always for f sharp).
Then holes get bigger and the charts change,
E becomes vented.
Thanks. I’ll experiment with both instruments.
Dunnp - Consistent with my comment about the reason for venting the D# key, earlier flutes were not as long because there is no foot joint. Thus, the need for venting would no longer be there, I’m guessing.
If your breath is too big, you can end up having to expel surplus air quickly before you can take a new breath.
true about baroque flute, Ailin, but Potters and Monzanis were eight keyed ( or six keyed but no long f or c in the case of many Potters)
also interesting is that extending the foot was one of the first things done in flute evolution (pre the other keys) though the early attempts were not a huge success so the idea was abandoned and then tried again later.
Any time someone mentions venting they always mention the strength it adds to E but it terms of flute history E was the last note to need venting going by what the flute makers thought. all Nicholsons fault I presume.🙂
As usual, the internet wizards here have wandered this thread way off topic.
I am offering the highest level of professional-grade flute embouchure technique, at no cost to anybody.
Could anybody be interested in that?
Yeah, much more could be said, and that could be done, but let us start with just one topic.
The rest of you, please, STAY ON TOPIC.
I begin with rudimentary guidelines, just enough to whet the appetite of anybody interested, where after some experimentation they might have an “oh, wow!” moment, and we could then go on from there.
“As usual, the internet wizards here have wandered this thread way off topic.
I am offering the highest level of professional-grade flute embouchure technique, at no cost to anybody.
Could anybody be interested in that?“
I’m not sure if I am interested in embouchure technique advice from someone who has been playing Irish music for about a year?
I would be interested in hearing your playing that way I could evaluate what advice you have to offer.
One thing that has not been touched on much here is that the cut of the embouchure itself.
I have to put in a lot more work and practice to keep my embouchure in good shape now that I play only antiques. When I previously played modern made flutes (Lehart, Noy, Olwell) I could relax a lot more.
“One thing that has not been touched on much here is that the cut of the embouchure itself.”- dunnp
Yes, I have professional flute playing credentials. Yes, I am hiding my identity behind this username. Yes, I have learned so much and have taken so much from the musical community. And yes, at my age, I am now taking this opportunity to “give back” to the musical community.
Your concern about the “cut” of the embouchure is somewhere near meaningless, please, for what I refer to is an embouchure technique which can allow a player to pick up just about any sort of transverse flute and then master its embouchure within a matter of moments.
But there are so many different kinds of flute players. Some are made of brass and will not hesitate to seek further instruction, but then there are very private players. And so I am attempting to reach them all.
And so, I am your fellow flute player and I can offer some help. Take me up on that.
“I am offering the highest level of professional-grade flute embouchure technique, at no cost to anybody.”
“Yes, I have professional flute playing credentials.”
After making comments like these you should indeed hide your identity. You do take yourself too seriously. Though I see no reason why people should hide from who they are. I think it’s so they can get away with being rude or silly without having to be accountable for what they say.
Hey, David, we just found another area of agreement! It can happen, my friend.
And I want to say that the OP has something to learn about the importance of the embouchure cut. You can spend a lot of time trying to overcome issues of an improperly cut embouchure hole. Or, to put it another way, the joys of a superior embouchure cut can instantly transport your playing to new levels. I have two splendid custom head joints by Casey Burns and Chris Abell that make this point quite eloquently.
The point is that advanced embouchure technique can almost instantly adapt to virtually any kind of flute embouchure and master it within a matter of moments. Sure, some flute embouchures are better than others, having different kinds of flexibility, but a player having the right skills can take full advantage of virtually any kind of flute embouchure very quickly.
That is not so hard to do, but that does require knowing what to do and a willingness to work on it.
A beginner could get the hang of it in a few months of daily practice.
And that is a professional-grade embouchure.
Ok, go on then. I’d like to know what to do, and I’m willing to work on it. Free tuition to acquire a first-class embouchure, sounds excellent! If it helps, I’d like to sound like Kevin Crawford.
I’d like to hear what you sound like, O’Muirgheasain, so that I can tell what I have to aspire to. Do you have any clips you can link to? (Preferably playing Irish trad, of course.) It would also be useful to know what flute you’re playing in the clips, and better still - for me - if it was a simple system, wooden flute.
I’ve been sitting here with perfect posture, my embouchure and tone holes lined up, and my flute parallel to the floor for a week now! Do I get to blow into the flute anytime soon?
Ben Hall makes an excellent point. On the net you can pretend to be anything at all. Too often people with an inflated notion of their own abilities offer advice to those who they assume are not as accomplished as they are. It would be nice if people offered a clip demonstrating the technique they are advocating, or a clip to show that they know whereof they speak.
o’muirgheasain , are we unfair to ask that you establish your bona fides? While I do agree with you that it takes “a few months of daily practice” to develop an embouchure, you haven’t offered anything concrete. You’ve only told us that you have a lot of expertise and that you know what to do. Can you tell us, specifically, what that might be?
There are flutes that I have played that are duds. Flutes that are so crappy that nobody could play them well. A friend bought a flute on a trip to Ireland twenty years ago that was made of deal and then painted black. It had a crack on the headjoint that rendered the flute unplayable. Even after fixing the crack the blowhole was so poorly cut and the flute so badly made that it was next to useless. A lot of Pakistani flutes are too horrible to be taken seriously as musical instruments – and some old German instruments are equally horrible. A beginning player would understandably be totally discouraged by a truly bad instrument.
I’m inclined to agree, sometimes this insistence of hearing recording of people playing can be tantamount to bullying - but in this case ‘o’muirgheasain’ or Morrisey, you are putting yourself up on a pedestal. You’re proffering to help all who wish to follow your advice, to attain a ‘professional-grade embouchure’.
So let’s hear you playing some Irish trad, preferably on a standard wooden flute, with or without keys.
“Ok, go on then. I’d like to know what to do, and I’m willing to work on it. Free tuition to acquire a first-class embouchure, sounds excellent! If it helps, I’d like to sound like Kevin Crawford.” - MalcombR
OK, let us make that happen, right here on The Session! I am going to proceed slowly, so as to help keep everybody with the program and up to speed. And I am here to answer questions, too.
But no promises as to who you might sound like, other than yourself.
“I’d like to hear what you sound like, O’Muirgheasain, so that I can tell what I have to aspire to.” - Ben Hall
The are a number of “individual identity” things that I have never put on the Internet, for in my military experience many years ago as a communications specialist with a security clearance I learned why not to do so. You will never hear my flute voice on the Internet, for that is identifiable.
But the embouchure technique here applies to virtually any transverse flute, fife or whatever.
“Do I get to blow into the flute anytime soon?” - Cheeky Elf
Alright, you indeed are cheeky, but that is good and I am here for the cheekiest of players.
Any minute now… … . !
