How to get the perfect flute embouchure? This is a question I am constantly asked so how do we do it?!
What does the word Embouchure mean?
- The word embouchure refers to how a wind instrument player uses their lips, face muscles, tongue and teeth to play.
- The word actually comes from a French origin. The root is the word ‘Bouche’ which literally means ‘mouth’.
- It is vital that you have a strong embouchure in order to create a clean beautiful sound on the flute.
Why should we be thinking about the embouchure from the very first lesson? I want to play tunes!
- It is vital to focus a lot of energy into ensuring that you or your student has a solid embouchure. Without a strong embouchure the sound will suffer! This will cause frustration and in worst cases a student to give up as they feel that they are not progressing.
How can a slight problem with your embouchure effect your sound?
- Having too much of the hole covered, having too little covered, having the head joint not fixed strongly to the bottom lip or just below… all of these things can cause a huge problem for a young flute player and indeed many older students. The problem I have seen in many of my students is that they don’t understand the importance of the embouchure. Therefore, they don’t focus their attention on it or create a strong one.
How can I create the perfect flute embouchure?
This won’t happen overnight but here are some tips:
Ensure that you try to form your embouchure without the instrument first
- (crazy right?!) place your right hand index finger underneath your bottom lip. You should be able to stick your bottom lip over the top! Now gently blow over your finger as if you are blowing out a candle! Not too hard and not too soft.
Encourage your students to begin with this in their practice
- At the start of every session encourage your students to start like this to develop a solid foundation. Using a mirror can be very helpful in this instance so students have a visual as well as a feeling.
It can also be a good idea to use a device such as the ‘pneumo pro’.
- The pnuemo pro is shaped like a head joint and has little propellers at the end. This means students can have the feeling of blowing on a head joint but rather than a sound they see the propellers spinning round. This tool becomes even more useful down the line!
Now bring out the head joint!
- I would suggest using the long head-joint rather than the curved head joint. Regardless of which one the student will use eventually once we put the instrument together. Encourage them to look carefully at the lip plate Which side is larger and which side is smaller? The larger side must go on your bottom lip. Just where you put your index finger originally. This is important as it sets the foundation of holding the flute in the correct position.
You should be able to feel the edge of the hole on your bottom lip.
- If you can’t then you are not covering enough of the hole. If you can feel a lot of the hole and the edge seems to be quite far down your lip, then you are covering too much! It’s a fine balance! Again, encourage them to look in the mirror! Now gently blow over the hole as you did in step 2!
If the sound does not come out this simply means a slight bit of adjustment is needed.
- Perhaps too much or too little of the hole is being covered. Experiment!
Once happy with the positiong, it is now time to practice making some low sounds!
- I have found this assists in students being able to make their first note with the whole flute. Generally, we teach the note ‘B’ first when we come onto reading the music and this requires a lot of air control, we don’t want to be shooting up into the next octave! We must make sure their ears are accustomed to the low sounds not the high sounds. High sounds require more work and should not be taught as an accident!
Use listen and copy games once you are comfortable and happy with the sound production.
- All of these things add to the enjoyment of the first lesson but also mean that maximum time is spent ensuring the student goes away with a concrete idea of what an embouchure is.
Five Mistakes to avoid when trying to teach the perfect flute embouchure :
- Ensure that your student keeps their head up! – If a student is looking down this will not only effect the breathing and air but will mean that we are very likely to be doing mistake two!
- Rolling the headjoint too far in or too far out – if the headjoint is rolled too far in, too much of the hole will be covered meaning there is not enough space to resonate the sound and will produce a flat, lackluster sound. If you roll too far out not enough air will hit the edge of the headjoint to create a clear and precise sound.
- Not enough air or too much air – if you don’t blow enough air into the headjoint the sound will be extremely quiet, not well supported and just generally very weak! If you blow too much air you are in danger of creating a very airy sound, fatiguing very quickly and again not creating a well supported sound.
- Smiling too much! – If you create an embouchure while smiling this will cause the sound to be pinched. It will also mean you cannot be flexible with your embouchure which becomes extremely important later on in our flute journey. To access my article on flexible embouchure please click here.
- Hole in the lips too large! – If the hole in your lips is too large, too much air will escape and be spread out erratically rather than focused in one direction. We want a small fast air stream not hot air as if you are trying to warm your hands on a cold day!
Let me know how you get on with creating that perfect flute embouchure!
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