Help needed (flute)

Help needed (flute)

Hello,
I’m a bit shy to start a discussion right away, since I signed up on thesession yesterday, but I really need help…
I play flute for now about two years, first had classic lessons, then switched to traditional music. I still play on my silver flute, yes, I know, many say, it isn’t suitable for ITM, but I think I will play it until I get a bit better and then buy a ,,real” wooden flute. So I played the last year, everything fine, but some months ago, everytime I played, already after one or two tunes, I get a strange pain in my left cheek, a bit sideward to my mouth corner, I can’t really describe it. I stopped playing for some time, hoped it would disappear, but it hasn’t. Maybe I’m doing something wrong with embrochure. Since I stopped classic flute lessons, I have no one to correct my position. I play alone, because I know no other traditional flute player in the area where I live, so I thought I ask you (the flute players on thesession) for help.
Thank you (and please excuse me, if this is a silly question!)

Re: Help needed (flute)

First, welcome to The Session! Lots to learn and discuss here, so grab a seat. I’ve been playing flute for 50 years, 40 of which have focussed on Irish trad. So, let’s begin:

I have never heard of what you describe and I wonder if there is a dental issue going on. Does it occur any other time besides when you play, or on music that is not Irish? I can’t think of anything embouchure-wise that would cause it, especially after two years.

Regarding using your silver flute, be aware it is different from a wooden flute in significant ways. I play both, but seldom play Irish on silver. Your F natural key on silver is F# on wood. Since the keys most Irish tunes are written in contain F#, fingering can get awkward when you have to use your ring finger to play it, especially in the performance of ornaments, which are a staple of Irish flute technique. Much easier to use your index finger for that note. Your tone production will also be different. Your jaw will be slightly forward and the airstream will be focussed a bit more downward, producing a slightly overblown and raspy tone, rather than the pure, sweet tone the silver flute favors. While silver flute will work, I am of the opinion that you should separate your playing technique so the habits of one style of playing do not intrude on the other. Frankly, I’ve never been satisfied with my Irish playing on the silver flute. If you know you intend to get a wooden flute, I’d make that move as soon as you can so you can hone your skills on the instrument you intend to ultimately use.

If your mouth condition persists, I’d see a dentist or doctor.

Keep us abreast of your progress, ask questions and enjoy the journey. Again, welcome!

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Re: Help needed (flute)

Your post prompted me to finally join "thesession". 1st. I think your regular teacher could help. 2nd. Problems l had to deal with are tension: where tightened arm muscles pulled (or pushed) the blow hole off center and/or pressing the flute into my lip.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Listen to Joanie Madden before listen too much to detractors of the Boehm flute. She won an All Ireland with one. Of course the fingering is a little diffferent. So. You will get good at whatever you practice. The tone is more a function of “how ya blow it”. Ailin is quite right about how to get the dark, reedy tone and it works on both. Some ornaments are different but without judgement about “better”. The biggest difference is the attitude you bring to the instrument and to the tunes. I play wooden because it was what I had and play a lot of other genres handily on it.

As for your pain I can think of nothing but an embouchure issue. Maybe from trying too hard? Embouchure doesn’t include blunt force trauma. See if relaxing helps.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Thank you for your kind replies!
Ailin, thanks for your information about the wooden flute! In fact I have one, but of very low quality, hard to play, I hardly get notes from it. So, what I meant - I’m saving for a better one. And no, it’s no dental issue - that I know for sure. Maybe it’s like the other ones said and I!m trying to hard, even tough I don’t feel stressed.

Re: Help needed (flute)

And thank you for the tip with Joanie Madden, just listened to her on YouTube, she’s really good;)

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Just a note in support for continued inclusion of the silver flute in Celtic Music, love the creative stylings of flute player, Sarah Allen of the Band , Flook 🌸

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Let me emphasize that I am not disparaging the silver flute, especially since I play one. Everyone talks about Joanie Madden, but I can also mention Mike Rafferty, Noel Rice and Sarah Bauhan - all superb players. But my own preference is for wood and if it is yours, that’s the one to spend your time on or your journey will be made unnecessarily harder. It’s best to make a choice, perhaps after having worked with both.

I hope learning to relax relieves the pain issue.

Cheers.

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Re: Help needed (flute)

" I can also mention Mike Rafferty…"

Every photo and video I’ve seen of Mike Rafferty shows him playing a wooden flute. Unless it’s a different Rafferty?