“On the net you can pretend to be anything at all.” - David Levine
Yeah, that is true, but I do have something to say and I welcome you. There are so many aspects to playing a flute, indeed there are so many different kinds of transverse flutes with so many different features, but on this thread I am going to limit the topic to a player’s embouchure, er, actually, I am willing to go far beyond embouchure and am willing to go into other basic flute playing techniques, but let us begin with a player’s embouchure, please, for without embouchure control a player goes nowhere. Embouchure control is where it all begins.
“The are a number of “individual identity” things that I have never put on the Internet, for in my military experience many years ago as a communications specialist with a security clearance I learned why not to do so.”
Is this another way of saying “I could let you hear my embouchure technique, but then I’d have to kill you” ?
“… but in this case ‘o’muirgheasain’ or Morrisey, you are putting yourself up on a pedestal. You’re proffering to help all who wish to follow your advice, to attain a ‘professional-grade embouchure’.” - Kilcash
Let me correct you, please. From Sligo in about the middle of the northwestern coast of Ireland comes the name O’Muirgheasa from which the names Morris and Morrissey come from and then from Donegal comes the name O’Muirgheasain from which the names Bryson and Morrison come from.
Alright, a pedestal is now beneath me, as you say, but now follow me and I can offer such results such as you could wish for. Oh, that calls for dedication and work, but, as you know, there is no free lunch.
[*Is this another way of saying “I could let you hear my embouchure technique, but then I’d have to kill you” ?*]
There’s limited value in the ‘go on, prove it’ route.
The subject is flute embouchure, and can that really be demonstrated properly in a performance clip?
Same with any instrument, really. Could anyone work out how to do ghost bowing, without the whole process being spelled out, step-by-step, whether in words alone, or in close-up, purpose made video clips? And would the viewer be guaranteed to ‘get it’ ?
OK, to everybody here, I really am here to be of help.
C’mon, take a new look at the flute. Yeah, this is something that you can do.
Mac Ghille Mhoire (Servant of (Saint) Mary) is the original Scottish Morrison name, Mary’s Son = Morrison, but then those thieving Irish O’Muirgheasain bastards stole the Morrison name. Oh yeah, but we did! 😀
But anyway, let us get on with flute.
Very well, I’m sure we are all waiting in eager anticipation! So I guess we are not going to enlightened via videos or sound clips, due to security concerns. Nor are we to expect 1:1 Skype sessions for the same reason. What now? Verbal descriptions? I have read loads of ‘how to’ descriptions of both ‘Irish’ and classical embouchure technique and some have been helpful, but no substitute for trial and error, daily practice and a good ear. (All done in the absence of a live tutor).
You keep telling us you have the keys to the kingdom as it were, and as a beginning flute player I’m curious to know more. Do you need a Quorum of interested parties before you start?
As a beginner I couldn’t begin to argue on this, however to be clear - the advice given in the first “lesson” - is this considered inappropriate for those of us just starting out on the flute as it was stated it was aimed at? I am somewhat puzzled why this “basic” advice in the first instance is seemingly considered by some as an inappropriate way to start the learning process.
“OK, great! You are off to a good start.
What I am going to say goes right down to the beginning, rather dull and dreary, but this is where the action begins. Oh, sure, you could then dance and flirt such as does Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, but you must first have certain elemental basics behind you. And once those basics have been mastered then the Devil may care what you do!”
Hi, sorry to be away but I have had other commitments.
OK, so I am Irish and I am here to speak about flute embouchure. Yet an “Irish” embouchure has a flute’s head rolled back to the point where the center of the flute’s embouchure hole is pointed at about the player’s nose. And, yes, for what it is and what it does, that works excellently well.
But this thread is all about flute embouchure and all of its potential. Believe it or not I have already given you the rudimentary basics, including having the embouchure hole pointed straight up. Yeah, get adjusted to that! We could then go on about the finer points of the roles of the lower and the upper lips, yet there really is not all that much more to say. But there really is that much more for you to experiment with and to do.
Wanna talk about the finer points? OK, we can do that. But the work is on you.
So basically put it up to your mouth and blow until it sounds good? Gee Thanks.
@ Cheeky Elf
I responded, which took some while to do, but when I tried to “enter” it I got “website has expired”.
Total BS, we artists sometimes need time to write.
OK, when I cool down I will get back to you.
I think you might be deluding yourself. There’s about as much difference between Morris, Morrisey and Morrison as there is between Patrick, Paddy, Packie, Pa, Patsy, Padser, Padraig and so on ……….. Irish family lineage is a very fluid concept. You can pick and choose, they’ve been doing it since they wrote up the first genealogies in the sixth century.
Virtuoso performance so far O’Muirgheasain, apart from the military/security reference.
A wise man once said, in reference to learning the fiddle, “Just stick it under your chin and scrape away”. He wasn’t wrong, of course, but he managed to nail it nine words and one post, and didn’t feel the need to string it out over two weeks.
The only advice you’ve given so far is advice that is contrary to the design and practice of playing large holed “Nicholson” romantic flutes. The flutes most of us play for Irish music. Contemporary sources indicate that it was common practice to roll the headjoint in. The flutes were designed to be played that way. Old Leather Lungs himself, one the finest and most influential players of this type of flute, played this way.
I’ll stick with Charlie’s advice thanks!
Qauntz, Devienne, Drouet, Lindsay, Nicholson, Tulou all mention turning in.
We can only assume that the flutes were tuned with this in mind.
Rosckstro mentions Boehm did not turn in and suffered for it.
See this link for a look at how Nicholson may have held the flute:
Embouchure far edge lined up with center line of finger holes.
One of the few fine Boehm fluters I know that plays traditional music rolls in as well. In his case he believes that this is an important part of “his sound.”
O’Muirgheasain - I’m with dunnp on the topic of what advice you have given us so far. I think you gave us advice in 2 parts:
1. Line up the holes in the flute
2. Get your posture correct
This seems to be just the essence of Chapter 1, Page 1 of any elementary-school flute tutor.
Essentially you follow up by telling us ‘the rest is up to you’ - but I must say, you haven’t imparted real anything beyond that 🙂. As dunnp points out, advice and practical application of flute alignment indicates that many if not most people do turn-in the embouchure hole, and not just players of the Irish flute. Aside from evidence from Rockstro and Nicholson, here is a link which advises turning-in from a classical (Boehm) perspective.
According to this article, James Galway is one high-profile professional flute player who does line up his flute holes, but I suggest you should not insist we “get adjusted to that!” Many don’t, and play superbly.
(The Jennifer Cluff article is also interesting in illustrating a typical posture adopted by many professional flute players - perhaps insisting on keeping the flute parallel to the floor is also somewhat unnecessary?)
Does anyone else think that this thread is all a bit surreal? I hope folks aren’t keeping it going just to poke fun at you.
It just occurred to me that it’s all of us who are being wound up, not the other way round!!
Sorry, me again. Here is an instructional video on how to play the flute. Hope this helps!
Here’s all the Morrison beginners need to listen to in one place:
(I hope this works)
all the best,
I am sorry for the delay in my returning to you, due to an assortment of computer troubles and the state that I live in having the coldest temperatures on historic record along with a lot of snow, the average daily temperature having been 16 F, with a total of about 5 feet of snow, for instance.
