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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2020 7:42 am 
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There is one point which is so far missing from this discussion (although it is probably in Jem's article that he pointed you to) and it is in Steph Geremia's discussion of the embouchure, although not highlighted there. As a beginning flute-player, you will need to develop the muscles in the sides of your lips as well as the circum-oral muscles moving in from the sides. There is no need to smile, but you must experience some tightening at the sides of your lips (a tightening which is absent from the 'blowing out a candle' pucker). The lips are most spread and the opening most slit-like for the lowest notes. As you go up the scale the opening will become less wide and more elliptical. The lips will also move forward slightly (and conversely will be retracted or the jaw will be retracted for the lower notes). This is to speed up the air stream without the need to blow harder (which will cause an unwanted rise in pitch as well as an unwanted dynamic contrast). This much is the same for both 'classical' flute playing and Irish trad flute playing. However, most Irish flute players have a greater degree of tightening than is the case with classical flutists. There is a thread on this topic here by Chris Laughlin back in 2001 and called 'My thought on tone, embouchure and what to listen to'. Read it. Perhaps someone else handier with this forum than I am could post a link.
None of this is to deny that there is a huge variety of types of embouchure among Irish flute players. Contrast Emer Mayock's and Tara Bingham/Diamond's or Tom Doorley's embouchures with June McCormack's, Kevin Crawford's, Matt Molloy's, and Louise Mulcahy's, and with Claire Mann's and Catherine McEvoy's somewhere in the middle. All truly great players with solid, rich tones.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2020 3:17 pm 
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As you are getting some good advice about embouchures I thought I'd pop in with the diaphragm piece. You won't develop good tone without both. Breathing from the bottom of your lungs and pushing out the air with those stomach muscles will need to become second nature to get a good consistent sound.

My first teacher as a child had me blowing into just the mouthpiece for a week before even letting me put the body of the flute together. That was silver flute band days. My second teacher was a college professor of the same silver flute that had me work on my "horse face" eliminating all sense of elementary school smiling. As a returning adult my two ITM instructors, Shannon Heaton and John Williams focused on that same horse face (sort of a bit of a relaxed frown) and also reminded me that the air needs to come from the bottom of my lungs not the top to have any strength.

I was encouraged to do sit ups and exercises lying on my back with a book on my stomach, trying to raise and lower it with my breath. Even now after 30 years of returning adult playing, when my tone sounds a bit weak to me I analyze my breathing and notice I'm not "pushing my belly button into my spine," Although you may not see it when a good flute player plays, almost every part of their body is engaged in some way, not tense but alert and active. While we are tapping our toes and sharpening a note with our eyebrows (yes, that is a thing) we're completely involved.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2020 8:52 am 
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To add to busterbills comments about the importance of the diaphragm: back in 1968 when I was just beginning the flute (baroque), I happened to be in a music store where the first flute of a major symphony orchestra was relaxing (it was the off-season); in the course of talking about breathing (as a rank beginner I was short of breath) he had me touch his belly and I could feel how hard it was. Later in 1969 I had a couple of lessons on breathing from an opera singer. A small woman, she could probably have broken a wine glass at 10 feet with her voice. Again her stomach was like steel. Later I studied silver flute with a student of Aurele Nicollet, the great Swiss flutist. He emphasized the use of the diaphragm for playing high notes (i.e. to speed up the breath stream) and deemphasized the use of the lips (in order that they remain relaxed), although he did move his lips forward for the higher notes. Finally, closer to home, Majella Bartley, in one of her OAIM lessons includes some exercises for what she calls 'diaphragm pulses' (or something similar), and I've been told that Catherine McEvoy swims to keep up her lung capacity.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2020 9:34 am 
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Diaphragm yes.

Whole body engagement yes.

Lip set and airflow direction yes

Tight embouchure uhhh no.

What is it with this ‘advice’ about tightness? We’re flute players not ducks.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2020 7:11 am 
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mendipman wrote:
Diaphragm yes.

Whole body engagement yes.

Lip set and airflow direction yes

Tight embouchure uhhh no.

What is it with this ‘advice’ about tightness? We’re flute players not ducks.



Look it takes a certain amount of muscular development to control the embouchure, just like it take a certain amount of muscular strength to fret a string. When I fret a string it feel effortless and relaxed, but it's not. It's just hours of repetition.

It seems to me that what you are taking for "relaxed" feels relaxed to you, and in fact is relaxed for you, but it's because of years of work. Certainly for me, the path to a better tone has involved "tightening" the various muscles of the face. You have to learn what shapes make the sound you want before you can learn to produce that sound with minimal effort. And of course everybody's face/teeth/lips are different

You can see this in anyone who works with their hands for a living or plays an instrument: it always looks effortless, but that effortlessness took years of specific muscle development.

Yes sure, relaxation and economy of effort are salutary goals, for sure


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2020 8:06 am 
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Anyone can play however they want. They can aspire to the tightness that keeps said duck afloat if they prefer and it sounds good to them.

But don’t advise that it’s necessary is my point.

If our goal is the South Pole we don’t set out from the equator heading north. Sure we may get there eventually but it’ll take three times as long.

we head south


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2020 1:25 pm 
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I think some people might be using the word "tight" to mean (not sure how to put this) air-conservative? That is, you want not to be wasting a lot of air, which means it's all directed toward the sweet spot of the embouchure hole. Tight, narrow, directed, whatever.

I wouldn't say that one so much learns a good embouchure, as acquires and practices it.

One thing that my first flute teacher suggested to me, and that I found valuable, is spitting rice. Get a grain or two of rice in your mouth, blow as hard as you can, and launch the grain of rice. This isn't so much an embouchure exercise as it is building up the muscles in your mouth.