Re: Help needed (flute)

I thought someone might say that. In the 80s, Mick Maloney released an album compilation of flute, whistle and pipes. At that time, Mike Rafferty complained he couldn’t find a good wooden flute and had this switched to Boehm flute. Don’t know how long it was before he found a good wood one, but I have the recording with a picture of him playing it.

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Re: Help needed (flute)

Cool info about Mike Rafferty, thanks!

Re: Help needed (flute)

You’re welcome. The album came out in 1983 and contained a nice booklet talking about the music, instruments, technique and artists. Mick Maloney is a musicologist in addition to being a fine musician and singer. At the time of the album’s release, there was absolutely nothing like it. The recordings were made in the field and was a real find for an enthusiast with few (no) resources for learning this music. I later met and played a session with Mick and saw him play with Eileen Ivers, who was young and punky, with spiked hair and maybe some stage attitude, but unbelievably good. Sean Keane (not the Chieftains) played piano accordion. Great times!

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Re: Help needed (flute)

Hi Ailin. Never thought you were knocking Theobold’s mighty invention. I’m just thinking it’s a good idea to "dance with the one who brung ya" for as long as it takes to gain enough experience to really form good ideas about what works individually. As evidenced by many discussions here people can argue day and night about what’s best, what’s right when all that really matters is the one with the wiggly fingers. A great many of us, myself included, have have run down unnecessary rabbit holes for lack of a good idea about where we really wanted to go. Patience is a good thing. Wish I’d known that sooner.

Re: Help needed (flute)

In Mike Rafferty’s 1998 album "THE OLD FIRESIDE MUSIC", he played an Olwell.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Sorry, jumping on the “yes you play Trad on the silver flute” bandwagon:

https://youtu.be/jNFC6w7oWos


I hope you figure out what’s causing the pain in your cheeks. Maybe play around with different embouchure styles?

Cheers,

Melany

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Re: Help needed (flute)

That’s gorgeous.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Im no expert (similar flute level to you), but when you’re relatively at the start of your flute journey (2 years), your embouchure is still relatively new.
Lots of people therefore put a lot of effort into forming their embouchure and hold too much tension in it.
This possibly could cause a strain to the tissues in your cheeks/areas around your lips which will be under too much pressure when you blow with an embouchure with too much tension.

It’s possible you’re noticing this more now as an Irish flute is less efficient than a boehm flute and you now may be blowing harder to get the notes (especially if you think the flute you have is a “bad one”).

Again, I’m no expert, but if it were me, I’d rest for a month and then get a flute player to try your current wooden flute and check it’s working ok (check you don’t have to blow unusually hard to make it sound), as there are some awful ones floating about and that could be the cause.

If they say it’s bad, I’d consider getting another one. There are lots of great Delrin (a type of hard plastic) flutes that sound great, are cheaper/less fragile than wood and hold their value, you could get to play for the next couple of years before moving to an expensive wooden one if you want.
I’d also consider uploading a quick YouTube video of you playing your Irish flute and posting the link incase good flute players can spot something that could be causing it?
If no luck, and pain persists, it might be worth checking with a doctor/dentist to be sure it’s nothing unrelated.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Hi Paper Dragon. The pain sounds like it is strain related to posture and/or embouchure. It may be worthwhile for you to pay for a few lessons with a flute teacher who can observe your breathing, embouchure, and posture, to help with suggestions. Even a couple of lessons, explaining that specific purpose to the teacher, might be helpful. Some flute players tend to bend their neck and body in unnatural ways that can impact muscles and breathing (in addition to possible embouchure stress). NewMexicofluter thanks for the link - I have not heard of that issue before and saw it is referenced in many respectable medical references online.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Again, thanks for your replies. Personally, I think it is most likely that I am somehow tensed while playing, even tough I don’t feel so. Do you have any ideas how I could get more relaxed?

Re: Help needed (flute)

I have heard mention of cheek discomfort on this site before. If I recall the responses tended to be similar to the following excerpt about Rocksto.

"734…The greatest care should be exercised to prevent the cheeks being puffed out by the wind forcing its way between them and the teeth. They should be drawn in sufficiently to bring parts of them between the upper and lower back teeth, so that if the mouth were suddenly closed they would be bitten. The beginner will probably experience a slight pain in the muscles of the cheeks, which may be regarded as satisfactory proof that he is making conscientious use of them."

http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/Rocksto_on_tone.html

I’m just the messenger.