Anyway, back to flute embouchure …
There really is an “Irish” embouchure, easily seen when a player has a flute’s embouchure rolled back slightly, with the center of the embouchure hole pointed toward the player’s nose. And for what it does the Irish embouchure works delightfully well. But the embouchure technique that I am getting to here can do all of that and much more. At first it will be a challenge and can be mastered only by daily practice. But not too much daily practice!!! Overworking and straining the embouchure muscles can destroy a player’s tonal flexibility, producing a bright and brilliant tone, by having smooth and over-tightened lip surfaces, and losing the ability to produce a dark and reedy tone so valuable to Irish music, only produced by the loosest and most relaxed of embouchures.. So, do not rush it! Begin with short practice sessions of maybe fifteen or twenty minutes a day for a few weeks or more before practicing for any longer periods. The good news is that after a few months of practice the whole thing will somehow miraculously come together and work automatically. Just remember to ALWAYS follow your ears and to keep your throat OPEN.
The lower and upper lips each have their predominant roles, the lower lip controlling the tuning and the upper lip controlling the tone. Now, lips can be thought of as being those red, fleshy rims around the edge of one’s mouth, but a flute player’s lips also include the inner surfaces of the mouth between the gums that hold teeth and those red, fleshy rims. And having a flute’s embouchure hole pointed straight up manages to considerably increase the available inner surface of the lower lip, which is the most valuable piece of real estate inside a player’s mouth.
OK, so pick up your flute, assemble it and then hold it the way I earlier mentioned. Ready?
No matter how thick or how thin the depth of a flute’s embouchure edge could be, think of the farther edge as being the “strike wall” that you are blowing against, where the further downward on the strike wall your airstream goes the flatter the tone becomes and the further upward your airstream goes on the strike wall the sharper the tone becomes. That not only allows getting in tune with yourself and with other players but also allows for playing from loudly to softly, or from softly to loudly, all while staying in tune. Flutes play sharper when blown strongly and play flatter when blown softly but the lower lip can compensate for that, instantly.
That calls for only a slight movement of the inner surface of the lower lip, but with a flute held properly and having just a bit of its embouchure hole covered by the lower lip, pick a tone that is easy to play, say, an A in the bottom register, then breathe in from the depth of your belly and give that tone a long, steady blow. While doing that, let the inner surface of your lower lip move slightly outward, away from you, which will then direct your airstream more upward against the strike wall, thereby sharpening the tone, and then reverse the movement, pulling the inner surface of your lower lip slightly inward, toward you, which then directs your airstream more downward against the strike wall, thereby flattening the tone. For instance, try holding your hand close to your face with its palm facing your embouchure, then blow and see how slightly shifting your lower lip outward and inward moves the airstream upward and downward on your hand.
The upper lip uses muscles to pull it inward, toward the player, but uses the pressure of the player’s airstream to push it outward. Pulling the upper lip inward directs the airstream more across the flute, and using the airstream to “balloon” the upper lip outward directs the airstream more downward, into the flute. Experiment! For instance, a most relaxed embouchure combined with a downward airstream can produce full power, where the whole flute vibrates.
Again, your ears are a crucial part of your flute player’s toolbox, and in your studies you should ALWAYS pay attention to your ears. Eventually you will develop a deep coordination between your ears and your embouchure. And that is a most valuable flute playing asset.
And again, the beginning will have its challenges, but hang in there and keep working on them. Perhaps with a few months of daily practice the whole thing will come together into a working arrangement, and from then on it only gets better and better, if given daily practice. And I can guarantee that once you get the hang of this technique, you will not use any other.
And then once you get all of that, there comes a yet more advanced level, where the tuning gets taken out of the mouth and put into the throat. Yes, the lips still direct the airstream, but the tuning originates in the throat. Ooooo! That is where the magic really begins.
Let me add that by adopting the above technique, you are adopting the most advanced and flexible embouchure technique available, so flexible that it is possible to pick up a flute that you have never played before and within a matter of seconds have its embouchure under your complete control. The good news is that the above technique is not at all hard to do, but simply will take some practice to get it all coordinated, maybe a few months of daily practice or something like that.
But again, once you get the hang of this technique then you will NEVER use any other technique, guaranteed!
Thank you - this is a real help to me - much appreciated.
@ Mike Holgate
Good! Go for it!
Evidently there also are others who wish to get on with flute, and so, c’mon, let us get on with it.
But I warn you, that this is a professional-grade flute embouchure.
Sorry for the delay, but last week I revitalized the thread. For those interested in a professional-grade flute embouchure, c’mon! The only thing is that it should not be rushed or hurried. You need to develop strength but WITHOUT developing tight muscles, a tricky combination, kind of a balancing act. Altogether it is not hard to do but it definitely will take some time to get it all coordinated, maybe a few months or so.
I kicked this thread off but then got delayed by an exceptional winter. Yet the thread went on yada, yada, yada. But I eventually did complete the thread, look toward what is now the end of that thread. I think I addressed the essential elements. However, should anybody here have any questions then let me know.
Do what now?
Yes, I abridged ITM flute technique, for I introduced the dreaded classical technique. But for those who could prefer to unleash the full potential of a flute then let us have at it! The mechanics of it are easy to understand but the execution of it is where a player could encounter difficulty. But hey, we can talk, right here.
Where can I purchase this flute embouchure of which you speak? Is this contraption made of metal or plastic, and is it fitted around the mouth, or around the blow-hole of the flute, and does it require any additional adhesive?
“Just remember to ALWAYS follow your ears and to keep your throat OPEN.”
How do you fit ‘glottal stops’ into your advice?
O’Muirgheasain - you have clearly put a lot of thought and effort into a couple of your latest posts. I think they might get the attention they deserve if you were to transfer them to a new thread.
As for me, I have just been making a point of playing my flute for a little while each day, and oddly enough I find my tone improving. I admit that I have not been putting much thought into it, just using my ear and trusting the wisdom of the body, if you know what I mean.
Glottal stops are altogether worthless! A trash technique! Here we go way beyond that. Yes, follow this technique closely and you will never have any need for any other, guaranteed.
I tried to let everybody know that I eventually did complete this thread, due to an historic winter here. But no sooner did I do that on the main page but Jeremy then swapped it over to here, on the original thread. OK.
I learned this technique when I was a Baroque student, of Just Intonation, of pure harmonics. And I had the additional challenge of having to learn how to play an A=435 flute to A=440 pitch standards. But that actually did further train my embouchure. Oh, yes! I now have a very flexible embouchure.
This goes beyond discipline. This goes to love. Yep, I said that. You will be onto it when as you wake first thing in the morning your first impulse is to strike an A=440 tuning fork and then to treat both of your ears to that tone, and then to pick up your flute and exactly match that tone on the A of the bottom register, nice and easy, a perfectly matched A long tone for as long as your breath could last. The next challenge is in assembling a whole octave in pure harmonics, all based on the original A=440 tone. Once that is done, however, the next octave becomes easier because your ears already know what to listen for.
