If you play the flute, chances are you have talked about the flute embouchure. The embouchure is vital if you are to have great success with your playing.
When we talk about the embouchure we are talking about the flute players mouth shape.
Theobald Böehm in his book ‘The Flute and Flute Playing’ said that ‘the tone is the voice without which one cannot even begin to sing’. And without a strong embouchure, the flute player can not even begin to make a beautiful sound.
The Flute Embouchure
Every flute player has a different shape mouth and therefore a different flute embouchure. The flute embouchure can be affected by the mouth size and shape of the lips and the way they come together when the upper lip and lower lip meet but also can be effected by the inside of the flute players mouth.
However, all of these differences do not mean that there is one particular ‘right embouchure’ to create the best sound quality. If you have different lips of the average person then this does not mean you cannot create a great sound when playing the flute.
When it comes to developing a strong embouchure there needs to be an element of experimentation, try not to be set in your ways with exactly what it should look like but rather focus on the sound you play.
What is the embouchure?
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 Work on Embouchure?
The embouchure is the foundation of any flute players tone quality. The embouchure controls the air stream and air pressure, which in turn helps to create a good sound.
By developing a good flute embouchure a flute player can create a beautiful sound quality, one that is clear and focused. The more you focus on this, the more you can achieve your best tone.
The embouchure is also important for correcting your pitch, controlling the tone and producing a steady stream of air.
How To create the perfect Flute embouchure
The muscles that form the flute embouchure are the same ones we use to smile with. Although it is not preferable to use a smiling embouchure when playing the flute it is worth noting just what our lips can do.
Practice making different facial expressions to see just what your mouth is capable of! Remember, every one has a unique mouth and face and so there is not one specific way to create an embouchure.
Let’s look at how you can create the perfect flute embouchure. First of all start by placing your right hand index finger underneath your bottom lip. You should be able to push your bottom lip slightly over the top. This is where the lip plate will go.
Now gently blow over the top as if blowing out a candle, not too hard but not too soft. Try to get an equal balance between both lips.
The lips should be stretched along in a line parallel to each other and touching, except for a very small hole in the middle, this is called the lip aperture.
You may find it easier to start by making a pooh sound with your lips. By doing this, you will form a solid embouchure hole that is also relaxed. We do not want tension!
The next thing to do is hold your flat palm up in front of your face and see what your air stream feels like. If your lip aperture is small enough, a thin jet of air should hit in the middle of your palm.
If you can feel the air stream spreading then you will struggle to make a sound. Make sure you have an open airway this will ensure you can blow freely. To learn more about this, read our guide to breathing for flute playing.
Work on the head joint
By focusing on your tone with just the head joint it removes the distraction of your finger technique. 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.
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. This is important as it sets the foundation of holding the flute in the correct position.
You should make sure the lip plate is placed at the centre of your lips. You should be able to feel the edge of the flutes embouchure hole on your bottom lip.
If you cannot feel the hole then you are not covering enough of the hole to create a strong and focused tone.
Keep the lips firm on the lip plate, any movement will mean that air can escape which will not allow for a good sound.
It will take time and patience to find the ideal flute embouchure position so it is important to persevere and soon it will become second nature.
Again, you can make a ‘pooh’ sound over the head joint hole to ensure that you keep your mouth relaxed.
Always do your best to create a beautiful sound! There is definitely a difference between creating a nice sound
Only once you have made a strong sound on the headjoint should you put the entire flute together.
Focus and Direction for the ideal sound quality
As we mentioned earlier, you want to keep your flute embouchure relaxed. However, you do want a balanced tension between your upper and lower lip as this is what will control the air pressure.
Without this slight bit of tension, the embouchure hole will not be secure resulting in a fuzzy sound.
Hold your hand in front of your mouth and blow air directly onto your palm. You should be able to feel the size of the column of air you are blowing out. In order to play with a beautiful rich tone, you want this column of air to be direct and small. In order to do this, the aperture size must be small.
If you feel a larger column of air, then you know that you need a smaller embouchure!
It can sometimes be useful to imagine having a grain of rice between your lips, in some cases actually putting a grain of rice between your lips can help you visualize just how small your flute embouchure needs to be.
Still Struggling to Make a Sound?
If you are still finding it hard to make a sound there are some brilliant tools you can use. Most notably the pneumo pro. The pnuemo pro is a tool that is shaped like a headjoint and has little propellers curved up around the lip plate.
The pneumo pro is so shaped to give the feeling of blowing on a headjoint but rather than a sound they see the propellers spinning round.
Using this, aim to see if you can simply get one propellor to spin. If you can visually see just the one propellor spinning, you know that your air stream is direct and small enough.
This tool can become ever more useful when you begin to develop and even more flexible flute embouchure.
Developing Each Note
Once you have found your ideal flute embouchure, you can then begin to develop your flute tone for every note.
The best place to start is to focus on creating low sounds. I often start doing this with a student, still on the headjoint, covering the end with the right hand flat palm. By doing this, the tone that will come out should be low, focusing on this just using the headjoint will help to understand what kind of air pressure you need to create the lower register.
Once a strong low flute tone has been achieved on the head joint then this is a good time to put the flute together.
Generally, I like starting with the first note ‘B’ first when we come onto reading the music. All notes on the flute require a lot of air control, particularly the lower notes as 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!
Embouchure Tips for practice
A great tip when practicing improving your embouchure is to use a mirror.
Work in front of a mirror
If you practice in front of the mirror you will be able to quickly see where you are going wrong, in particular be able to spot if the embouchure hole is too big or small!
We talked briefly about this earlier but there is no harm revisiting it as the size and shape of the hole in your lips is vital if you are going to create your best sound when flute playing.
Grab a grain of rice and make sure you can feel this between your lips.
Too much air? or not enough air?
This can also be a huge issue for flute players, just how much air should you be blowing? Well the answer is actually quite a lot but this air has to be direct and not spread.
To practice this, see if you can hold a piece of paper up against a wall with just your air stream. You will quickly see with this exercise if you need to blow more air or a higher pressure or lower pressure of air.
Working on Intervals
Once you have developed a strong and secure embouchure, the next place to go is to work on moving between different notes. Mastering a strong clear tone on one note at a time is one thing but moving between them is another that requires flexibility.
The best place to start is by playing small intervals only a second apart, chromatic intervals would be even better. For example, the musical notes B-Bb.
You can find a great example of this exercise in Trevor Wye’s practice books for the flute. I love this book as it will improve all aspects of your flute technique!Trevor Wye Book
The embouchure is perhaps one of the most important aspects of playing flute to master if you are to produce your best sound. The sound quality of the flute is a combination of many things, including breathing and support, but perhaps the most important aspect is the embouchure. The embouchure has the ability to direct the air.
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