This is the third entry on tone. If you’d like to start from the beginning, please click here for the first entry!
You’ve been working on basic posture, as recommended in entry 2, and you’ll continue to check back in with those suggestions periodically. Great! You’re ready for the next step.
This entry is all about lining up your air stream with the embouchure hole. After all, regardless of anything else, if the air’s not hitting the right spot, you won’t get the sound you want, and if it is, you’re half way there! Unlike other wind instruments where you either put the thing inside your mouth or directly cover the opening, and 100% of the air goes into the instrument, with flute the goal is to get about 50% of the air into the instrument and about 50% sailing over the edge. So many variables involved in just this one step! No wonder it’s so challenging to figure out!
1) Lining up your head joint on the body of your flute.
Hmmm… This one has many options, actually can be considered truly controversial. I’ll give my opinion, along with other options, momentarily. Bottom line: do what your teacher says. Second bottom line: choose a position and stick to it. Day to day variation is not good. Experimentation can be very good, but not on a daily basis. Get used to one position and experiment from there if you are so inclined and if your teacher, if you have one, agrees that it might be useful.
Many people recommend lining up the embouchure hole with the first key. The Suzuki Method recommends a more French style line-up, with the OUTER edge of the embouchure hole in line with the first key. There are others whom I respect who line up with the INNER edge almost lined up with the first key.
I start my beginners with the Suzuki line-up, with the outer edge – the far edge – lined up with the center of the first key. The vast majority of my non-beginner students also end up there, though I don’t insist on it if a student feels that a different position is better for them. Also, I did find that with my new Burkart flute with a different cut on the embouchure hole, I do roll out farther than I used to with my Mateki, or than I do on student flutes.
I highly recommend reading Jennifer Cluff’s article on head joint placement (do also check out her web site and blog in general – much awesome information!). The article mentioned covers a lot of ground, including pictures and many strong reasons to use this line-up.
I have found for most of my students that the line-up suggested above – with the OUTER or FARTHEST edge lined up with the first key (if combined with proper posture) is most likely (on most flutes) to produce quality tone with greater ease, greater volume and power, greater focus, greater intensity and greater variation of color than other line-ups. In my own experience, the farther out you go, the more challenging it is to play softly in the high range, and the less control you have overall of octave and intonation transitions. Further, the intonation of the C# is somewhat more in line with the rest of the notes in the Suzuki line-up. But again the bottom line: do what your own teacher says!!! There are other valid opinions!
A side note: I have sometimes placed my own head joint farther out when trying for a different sound – on Irish folk tunes in particular. In fact if you look at Irish flutes built in one piece, the embouchure hole is quite far out. This gives a lighter, more open and airy “across the edge” sort of sound. I think it’s possible to duplicate this in the other position, but it may be worth experimenting if that’s the sound you seek.
I usually put nail polish dots on my students’ flutes, one on the head joint, and a matching one on the body, to make sure line-up is consistent from day to day.
2) Line up the air stream with the embouchure hole.
Make sure the opening in your embouchure (mouth) is lined up with the embouchure hole in 2 ways:
First, the line in the center of your lower lip (for most people there’s a crease/line right in the center) should in most cases be centered with the embouchure hole in the head joint (i.e. centered side to side).
(EXCEPTION: An occasional person has what’s called a “tear drop shaped lip” i.e. there’s a bump in the center of the inside of the upper lip. Most people don’t have this, but it’s not terribly uncommon. If you have this bump, it may divide your air stream such that part of the air goes to one side and part to the other, with no air going through straight, thus producing a very dispersed and airy sound. If your lip is like this, you may need to either blow in a way that lifts the bump out of the way OR blow to one side – whichever is stronger. Hopefully I’ll get up an entry about diagnosing this one day – but ask your teacher if you suspect this describes your lip).
Second, the inner edge of the embouchure hole should be approximately lined up with the outer edge of your lower lip. The lip plate should normally fit perfectly in the indentation between your lip and your chin. Once you start playing, the inner edge of the embouchure hole will be partially covered.
It can be tricky to find the perfect “sweet spot” – especially from written directions. Experiment a little, but it’s worth the time to find just the right spot and angle.