Oh, this will not in any way diminish your ability to perform Equal Temperament tuning, circle of fifths, etc., but given a taste of harmonically pure Just Intonation tuning you could then understand the meaning of Equal TAMPERament tuning.
[Jeremy then swapped it over to here, on the original thread.]
Ok, that explains my initial confusion after your post a day ago, I wasn’t sure what you were referring to, but I’ve got it now. I’ve put the best bits your posts into a word document and will reread it a few times to see if I can get it to sink in. I would certainly like to be getting more out of my flute than I am currently able to.
Physically it not hard to do, not at all. But getting it all coordinated to do all of what it can do is the challenge. As I was saying, it goes way beyond discipline. It goes to a level of concentration that is beyond description. Really, I am not exaggerating when I say that learning this technique calls for your utmost participation, to the point where your waking thoughts first thing in the morning are about playing flute. Yeah, extreme!
But it really does work! This technique can draw everything out of a flute that a flute can do.
“Glottal stops are altogether worthless! A trash technique!”
Hmm … try saying that to the face of fine flute players like Catherine McEvoy and Fintan Vallely. Both very rooted and respected in the tradition.
“Glottal stops are an integral part of some flute styles [ eg, Patsy Hanly, Catherine McEvoy, Harry Bradley, Matt Molloy, and of course, my own ]……………………………. Conal O’Grada, “Irish Traditional Flute Technique” , pg 35.
Such a worthless technique that he devotes a whole chapter to it.
@ Kilcash and @ Kenny
We all know the story, that as Boehm flutes became dominant in the later 19th and early 20th centuries the older simple-system flutes became widely available at low cost and players from Ireland, Scotland and Wales recognized their value for playing traditional music. OK, they made a good choice. But flutes never did come with instructions as to how to play them and so their new owners had to be inventive. And those innovations are what are now regarded as traditional playing techniques, glottal stops and all.
But then also in the later 19th century came along the brilliant French flute player Claude-Paul Taffanel, the founder of the French School of Flute at Paris Conservatoire. He blew the doors off of all earlier techniques. On an earlier thread here on The Session it was mentioned that James Galway once used the traditional “Irish” flute embouchure to then make a loud racquet, which is what the Irish wanted it to do. But if you look at YouTube videos of Galway’s performances you will see that he uses the French technique exclusively. And that is the same technique that I am bringing forward today, the best available.
With a name such as O’Muirgheasain I am not attempting to knock or discredit traditional Irish flute technique, for the Irish got the flute to do what they needed it to do. But when it comes to seeing a flute as being a piece of sonic machinery there really are some vastly improved embouchure techniques available.
Glottal stops constrict the throat, and that is a major flute-playing no-no!
Well don’t tell me, tell it to messrs Molloy, Bradley, O’Grada, etc - they seem to do OK with their style of playing, and they’re good enough for me.
“The influence of Claude-Paul Taffanel on traditional Irish flute playing”……………, now there’s a very short thesis for someone.
Well, let’s see here. As an aspiring flute player who has heard about and is practicing this glottal stop business a little bit, I have two choices:
1) I can follow the advice (more a suggestion to experiment, really) of one of my favorite players – Conal O’Grada – in his book and CD where he discusses the technique, and I can hear it clearly in his playing. After exposure to that, I’ve been able to pick it up in other players too, and it’s mentioned in the Fintan Vallely book and CD I bought recently. IIRC, he calls it something different, but it’s clearly the same idea. A way to articulate the attack on the note in a softer and more subtle way than tonguing.
2) Or, I can follow the advice in the post above, saying it’s a trash technique that constricts the throat and is a flute playing no-no.
What to do… decisions, decisions…
I am suggesting a very in-depth study of flute embouchure technique with completely open throat and total diaphragm support. Yes, the flute is a piece of machinery and your body becomes part of that machine. Or maybe you and your flute could become wholly integrated. Yeah, this gets really far out there, but just as much as you can sing you can also train your flute to sing. The flute becomes your instrumental voice.
That an instrument could have a musical voice is the foremost valuable lesson that I have ever learned.
But be prepared, for this training is a genuine challenge. As I was saying, you will know that you are onto it when your waking thoughts first thing in the morning are about playing flute. The beauty of pure harmonics will draw you in and will delightfully keep you there.
Maybe or maybe not…. but will it sound like good strong traditional Irish flute playing?? A good blast?
Which sort of music is really the focus of this particular site. I’m sure there’s other excellent discussion forums for people who want to play like James Galway?
o’muirgheasain, with respect… have you considered that “the beauty of pure harmonics” may not be what many Irish flute players are aiming for? There is a hard edge to this music – joyful and yes, maybe a bit rough around the edges. You can hear it in the various trad fiddle techniques too.
Take that away and aim for “the beauty of pure harmonics,” and I’m not sure we’re talking about Irish traditional flute any more.
Not all flute traditions have to sound alike.
But my point is that the French embouchure can do EVERYTHING that an “Irish” embouchure can do and much more than that, too. That is why I am promoting it. If a player prefers to appear authentically “Irish” in their performance then the “Irish” embouchure is the technique they need to incorporate, obviously. But there is NOTHING that the French embouchure cannot replicate in terms of sound production. Once a player learns how the French embouchure works then they will wonder how and why “Irish” flute players could so willingly cripple and handicap themselves with such an inferior technique.
Again, James Galway as a professional uses the French embouchure exclusively. Huh? What? Why could that be? Simples. It works!
He doesn’t sound like the people I want to sound like though, and I don’t want to sound like the people who want to sound like him.
It all depends on how a player uses the French technique. You want the tone dark and dirty, raw and raspy? OK, no problem, that can be done, too. My point about Sir James had nothing to do with his musical taste and preferences but only that he does use French technique.
“ on The Session it was mentioned that James Galway once used the traditional “Irish” flute embouchure to then make a loud racquet“ (o’muirgheasain)
“we blow right into the flute, and man, do we make a racket” (Sir James)
I am not talking about an embouchure technique that is rarified and mystical. Oh, no! The French embouchure is the same technique that virtually all of today’s “classically” trained players have learned. Why? Because it works so flexibly and so wonderfully well, so adaptable and so fluid, a musician’s voice! The “Irish” embouchure works delightfully well for what it does, and it is not my point here to knock it or to criticize it. But in fact it does have its limits and my point here is to go beyond those limits, to go far beyond.
No, actually I think you *have* made the point of knocking at least glottal stops, o’muirgheasain.
But it is true. Glottal stops physically do constrict the throat, an undeniable fact, and that goes entirely contrary to playing with an open throat. A fully open throat is essential to technique.
The Irish innovated, but the French technique goes far beyond such innovation.
The French technique goes to where a player could make a flute sing.