The best exercise, and one that I (and I suspect most others on the forum) still do is harmonics. D-middle d-middle a-high d-high f#. You can do the same thing on notes further up too.

Something advocated by another teacher is a two-octave G scale. There's nothing like those third-octave notes to build your lip muscles and focus your air stream.

And to get back to mendipman's point about a tight embouchure: I play mostly baroque flute and thought of that as requiring a "tighter" embouchure than the Irish flute. But it was pointed out to me that it's anything but -- it IS narrower, as the embouchure hole is much narrower than that of the romantic flute, but it's also MUCH more flexible. You need to be able to direct your air down into the flute or almost parallel to the flute body in order to bring notes into tune on the fly.

Best of luck. I'm just back from vacation, where I took my Copley Delrin along with the Mollenhauer Stanesby Jr. I love both of those flutes.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:38 am 
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Agreed 100%. Direction and airflow efficiency i.e. not wasting too much air is a fundamental aim of good embouchure. Set up and lip-flute position are critical to achieving that. Narrow and accurate airflow does not require lips that are under tension. That may seem paradoxical, but it really isn’t.

Disbelievers among us can do the palm exercise. Held upright 4-6” from our mouth, direct the airflow so it can felt on the sensitive palm area. It is possible to experiment with direction and maintaining a narrow contact ‘spot’ and feel how this airflow can come through relaxed lips with no discernible tension.

My teacher instilled in me the octave practice routine too. Progressively high and then back to low. That practiced regularly really helps me with note clarity and control.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 19, 2020 11:06 am 
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Hack with a Flute wrote:
Ivan was there playing a John Gallagher. John also happened to be there and we talked flutes and stuff into the wee hours of the morning.

I believe that Ivan played a Seth Gallagher, not a John Gallagher. I asked him at a session once. Ivan is one of the players quoted on Seth's flute page http://www.uilleann.com/flute/index.html. I had a Seth Gallagher for a while, but it took way more breath than the other flute I have, a Rudall and Rose with a Wilkes head. It did have a lovely tone and hard D.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 22, 2020 3:12 pm 
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The most intelligent observation I can make is to say that practicing every day is essential. Every day that I miss (although I forgive myself), is a day that something slips and it’s usually the emboucher.

It’s been difficult to do the most effective diaphragmatic breathing too; especially on the low tones.

One of the biggest things I’m learning is my relationship to the Head Joint. It’s not purely a perpendicular relationship. In my case I find that I tend to blow wind across the left side of the hole. I’m actually better off to have my head more towards my shoulder, and the flute at more of an angle. That’s a very significant part of getting my embouchure to behave.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2020 4:38 am 
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Yep, look left & point the flute to the right....... :D

Finding your embouchure is definitely one of the hardest parts of playing flute, it has taken me quite some time, & I'm no where near good enough yet, I still have to 'find' it each time I play/practice.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2020 6:02 am 
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gwuilleann wrote:
...make sure the flute is not too high on your lower lip. If it's too high, the tone will be thin and you won't have any flexibility at all. I found the first part of this video very helpful.


gwuilleann's link to a resource where the teacher discusses flexibility kind've lets us look at embouchure set up in a neat way that both makes the concept of flexibility understandable and also highlights that there is no single 'correct' template to obtain it. The goal is to find that flexibility.

Flexibility is not tension it is more associated with structures that are to a greater degree relaxed. And flexibility enables directional adjustment. The teacher explains how in terms of airflow one student may find they maximise resonance by directing their airflow slightly toward the crown and another student obtains maximum resonance by directing their airflow slightly toward the body. She shows us how personal variation affects tone, but within and applying the overall concept of flexibility.

The teacher's advice to drop the flute lower is again kind've subjective. How low? Because the physiognomy of our lips and chins are all different. And we want to try and keep the distance the airflow needs to travel to a minimum for maximum efficiency too. But that concept gives us freedom to experiment toward a goal and find where that flexibility/airflow balance is for us individually. Personally I find my set up is where the flute presses against the very lower edge of my lip right where the lip begins. Contrary to this teacher's advice I turn my head joint slightly inward, not outward as she suggests. Maybe I have a longer than average chin necessitating this? Who knows? It's more about finding our individual way to achieve these broad concepts such as flexibility rather than adhering to singular fixed notions such as lip tension.

The concept of flexibility does help us to understand (and hear) why lip tension is not a pre-requisite for optimal tone. And that there are other more subtle and positively affecting aspects of set up.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2020 8:04 am 
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My embouchure hole is turned inward so far that the opposite edge is in line with the middle of the finger-holes. Works best for me. And the most relaxed and "tiny" air-stream results in the loudest, richest sound. My lip touches the edge of the embouchure hole just slightly (but some players cover up to 1/4 of the embouchure with their lip). But that depends so much on the type of embouchure cut that I think it is impossible to give general advice that suits all flutes. Comparing playing style of a lot of well-known players, one probably won't find even two who have exactly the same technique when it comes to embouchure.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2020 2:21 pm 
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I know it can be construed as nitpicking, but it was important to me in acquiring a decent embouchure. There is no turning in or turning out the head joint; we play the head joint. We then turn the rest of the flute in or out to make playing comfortable on our hands, arms and bodies.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2020 2:38 pm 
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To each his own. I played boehm flute before and on that one the embouchure is exactly in line with the keys. But I like the sound of a simple system flute more when blowing a bit more into the flute not over it. Also depends on the shape of the embouchure. Plus -- when playing the 2nd octave even boehm flute players reduce the distance to the hole to make the second octave sound easier (but this is mostly not done by turning the flute but by changing the shape of your lips). The goal should be BTW to be able to direct the air-stream as needed. There is no "we" here as everybody can play as seems best suited to his style, anatomy, etc.


Last edited by Sedi on Fri Mar 27, 2020 9:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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