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Learning tight embouchure
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Author:  Larry Lazard [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 6:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Learning tight embouchure

Hello everyone,

I just recently got my first flute, a Copley & Boegli delrin in D, and I'm beginning to learn to play it using Conal Ó Gráda's tutorial book. Now, first things first, I learned how to hold the flute and blow it. But I'm running into an issue with the embouchure that feels natural to me vs. what seems to be recommended.

Although it's made out to be kind of difficult, I was almost immediately able to get a clear and sustained low D note out of this flute. My embouchure was fairly loose, a little bit puckered, just like when you're blowing on a beer bottle to make a note (which I do all the time). So that was really easy for me to do. However, I see in the tutorial and most other sources I can find (including threads I searched on C&F) that a tighter, "smile" type embouchure is what you want for a good traditional sound.

Frankly, I'm having trouble even figuring out what I'm supposed to do with my mouth to get it in that position and create a small opening. If I just "smile", I find that I can't just make a tiny opening, only a long slit across my entire mouth. It feels like I need to pucker to some degree to get anything like a small, circular opening. Also, I find that my chin is jutting forward, which seems like something you shouldn't do although I haven't been told that specifically. Can anyone give me a few pointers or cues to get me into the right neighborhood? I don't want to develop any bad (read: non-ITM) habits.

Thanks!

Author:  Sedi [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

I think one should not stick to much to a certain technique when it comes to embouchure. I have learned boehm flute as a kid and the teacher taught it differently from what it said in the book that contained the exercises. I have watched a lot of good flute players on youtube and I saw a lot of different embouchures. Some make more of a "pucker"-face, like you say. Some make a very thin but broad opening, like Conal O'Grada. That is probably the reason for his "fat" rather breathy sound. That is another factor to consider--what sound do you want to achieve--a broader embouchure produces more wind noise as more air is directed to the sides of the edge of the embochure hole. The embouchure also normally changes between lower and higher notes. On the higher notes, a faster airstream but smaller more roundish embouchure makes playing easier for instance. So basically less tension in the lips not the other way, what might seem "logical". By experimenting a little, you will find something that works for you. There is no general rule what is "best". As long as you manage to achieve a focussed air-stream that produces a good tone and has minimal air consumption. So a little tension is necessary but not too much or it becomes strained. Keep the lips flexible. Also the flute itself will very much influence the embouchure. A good embochure cut will make a fat sound with minimal air. But I am certain, a Copley is good. Have never tried one but read good things about them.
Here an example of the "pucker"-embouchure used by a brilliant player:
https://youtu.be/3J8TNoXELnw

Author:  Larry Lazard [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

Sedi wrote:
I think one should not stick to much to a certain technique when it comes to embouchure. I have learned boehm flute as a kid and the teacher taught it differently from what it said in the book that contained the exercises. I have watched a lot of good flute players on youtube and I saw a lot of different embouchures. Some make more of a "pucker"-face, like you say. Some make a very thin but broad opening, like Conal O'Grada. That is probably the reason for his "fat" rather breathy sound. That is another factor to consider--what sound do you want to achieve--a broader embouchure produces more wind noise as more air is directed to the sides of the edge of the embochure hole. The embouchure also normally changes between lower and higher notes. On the higher notes, a faster airstream but smaller more roundish embouchure makes playing easier for instance. So basically less tension in the lips not the other way, what might seem "logical". By experimenting a little, you will find something that works for you. There is no general rule what is "best". As long as you manage to achieve a focussed air-stream that produces a good tone and has minimal air consumption. So a little tension is necessary but not too much or it becomes strained. Keep the lips flexible. Also the flute itself will very much influence the embouchure. A good embochure cut will make a fat sound with minimal air. But I am certain, a Copley is good. Have never tried one but read good things about them.
Here an example of the "pucker"-embouchure used by a brilliant player:
https://youtu.be/3J8TNoXELnw


Thanks for the reply. The sound that really turned me on to the flute was off Matt Molloy's self-titled album, especially The Humours of Ballyloughlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-wxU_8Jak0

Which now that you mention it does sound a lot less airy and reedy than my favorite Ó Gráda tracks. So maybe I should just go with what feels right as long as I like the sound.

I'm just paranoid about sounding "classical", even though I have no classical training in any instrument.

Author:  gwuilleann [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

It took me several years to develop a good tone (hey, I'm a slow learner :P ). At first I used the smiling embouchure, and I thought it sounded pretty good... until I recorded myself. :cry: . Fortunately, I got some help from 2 excellent Boehm flute teachers with a great tone who set me back on the right track. Long story short, I'll try to summarize what helped me:

- make sure your posture is correct. Seriously: for several years I was holding the flute parallel to my body, which created unnecessary tension in my left arm and in my chest. This had a detrimental effect on my tone. In hindsight I can't believe it took me so long to realize this was a problem.

- 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.

- blow hot air instead of cold air: this makes the tone much fuller and resonant

- have a look at Terry McGee's instructions on how to get the dark tone. As you'll see, the smiling embouchure is not part of it.

- finally, find a player you admire, and try to listen to them daily. It's really important to have some model in your ear of the sound you strive for.

