First note from a Flute
by Gordon Palmer
Different teachers will have quite different ideas on this, of course. Here I offer my own approach which seems to have worked well for many students.
1. Carry out the instructions in front of a mirror.
2. Never at any stage pull your lips tight around or against your teeth. (Imagine some small pins between your lower lip and your
teeth.) See "Note 4" below.
3. Smile very slightly, just the corners of your mouth - just enough to take any slight wrinkles out of your lips, and make the lips
gently contact the teeth . Make sure you NEVER bunch the lips up, even slightly, into a wrinkled 'pout' (which is what many people
do when blowing across a bottle.)
4. Hold your head up. Ensure that one lip is directly
above the other, without the upper lip overlapping the lower lip. You may need
to slide your lower jaw slightly forward to achieve this. Both lips should be
touching against an imaginary VERTICAL line, which for most people, would also
touch the chin. Make sure that this lip position does not change as you work
through the following.
5. Blow gently, STRAIGHT AHEAD, to create a tiny slit
between your lips, say 14-15 mm wide, and 1 mm high in the centre. Do not blow
hard. You should barely hear the air coming out. (See Notes 2 & 5, below.)
6. Make sure you have not altered 2 to 4. If you are doing
2-5 correctly, and you hold the palm of your hand directly in front of your
lips, say 80 mm away, you should feel a cool wind against your palm, STRAIGHT
AHEAD. Now for the flute position against your chin....
7. Get the flute head. Hold it vertically in front of you, with the open
end pointing down and the embouchure hole ("EH") facing toward you.
With your left thumb vertical in front of you, place it gently over the left
part of the EH so that it covers 1/4 to 1/3 of the EH hole. Your thumb is
exactly what you lip should soon look like in the mirror. It is IMPORTANT to
note that you cannot see the edge of the hole that is covered by your thumb.
8. Hold the head in the left hand, keeping the hand away
from the EH area. Completely block the open end of the flute with your right
palm, or a cork - NO LEAKS! Without using the head, do a final repeat 2 - 5,
checking all points in the mirror. Stop blowing. Do not alter your lip
position. Bring the flute head towards your chin, making sure that the EH
points upwards AT ALL TIMES. Rest the 'lip plate' of the flute against your
chin, just below your lower lip. Wriggle it upwards or downwards until your
lower lip covers 1/4 to 1/3 of the EH, and looks, in the mirror, JUST LIKE YOUR
THUMB DID BEFORE. Make sure that the edge of the EH covered by your lip is
nestled under your lip sufficiently that IT CANNOT BE SEEN IN THE MIRROR. If it
can be seen, then it probably means you are forgetting No 2... Go over 2-4 more
9. Blow STRAIGHT AHEAD, as you did in No 5. Do NOT be
tempted to blow DOWN into the flute. (see Note 1 below)
10. The note you get should be about the first Bb above
middle C on the piano, or A if you used your palm
instead of a cork. If it is lower (flatter)than A, you
are blowing down, or blowing too gently, or covering too much EH, or looking
down. (See "Note 6" below) If the note is a lot higher, about the
third F above middle C on the piano, then you are blowing much too hard,
&/or the hole between your lips is too small.
11. Check everything mentioned above, make VERY slight
experimental adjustments, until you have a loud, clear, reliable, low note.
12. Now take the cork out, and do the same again. The note
should now be the 2nd Ab above middle C, loud and clear. Push your finger in
and out of the end, to give a wailing siren-like effect. (If your note is the
THIRD Ab above middle C, you are blowing far too hard.)
13. Now block the end of the flute head again. Blow the
air a lot faster, and press your lips a little more firmly together to make the
slit a little smaller, to get the high note mentioned in 10.
14. When you can play these notes reliably, loudly, and
clearly, you are ready to assemble the flute and try fingering different notes
form a fingering chart. The easiest notes to start with are B, A, G in the
first octave, and D in the second octave. As you go higher or lower from this
area, your embouchure becomes more critical. As you go higher you need to blow
the air faster, and through a smaller gap between your lips.
Note 1: Some players may be surprised about what I wrote
in 10. Try this... Blow straight ahead into the palm of your left hand, without
the flute. Now, WHILE you are blowing, place your right index finger under your
lip as if it were the flute. You will notice that the presence of the finger
under your lip AUTOMATICALLY diverts the air a lot lower on the palm of your
hand, even though you are still blowing straight ahead.
Note 2: You cannot get a clear note if there are
obstructions within your mouth that make the air turbulent as it gets to your
lips. So make sure that your jaw is sufficiently open so that the teeth are
nestled against the lips. Try closing your teeth nearly together to see what I
mean - the tone gets VERY fuzzy. This turbulence can also be produced if the
front part of the tongue is not lying at the BOTTOM of the mouth during a note,
or if the back of the tongue is raised almost to the roof of the mouth. If you
blow into the palm of your hand, using a flute embouchure, the sound of the
wind should be almost nil. If it loud, then you have
probably somehow created turbulence in the air stream. Try creating it on
purpose, to better understand this issue.
Note 3: I have not attempted to cover the issue of
tonguing. There is enough to think about initially without that too. However it
is very simple... Whisper "Toooo" into the flute to
begin every tongued note, remembering Note 2 while the note is actually
sounding. During playing, including before and tonguing the gap is
normally maintained between the lips. The TONGUE is the 'tap' which allows the
air to flow or not. Breath pressure is maintained behind the tongue before and
Note 4: To get a clean, non-turbulent airstream, that gets
a clear note and does not waste air, there must be sufficient length of
'windway' from behind the lips, to the front of the lips. Think of a recorder
and the approx 30 mm of windway needed to get such an airstream. Be aware that
pulling the lips tight against the teeth greatly shortens the length of this
Note 5: Some people have a small lump or 'tear drop' in the centre of their upper lip. If this is problem, then it is quite OK to blow through a lip
gap slightly to the side of this. Many top professional players have done this.
Note 6: Three factors dramatically affect the pitch
(tuning) of notes.
The higher the speed of the airstream, the higher the pitch.
- The closer the airstream is
to right angles to the far wall of the EH chimney, the higher the pitch. So
blowing down into the EH, or tilting the player's head down (without 'rolling'
the flute with the head), or turning the flute inwards towards the player, will
all flatten a note)
- The more the EH is covered, the flatter the note.
These parameters are adjusted in an ongoing manner by the
player, note by note, especially as the required volume changes, in order to
keep the instrument in tune while maintaining a good tone. This requires a lot
of practice and careful listening.
If you have been a sax or clarinet player, you may have
special problems relating to going from these instruments to flute. Some of
these problems are addressed somewhat in my previous flute article.
Gordon Palmer, "Gordon (NZ)" in the forum