You’re beginning on the adventure of refining your tone – congratulations! (If you haven’t yet read introductory comments, please click here).
The first step, and one you’ll keep coming back to over and over, is about the basic set-up of both yourself and your flute. This is without question your most important step – so though it may sound basic and you may be eager to move on to the next step first, please do start here! Your basic position will influence virtually everything else, from diaphragm power and control, to whether the air is actually ending up where it needs to go, to other technical elements that I won’t address here. Bottom line: posture is really, really important so don’t go past this page until you work on it, and then keep coming back to it for further refinement.
Please note: many professional flutists DO NOT play with the exact position I describe below. As I see it, the key is to understand the concepts of how posture and flute position interact to produce high quality tone – many professionals have developed muscle control over many years to compensate for odd angles, or they have learned to compensate in other ways. If you’re getting exactly the tone (and technique) you want and are feeling comfortable while playing, then you don’t need to be reading any of this! If you are reading this, I’ll just say that it’s my belief, after 25 years of teaching, that following the steps below will help lead you to the tone you strive for in the easiest way possible.
ALSO: One more important note. These recommendations are not intended to be static or constant in exact and consistent detail. These are basic recommendations for set-up and to which you will return. For the moment, it’s ok to be more exacting and stationary, but in reality musicians MOVE. This is a good thing. Rigidity will never help. Be comfortable, loose and free, just strive to keep that movement within the limits of what allows for both maximum freedom and comfort and the maximum chance of getting the air on target consistently with maximum potential for power and control.
1) Basic Posture: Stand tall and loose. Place feet shoulder’s width apart, the right foot at about 1:00-2:00 angle from the left, and set somewhat back. Left toe lines up with knee and nose. Below are some pictures of flutists of different sizes:
In the picture below, the camera caught me with my feet in a position different from what I’m recommending. Please remember: this is not intended to be static – again, musicians do move. Set up in the basic position (as Lucinda, Aurora, and Robin demonstrate above, and Cathy and George demonstrate below) but it’s not intended as a restricting position, but as a comfortable place to start and to return.
Pretend you’re a marionette. A string lifts from the top of your head (slightly back of center), while everything else flops. Throughout your daily routine, practice doing everything with this string in mind.If you can imagine that someone else is pulling you up with this string, it’s really amazing how light you can feel, and how the tension everywhere can just melt away. Remember to keep your knees comfortable and soft, rather than rigid.
I think every tall woman I’ve ever known learned to slouch in junior high. And kids and small adults may think of themselves as small and have a hard time imagining that they can fill up space. From now on, make it a point to be proud of your full height, whatever it may be, and maximize it!
Regarding foot position: The flute sticks out at a potentially awkward angle. If your feet were too close together, or in line with one another, feel how that would cramp your flute position. With the right foot back and angled, and shoulder’s width from the left, you’re able to have the flute comfortably out from your body, with space between your shoulder and your flute to allow full comfort in the shoulder area (in addition to hands) as well as full use of the diaphragm and, indeed, the whole body as a resonating chamber and source of support.
2) Always bring your flute to you, never bend to it. Set your posture, then float your flute into position in a big open circle. Think of it as a hot air balloon, rising slowly in an arc as it inflates, gradually opening in a relaxed, comfortable, wide circle and rising until it settles into place. Watch in the mirror to make sure you maintain the great posture you set up earlier. Think of your flute as being like a dog – it comes to you! Rather than a cat – don’t let yourself go to it! Your posture comes first, and stays, the flute is added to the posture you’ve established. (Thanks to David Gerry for that analogy!).
Next entry will cover: head joint placement and lining up the air stream with the embouchure hole