Glottal stops have nothing to do with embouchure. Glottal stops are about articulation, not tone production. Glottal stops do not constrict the throat in any way with regard to tone production - they merely stop the flow of air in either a subtle or dramatic fashion. Once the air is released, the throat can be fully open and the tone can be whatever the player desires by virtue of his or her embouchure technique. Do not confuse embouchure with articulation; they are completely separate.
Ailin, I agree glottal stops are for articulation. Unfortunately the OP seems so intent on his technique which requires a “fully open throat” that anything else (even for articulation) is dismissed as poor technique.
AB, I am unaware of any other technique than making the throat as open as possible. However, an open throat also has absolutely nothing to do with embouchure technique. The embouchure is about the mouth, period. Much has been written about how the lips should be positioned and placed on the flute. For myself, I cannot do as most ITM flute players seem to do, which is to position the embouchure hole of the flute facing the mouth. I have the hole facing slightly away from the mouth. I use this position for all genres of music that I play. What makes me sound more “Irish” is that I blow more powerfully and push the air harder to get more of a buzz to the tone, along with more volume. To me, Irish flute technique has more to do with how the air is focused than any change in embouchure. For whatever music you play, your embouchure needs to be optimized for good results. Still, the variety of tonal color can be varied without appreciable change to how the lips are formed or where they are placed on the head joint.
Can someone kindly break down the difference between the Irish and French embouchures? Broad strokes will do.
I cross posted with you there Ailin, I think you may have just answered my question.
Ailin, I’m referring to o’muirgheasain’s descriptions ~ use of quotation marks around “fully open throat” …
I don’t know the French embouchure from the Irish embouchure. I’m guessing what I do is probably along the lines of what Terry McGee says for getting the hard, dark tone, “Now, time for a little experiment. Blow, in your usual style, a low G note. Listen to the tone. As you blow, push out your top lip, or pull in your bottom lip, or both, so that you are directing your jet of air more and more downwards, “towards the centre of the flute”. As the jet aims lower and lower, you should hear the sound harden and darken, as more of the energy is directed away from the fundamental of the note, and into its second harmonic. It will still sound like low G (i.e. we haven’t “jumped to second octave G”), but it will sound firmer and “reedier” - more like the same note on a reed instrument.”
AB, I’m not misunderstanding you, I’m agreeing with you. And I have no problem with Terry’s advice, which I have read before. I just don’t happen to do it that way, personally. I achieve the same result with what I call focus of the air stream, rather than with a change of lip position or head joint alignment. I’m sure that’s a product of having started in the classical style.
Cheers, & I think Terry wrote that with the awareness different fluters use (& experiment w/) a variety of methods to acheive similar hard, dark tones; whether they fit his essay’s particulars or not.
I imagine you have to take differences of physiology into the equation as well.
There are certain constants; lips like moisture.
@ Ailin - “Glottal stops have nothing to do with embouchure.”
Yeah, OK, so you figured that out, such a genius! But what I am getting at is a holistic technique which includes far more than just the lips. Yeah, this is where the rubber hits the road, this is what is under the hood, this is where flute playing becomes reality. And if you think that glottal stops have nothing to do with tone production, then please, think again! Glottal stops ARE NOT needed for articulation and indeed are quite contrary to technique.
@ AB Steen - “Ailin, I agree glottal stops are for articulation.”
OK, in your world they are. But I have come here to share a whole ’nother point of view.
Yes, I am suggesting that you ditch the “Irish” technique. This is not going to be an easy transition, for it will call for dedication and work on your part, but this technique has been adopted worldwide. Why? It works!
Please present your style of articulation.
We *all* know it excludes glottal stops, so can we move beyond that difference of opinion?
If ya wanna be “Irish” then keep it up just as you are going.
But beyond this, I have nothing more to say.
O.K. I wanna hear about your style of articulation where I don’t have to use “Irish” technique, please.
Classical violinists eschew double stops, but try to play Irish or Bluegrass without them. You cannot eliminate a fundamental part of the style by branding it another point of view. You are bucking what makes the style what it is. And to no purpose. I thought this thread was about embouchure, no?
Ailin wrote… “Classical violinists eschew double stops, “ Huh? I always thought they were fun. Sorry…interesting thread, always learning, but wondered where that came from. 🙂
“Glottal stops ARE NOT needed for articulation.”
There are other ways to articulate, but many of the great flute players in this tradition use glottal stops. Others don’t. It’s just an option to break the attack of the note in a different way.
When you suggest that they never be used (“trash”… a “no-no”), then it’s the equivalent of an Irish flute player posting on a Classical flute player forum, and saying that tonguing isn’t needed for articulation, because there are other ways to do that. Yes, but it’s not the way it’s done in *that* tradition, which is different from *this* tradition.
Flute playing isn’t some monolithic, platonic goal that exists in a vacuum. It’s tied to local traditions, and this tradition is different than the one you’re used to.
“Yes, I am suggesting that you ditch the “Irish” technique.”
Well, I predict that’s going to be a popular opinion on a traditional music web site.
@5stringfool… sigh, and THAT Bach. And Szeryng. Where is the“love“ button? Ok, back to my fiddle corner.
No problem, Ms. Lovejoy.
Steve’s Szeryng YouTube submission was my one rare pleasure in an otherwise bewildering ramble through a dense, dark forest.
BTW, one of the tricky things about talking flute technique is that we can’t see a lot of what’s happening with iconic players, because so much of it is hidden from view behind the lips. It’s different than watching, say, Kevin Burke play fiddle and analyzing his fingering and bow.
Watch a great Irish flute player, and you don’t get to see an X-Ray of what’s happening inside their mouth. You don’t see the tonguing, glottal stops, or anything in-between to articulate the notes. You can hear it, if you practice and study enough, but it’s sort of detective work compared to other instruments, where you can see everything that shapes the notes.
Conal O’Grada’s tutor book and CD was something of a revelation for me, because there is a set of tracks where he plays a segment of a tune with full embouchure, and then plays it again with the head joint tilted out, so all you hear are the glottal stops. I’m not sure that I want to go that far with it, but it’s fascinating to hear.
Did I blow it on the double stop thing? I think I did. I was remembering a quote rather than remembering the violin music I actually know. Post withdrawn.
Or, to quote the former governor of Texas here in the States…“Ooops!”
I have to say hats off to O’Muirgheasain for resurrecting this thread. Most entertaining! These threads are pretty exciting stuff, combining a ‘you guys are all doing it wrong’ attitude with an ‘I know best’ superiority complex, with the odd insult thrown in too (..‘such a genius!’).
I confess I’m still a little vague in understanding what the superior French technique actually is, so could someone please re-post the description or instructions?
MalcolmR, as best as I can tell from this thread:
Roll your blow hole in = Irish
Roll your blow hole out = classical
Point your blowhole at your nose = French
But it’s all moot because you can make them all sound Irish.