AB

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Re: Help needed (flute)

Yes, but I got the feeling that I pull my cheeks more inside my mouth, but I don’t know how far that’s incorrect. It feels somehow strange and I don’t know if I did it in the past, but now I can’t do anything other

Re: Help needed (flute)

Don’t overthink this whole thing. Let your ears be your guide. First, a solid, reliable tone…no hissing or airy-ness. Grab yourself some drone recordings to warm up against. Preferably not synthetically generated. Listen to the interplay of the harmonics. Push your solid flute tone to create your own overtones and listen to the interaction. This will assure you don’t learn to play out of tune. Do not strain.

Re: Help needed (flute)

The question was about cheek pain, perhaps just over-use and tension. I had a number of pain issues at first, but they have all eased as I have gotten better or more used to things, or more relaxed. I agree that it is important to see a flute teacher to evaluate specific problems, as it could be a more serious condition.

I’ve seen references to jaw pain on Jennifer Cluff’s blog:

https://jennifercluff.blogspot.com/2008/08/flute-jaw-bone.html

"If a student begins tone work with the jaw in any kind of tight or tense position (jutted forward for example) they can eventually develop TMJ (jaw hinge pain) as the jaw cannot be thrust forward and backward with tension/precision etc. without causing fatigue, especially once you start leaping large intervals or sustaining long passages with multiple dynamics etc."

Re: Help needed (flute)

One more comment. There is also a forum called “chiff and fipple” which is dedicated to flutes and whistles.
It might be worth also asking your question there as it may have more flute players.

To answer your question, if it were me, I’d post a video of you playing to see if anyone can spot the issue, and/or, book an online lesson with an Irish flute teacher (tons on the Facebook Irish flute page).
They’ll hopefully be able to instantly let you know of anything you’re doing wrong/give you tips to be sure your embouchure has the correct tension, which is much better than having to correct it years down the line 🙂

Re: Help needed (flute)

Thank you, I will surely try some of your advices and maybe also see a teacher - might be good.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Oh, and yes, I niw Chiff and Filpple, signed up there about the same time as here. But I thought I first ask on thesession, becauseI’m more comfortable with this site and know it much better;)

Re: Help needed (flute)

Hello and welcome!

I started playing ITM a month or so ago on flute and tin whistle. I had played "silver" flute 25+ years ago and thought to buy a nice wooden "Irish" flute to play. I would say, that learning on the wooden open holed keyless flute (for me) may actually help you learn the songs as they are played with the ornamentation. I cannot add the ornamentation on my silver flute and have it sound the same.

The embouchure is also very different for me between both flutes. I find the wooden flute much more difficult to play. OFC you can play the music across diff flutes and when you are ready, grab a wooden flute used mostly in Irish Trad. You will have to relearn posture, embouchure etc when you switch flutes.

That said, I experienced some weird pains when starting to play again too and they were mostly to due with tension (as already mentioned), position of my entire body. As a sliver flute player, we tend to raise our arms a lot higher than needed so when I relaxed and adjusted my position, it helped me. I also practiced, for the first few weeks), in smaller sittings. Now I can play for an hour of more with no issues but had to start off slow with 15 min at a time a few times a day. I encourage you to get a lesson online where someone can point you in the right direction!

I hope you can pick up an "Irish" flute soon. You can message me and I can show you the exact one I bought that will not break the bank and that is not scrappy. I just didn’t know if could post links here ;) good luck.

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Re: Help needed (flute)

Thank you for all the advices! Get more relaxed, see a teacher and reduce the practice time, I think I will do this. I hope it will get better soon!

Re: Help needed (flute)

A few quick replies:

Jane Cavanaugh on YouTube has a lot of "how to get high notes" and "how to relax your embouchure" videos, all of which are worthwhile. She’s also on Boehm and plays classical, but the tips will translate onto the simple system flute. She’s very keen on the idea that there shouldn’t be tension in the mouth while playing, and that if you are squeezing or drawing back, you’re working too hard to get the high notes.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most Irish music doesn’t go above the lowest two octaves, so if you are getting tension from trying to play high, you may find ITM a little friendlier to your mouth.

Re: Help needed (flute)

Thank you, I will look up her channel!