David50 - “ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQg0vScnQ8E “
Notice that Sir James protrudes and then wraps his lower lip around the head joint’s embouchure hole. That is French technique! Sure, he is blowing straight down into the hole, to get maximum power out of the head joint, but he is NOT rolling the head backwards. He does not need to. And if you look carefully, notice that in practice he does not actually blow straight across the embouchure hole but slightly toward the foot of the flute. Sir James knows how to get maximum performance out of a flute.
Glottal stops are an abomination. Firstly, they serve as an alternative form of tonguing, to release an “explosive” stream of air, but that same “explosiveness” can be done with the diaphragm. Oh, yes! And secondly, once the mechanics of how tuning/intonation by the lips is understood, as I earlier mentioned, a player then takes tuning to a higher level, then taking the tuning out of their mouth and putting it into their throat, where the lips will then automatically follow the tuning in their throat, and much in the same way that a singer does but without any use of the vocal cords. And that gets to the need for a completely open throat, always.
And no, I am not being “superior”. All I am doing is bringing forward a technique that millions upon millions of today’s flute players are already familiar with. Why? Because it really does work so well! Simples. The French technique can do all and everything that a flute can do.
If a player chooses to roll their head joint inwards and use glottal stops then fine, that is their choice. But do understand that there is a more than viable alternative.
@o’muirgheasain. The link was the one that was being discussed when mention of James Galway ‘making a racket’ was mention. The context was blowing down, not what you said it was above.
My understanding is that the rolling the headjoint is a matter of ergonomics, especially in relation to hand position. I have seen it discussed in the context of both Boehm and simple system flutes. In the former context one point mentioned was the weight of the keywork. If a player wants to keeping the centre of gravity of the flute above the mid-line, so that it does not want to rotate, then it influences the posture. With a wooden simple system flute most of the weight is in the wood, not the keywork.
@o’muirgheasain. If they changed their technique to what you propose would Conal Ó Gráda, Patsy Hanly, Catherine McEvoy, Harry Bradley, Matt Molloy and others sound different ?
“Glottal stops are an abomination. Firstly, they serve as an alternative form of tonguing”
So how do you articulate notes o’muirgheasain? Clearly we can use our fingers to add cuts and taps etc. Using the airflow, we interrupt it with glottal stops typically rather than tonguing, which latter doesn’t suit Irish trad as well - it comes across as twee.
What do you do to add a bit of punch/ emphasis to a note, at will?
I use glottal stops, my tongue, my fingers, my diaphragm and even my lips. They are the tools of the flute player. Calling any of the foregoing an abomination is a mistake, IMO. To eliminate any technique that produces a desired result does no more than to limit the player. Some players consider tonguing an abomination, btw. They are not right, either. Glottal stops exist for a reason and that reason is as valid now as it ever was. I suggest we get back on topic.
@ Aili who said… “Did I blow it on the double stop thing?”
Not really! 🙂 Even on the main flute topic, some things aren’t that black and white. Lots of double stops are fun to play (even with normal GDAE tuning) because they are easy fingerings, or easy to shift into or come off of and “hammer down” elsewhere.
Note AB and I remained drooling over Bach only. I did not mention the Paganini video, as the man was evil incarnate; able to perform stuff which can only be played by others like himself who had huge hands. Or if one practices 38 hours daily, taking anti inflammatory meds and have zero else to take care of in their lives. Or maybe if they just look like him? Like that poor man in the other video strangely did. 🙂 So with music like that …“eschewing” is a reasonable goal.
Update: Yes, flute articulation is done in two ways; 1) fingers, and 2) air stream.
And the point here is to turn the air stream into the equivalent of an artist’s paint brush.
Would you please discuss tuning from the throat? I do the everyday long tones and harmonics and love that part of the process!! It keeps teaching me new things all the time. I have no understanding of what you speak of and am sooo curious. Thank you!
Would you recommend tonguing from behind the front teeth, or against top lip or where ?
Tonguing and artists brushes can be a toxic combination.
As it happens I use both. Possibly an interesting effect. All about control I imagine🙂.
I tongue against the hard palate, but do what suits and achieves the sound you desire. For fun, instead of using the tongue to form “du” or “tu”, try saying “chuh” when starting a phrase. You get a bit of a Jethro Tull (Ian Anderson) effect that can give some tunes a driving sound.
Hi o’muirgheasain, as you appear to be a bit of an authority on the flute, would you be able to update your profile to reflect that, please? It might then help people who are too shy to post questions or contribute to discussions. It’s a polite and friendly request, and of course you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Paganini was mentioned earlier - his famous tune “Moto Perpetuo” is one of my long-term practice pieces on fiddle. My original paper music copy was getting a bit worn out and faded, so I downloaded a new copy :
So, I thought, fine - looks good. But no fingering? That’s odd. No problem, anyway. Then I realized the download was from www.flutetunes.com .
So, I thought to myself - how would a flute player play this, in terms of breathing? As it’s a strict-tempo thing, how many notes would you play before taking a breath? Assuming you stick to the tempo as marked?
On one of his masterclass videos he demonstrates playing a passage somewhat like this.
“So, I thought to myself - how would a flute player play this, in terms of breathing?”
Or maybe not circular breathing
“because it looks so foolish”
(good quip at the begining as well 😉)
Let me begin by going somewhat off-topic for a moment. Earlier on this thread I wrote something that was not approved of by Jeremy. By PM he then warned me to be civil and referred me to the official website rules. OK. I was guilty and so I read all of the rules. BUT IN THOSE RULES there was a brief discussion of some of the differences between the different styles of traditional Irish music, in particular the differences that could exist between the slow airs and the dance music, and so it was decided that The Session would be primarily focused on the ever-popular dance music. However, perhaps not all but much of the dance music can be performed with no need for any substantial embouchure adjustment. Yet it is in the slow airs where there could be a need for such flexibility in embouchure adjustment. And that gets to the points I am making here.
Thank you, and now back on topic … Hello, Janmarie,
Tuning in the throat … As I was saying, the technique is very similar to what singers/vocalists do except that flute players do not use their vocal cords, unless they are avant-garde artists or Jethro Tull, etc., and the flute itself being the equivalent of a player’s vocal cords. For instance, pick any easy to sing tone and then sing it. Then with your fingers around and touching about the middle of your throat, feel the vibration from singing that tone. Yep, that is the same place where your flute tuning goes to. It really is a lot like singing. Yes, I earlier focused on the mechanics of how the lips can direct the airstream and such effects, but as you do that try also feeling how your throat comes into play. And then see how that could tell your lips what to do. Yeah, your lips can follow your throat, and your throat will follow your ears. Easy to do, it just takes some practice.
New sensation and process. I will be working on that. Alot. I love your advice. Thank you for time and sharing!!!
@ Jim Dorans, Worldfiddler - “Hi o’muirgheasain, as you appear to be a bit of an authority on the flute, would you be able to update your profile to reflect that, please? It might then help people who are too shy to post questions or contribute to discussions. It’s a polite and friendly request, and of course you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
I am always available by PM. Yes, truly Irish players know how to close all of the tone holes and then use their flute as a straw to drain whole glasses of Guinness. Oh yeah! But seriously, and especially when it comes to the airs and other more sensitive works, a flute is an instrument which can bring a player into full contact with their emotions. I say that a person has not yet become a player until they have had tears flooding from their eyes from the sheer beauty of music. Even the most simple of tunes can do it. For instance, try Johannes Brahms’s “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht” (“Good evening, good night”), Op. 49, No. 4, published in 1868 and widely known as Brahms’ Lullaby - (from Wikipedia). Sheer beauty!
Yet I prefer to not “advertise” myself as any sort of an expert. But I do have some expertise, and so what I decided to do was to initiate a Flute embouchure, part II thread. Yes, it goes against the grain of traditional Irish flute playing, at least as far as the dance tunes go, but now it is there as an alternative reference.
Again, I am always available by PM.
Am I the only one thinking many of the embouchure pointers (etc.) in this ongoing “lesson/lecture” are fairly pointless?
No, AB. You are not alone.
An old Native American saying, “walk a mile in the other person’s moccasins before making any judgment.”
I would like to experience what you’ve learnt, o’muirgheasain. Perhaps less metaphor but rather discuss o’muirgheasain’s specific experience. Also, if your moccasins are worthy trust & share your own footwear & maybe you won’t need to rely on Google or Wikipedia to make your point.
But I did discuss specifics. Yet when it comes to properly playing flute there are a long list of very fastidious requirements. And so I focused on only one of the most differential requirements, embouchure technique.
Books have been written about the details of flute playing, and the majority of those books are incomplete.
But as far as flute embouchure goes, I think I have given a fairly big piece of the pie.
“Just learn to play the damned thing”
I read (or heard) a story of a interview with some legendary jazz or blues guitarist. He was asked to give advice on how young, aspiring players could be as good as him, and that was his response.
There’s to much thinking going on in this thread, I think🙂
It is readily apparent that you have a wealth of knowledge on the subject of flute embouchure within the western classical style. Unfortunately, you’ve chosen to present that information to a forum dedicated to the study of Irish traditional music, specifically dance music. Many of the comments you have made have been dismissive of traditional style and offensive to those who study and perform in that style. It might be a good time to cut your losses in this thread, and everyone can quit being upset at each other and move on with their lives.
Wesley Mann (Also a classical player)
Fair play, Mr. Mann.
“Am I the only one thinking many of the embouchure pointers (etc.) in this ongoing “lesson/lecture” are fairly pointless?”
Not the only one, no. I don’t know what o’muirgheasain is doing here, except tossing molotov cocktails across the fence from the Classical flute world.
Whatever he might have had to offer about the subject of embouchure development (and was there anything actually posted about that?) was buried in the dismissal of techniques like glottal stops that are common knowledge in the tradition.
It’s like a Classical guitar player posting on a Blues guitar forum, and telling everyone they should stop bending strings because they go out of tune that way.
“walk a mile in the other person’s moccasins before making any judgment.” Good idea o’muirgheasain. I gave you a link to a Conal Ó Gráda’s book. Kenny linked one of his recordings and listed other players who use glottal stops. You can find information about their recordings in the database here.
Then maybe you can answer my question above. When teachers, or people who present themselves as such, don’t answer questions it can be due to ignorance or arrogance.
Did you catch the advice at the start of the James Galway clip above ? “When you see it doesn’t work change it. If you change it to the better show your teacher. They will be glad of a new bit of input”.
Ah, o’muirgheasain is entitled to his views and can do what he wants in his own time and place. At least, he’s said now that his advice and experience as regards Irish trad are more directed towards slow airs and the like, rather than the quicker and more rhythmic dance music. So in that context, you can see that this is closer to his classical music background. Perhaps he should have qualified his thoughts by stating that at the start though.
But these slow airs etc., whilst fine in their own way, are largely solo or performance pieces. You’d never come across a session of slow airs though, so not much real use to most here.
I suppose what gets peoples backs up is o’muirgheasain presenting this knowledge in a way as if it were some gift from the gods to aspiring flute players in the Irish tradition.
Kilcash, speaking only for myself, what annoys me is O’M’s approach. Go back to the beginning of this thread and notice than mine was the first reply. I was very pointed in saying that he should get on with it if he had something to say. He then goes on for better than half of a very long thread posting long replies about how great it’s going to be. I can’t fathom why he did that. The sum and substance of what he says could be stated in the space of the paragraph you are now reading.
The second issue is that he is answering a question no one had asked. There might be some value to this if he were presenting new or little-known information, but I don’t believe this to be the case.
Finally, even when he gets around to saying something, he is seldom direct. I find it difficult to sift through his language for whatever substance his posts might contain.
Posting is not as easy as it looks. It is easy to be misunderstood and to cause offense when none is intended. Any of us who post often will occasionally be guilty of stepping over lines and Jeremy does an excellent job of keeping things in check. O’M has submitted better posts in other threads, but IMHO, this one got off to a bad start and never seemed to find its way. I think we can all learn something from that.
I’ve learned something from it all - I’m never going to try learning to blow a flute!
Dia dhaoibh! Greetings one and all!
I don’t get much access to Internet and obviously missed this one a while back.
What utter Taurean Faeces!
You put YOUR lips to a flute, and whatever sound YOU produce is YOU! No one else’s.
It is YOUR very spirit that fills that flute, YOUR breath which emanates from YOUR lungs which surround YOUR heart! Never forget that!
All the best
“I’ve learned something from it all - I’m never going to try learning to blow a flute!”
Nahh… don’t let all this esoteric talk discourage you from learning to blow a flute (or a whistle!) if you’re interested. If you can get a sustained tone by blowing across the top of a beer bottle, you can play flute.
The rest is just hard work and practice, like any instrument.
I had thought about maybe trying flute after learning some tunes on whistle first, but although I learned a couple of whistle pieces I drifted back into guitar, banjos and fiddle! The string’s the thing for me! I’ve forgotten how to blow a whistle now - can’t get into the second octave at all. Must have another try. Heard some great flautists in Kelly’s Cellars a few weeks ago in Belfast, Northern Ireland, got my interest up, hence my following this thread.
I am 73 and took up the flute a few weeks ago. While I do play other instruments and read music getting a note from the Irish Flute had me rattled. I wish to thank o’muirgheasain for his clear explanation regarding the holding of the instrument and in particular the lips or embouchure. (“inner surface of the lower lip controls the tuning while the inner surface of the upper lip controls the tone” is a bit deep for me at this stage). I do have Fintan Vallely’s Guide to learning the The Irish Flute which is an excellent tutor.
Hi everybody, I needed to take a few months away from here, so I did. I realize that this is an Irish traditional music website and I realize that I have been trying to introduce an alternative flute embouchure technique. The traditional “Irish” flute embouchure technique works perfectly well at what it does but it also has its limits and so my purpose here is to introduce a proven embouchure technique which can do all of what the Irish embouchure technique can do and much, much more. Wanna sound dark, dirty and raspy? OK, no problem! Wanna sound clear, clean and silvery beautiful? OK, no problem! And the embouchure technique that I have been trying to introduce here can switch between those two extremes instantly, to make a flute sing.
Hi o’muirgheasain, at the risk of going round in circles… could you explain what exactly is supposed to be the difference between your technique and the “traditional” one? I remember that there was some argument regarding open throat vs. glottal stops; but of course glottal stops are by no means mandatory, but rather just an *additional* technique you might want to employ (or not). Seeing it this way, I have the impression that the only difference between the “traditional” approach and yours is that the latter is unnecessarily restrictive.
As for a hard and dark vs. a bright and clear tone – I think this has much to do with the design of the flute. For example, a comparably small, tapered bore produces more overtones than the large, cylindrical bore of the modern silver flute, especially in the bottom octave. Of course there is some flexibility in both designs; it’s just that they’re each developed with a certain tonal ideal in mind, which has changed significantly over time. And so a conical simple system flute simply facilitates a reedier tone, and I’d say it makes sense to take advantage of this and try to get a tone as hard as possible rather than the other way round. Having said this, nobody ever claimed that it’s not possible to play it brightly (using a “traditional” embouchure technique, whatever this is supposed to be). It’s just not particularly desirable for this type of music.
 Just to clarify, by this I mean a technical difference of the sound production itself, not a different tonal result or an (allegedly) greater flexibility.
 Someone mentioned Fintan Vallely, a traditional Irish flute player who actually addresses this in his book (if briefly). He just chooses less judgemental words than “raspy” as opposed to “silvery beautiful”.
Physically, flute embouchure control is not hard to do. But at the same time let me say that it is an acquired technique, with study and with practice. That technique can produce EVERYTHING that a flute can produce.
I think I have presented the mainstay of what a player needs to know. But if you could have any question(s) then I am here as your servant. This is a matter that I really enjoy promoting.
sebastian the m̈egafrog,
Alright, let us go around in circles, hehehe! Let me begin by saying that I have never seen a flute for sale which came with instructions about how to play it and there are a multitude of reasons as to why. And embouchure control including proper breath support is about the most challenging of all lessons to learn. But that is what this thread is all about.
Most people who are just starting out on flute get what amounts to basic training and that is a good thing provided that the student has a qualified teacher. Basic training generally focuses on the proper mechanics of how to “correctly” get a flute to play.
But beyond basic training, it is quite fair to say that playing a flute represents a bag of many little tricks, some obvious but many not obvious at all, and those little tricks are very much what an advanced student needs to know. And this gets to why flutes never come with instructions as to how to play them. Basic training is one thing, but a skilled teacher could then teach a student how to make a flute sing.
The story is well known, that by the later 19th century the Irish adopted wood simple-system flutes. But again, those flutes did not come with instructions as to how to play them, so the Irish then had to innovate. And they did. The Irish got those flutes to play in the way that they needed them to. Notice that an “Irish” flute player has the embouchure hole rolled back and pointed more toward their nose to better direct their airstream “down” into the flute for maximum sonic power, the embouchure hole not being straight up.
Yet what I am introducing here is “classical” training. Those of us who have had such teachers can trace our training to our teacher’s teachers and to generations of their teachers before that. I can trace my own studies to teachers of more than 100 years ago.
Today, I am here to help flute players bring out 100% of what a flute can do.
@o’muirgheasain: “Notice that an ‘Irish’ flute player has the embouchure hole rolled back and pointed more toward their nose to better direct their airstream ‘down’ into the flute for maximum sonic power, the embouchure hole not being straight up.
Yet what I am introducing here is ‘classical’ training. Those of us who have had such teachers can trace our training to our teacher’s teachers and to generations of their teachers before that. I can trace my own studies to teachers of more than 100 years ago.“
Fair enough. However, in his “A School For The Flute” (1836) Charles Nicholson explicitly advises to blow vertically down into the flute (c.f. http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/Nicholson_on_Tone.htm). Again, it’s a different type of flute and a different tonal ideal. It’s the “true” classical technique, if you like. ;~)
@ sebastian the m̈egafrog
Yes! Blowing vertically down into a flute is the ONLY way to get the maximum power out of a flute and Nicholson was noted for being a powerful player. But the term “classical” can be misleading. Nicholson was of the early 19th century, but in the late 19th century along came the French School of flute playing and, to this day, the French School technique remains the #1 “classical” technique, today used around the world. It can do EVERYTHING that a flute can do and French School classical technique is what I am presenting here, on this thread.
I added some comments to this thread.
…… I just spent my night reading through this cancer.
Somebody grab a rope and hang me :P
Least I now have the tools to debate a classically trained musician!
Wow. What a sad posting. You have received a lot of advice on this forum. Not everything has to appeal to everyone. Who are you trying to impresive with this rather insulting comment?
It was a joke, one of a rather dark nature. I was not trying to impress anybody, meerly making a comment that after reading the entire thing, I was saddened by the repeated bashing of OM’s head in to a wall/his snobbish attempts to educate and enlighten.
Each of us follows our own path and seeing him try to enlighten and forcefeed his method to so many great musicians was rather annoying and belittling.
The comment was not meant to take or give offense.
Well, my post is an overreaction then - sorry for that.
Best Wishes, Brian
Can the existing round embouchure of the Irish be modified.
“Can the existing round embouchure of the Irish be modified”
Not without the potential to change things for the worse, since each flute maker designs the embouchure hole as part of a complete system with the rest of the body. The usual way to deal with an embouchure cut you don’t like is to get a replacement headjoint (if available), or a different flute.
If you’re asking in a more general way about “Irish flutes” and not a specific one, then there are many embouchure cuts available from different makers. They’re not all round.
The gist of the OP’s instruction is about *embouchure technique* as opposed to a flute’s embouchure hole.
This point is emphasised in some of his comments above. Here’s one, “Once a player learns how the French embouchure works then they will wonder how and why “Irish” flute players could so willingly cripple and handicap themselves with such an inferior technique.” ~ Posted by o’muirgheasain on July 20th, 2015.
CB, most embouchure cuts are not round, but oval. I have an early Casey Burns that had a round cut. I love the flute, but found I was wasting air and getting some strident response in the upper octave, so I asked him to make a new head joint. He made it with an oval cut a deeper chimney and partially lined the head. These alterations made the head lighter in weight and more focused in tone.
Right, I think I said that not all embouchure cuts are round, but maybe should have mentioned that ovals are more common. Or “squared” ovals. Both of my flutes have oval embouchure holes.
Ben, I think what O’M failed to understand is that Irish technique evolved apart from classical training. As a result the sound is unique, as is the technique in Indian, Chinese and Native American playing. There is no reason to mess with the origins of these styles when one wishes to achieve those iconic sounds. To do so is to swim against the tide to no purpose. Take it from one who had played classical for ten years before taking up Irish, which I have been playing for over 35.
uinsin42, you’d have been better starting a new thread for your question.