People on this board tend to bash Boehm flute players, but I think it's nonsense. The two flute teachers I mentioned both tried my Irish flute, and both could get a gorgeous tone that was full, resonant and yes, reedy. Much more pleasant that what I hear from "instructors" on youtube who recommend the smiling embouchure...

Good luck on your journey :thumbsup:

Edit: and of course, proper breathing and abdominal support are important, like for any woodwind instrument.

Author:  Flexismart [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

What’s more important than the way you hold your mouth is the sound that comes out of the instrument. Each instrument is a little different, but this shouldn’t concern you. You need to think about the sound, not the ‘smile’ or the ‘frown’ that you hold your face in while playing.

If you look at the broad range of trad players on YouTube you’ll see that mostly everyone has a different embouchure/hold approach. Some hold the flute horizontal, some down the long, some lift the flute up while playing, mostly to accommodate their embouchure. Don’t worry about that, and try not to overthink the way your mouth is looking when playing. The best approach (I say this from playing trad for several decades on flute) is to like the sound you’re making.

I took master classes and lessons from Conal O’Grada - and unless you’re a clone, (which I’m sure he’d have a problem with), you’ll find his brilliant style is more than his embouchure. It’s connected to his amazing talent, knowledge of the material, un-human lung capacity, his particular use of Hammy Hamilton flutes (which allow him to make astounding sounds that most other instruments only approximate), (and PS they are neighbors), and the drive he finds in the music he prefers. Needless to say, his talent and devotion to the tradition is astounding.

For a more nuanced source, which relates to a delrin flute, like a Copely, you may consider listening to Tom Doorley, the flute player in the early recordings of the group 'Danu'. He played a Seery flute in the early days, (in fact he practically introduced the delrin flute to the world of ITM playing), which has a lot of the same characteristics of the Copely. There are quite a few YouTube vids of him playing, and you can watch his technique. He is a brilliant, very technical player, but has now moved on from playing with Danu, replaced by Ian Goff, a spectacular player of flute/whistle/pipes.

Suffice to say, keep playing your flute, find your comfort zone, listen to the sound in your head vs the sound coming out of the flute and figure out if they compare favorably. Listen to other flute players. The collection that has been provided by flute advocate and friend to all flute players, Kevin Krell (a constant influencer on this site) called Wooden Flute Obsession https://www.worldtrad.org/WFO1_CD.htm is essential in finding your way on this journey. After finding this recording, I immediately glommed on to O’Grada and Paul McGrattan, a brilliant Dublin player who is very melodic and lyrical, who, after all these years I still admire and follow.

Good Luck.

Author:  Sedi [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

Strangely enough, some players do get the reedy sound from a rather broad and flat embouchure. But a lot also depends on the flute. I made an embouchure like the eccentric embouchure explained on Terry McGee's website with a very pronounced undercut and I can get a fat sound by barely breathing over the hole. While on my David Angus flute I need to direct the air-stream much more inside the flute as the embouchure cut is rather straight downwards.
@Flexismart
Funny that you also mention Tom Doorley. It is the link in my first answer :) .

Author:  Flexismart [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

@ Sedi
Yes, that's a fairly strange occurrence - Doorley starts with 'Parting of Friends'. I suppose I was thinking of him because my first pre-Hamilton flute was a Seery (which he's clearly not playing in the clip), but was an influence on my original Seery purchase at Custy's. I, just last week saw his brother, Eamon (bouzouki), play a concert with Ian Goff, who was playing a flute that could have been an Olwell, or a Grinter - hard to tell from a distance, but a modern instrument none the less. These flutes - the good ones, are magnificent in their voicing and power. I prefer Hamiltons and would recommend them to anyone strong enough to play them. They can be sweet, but with proper air, a cannon.

Author:  Sedi [ Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

I was thinking about getting one of his practice flutes (the website says, there is no waiting time involved). Or maybe a Walt Sweet Shannon (a German shop stocks those). I might work my way up to a "proper" flute. But I already noticed that I am not the guy for wood. Just not fitting for my practice schedule. I like to play many times a day, sometimes just a few minutes. A delrin flute (or aluminium) seems a more logical choice for me.

Author:  Gromit [ Tue Mar 10, 2020 2:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

This maybe useful - Steph Geremia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goCd1mEWsWs

Free trial lessons - https://www.oaim.ie/flute/flute-basics/ ... WTycE2bODg

Author:  LewisC [ Tue Mar 10, 2020 7:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

This is a great forum for learning, and I appreciate the tips from all over. I think almost all of us have been down this personal journey, all the best for yours.

For me, the breath control is as important and is connected to the embouchure. More air pressure equals need for tighter musculature. My flute teacher a long time ago emphasized the need for real feedback to oneself on sound. Minimize the white noise / fuzz that that is produced around the tone. Either stand next to a window or mirror, or record and then play back how you did.

This also helped me on the attack / release edges of the phrase. I am a very skinny guy and need to breath in often and carefully spend air. In my experience that great dark and reedy sound is a step tighter (and aimed downward) than the pure tone classical sound, so can be easily produced when all the other factors are controlled. If you play silver flute as well you will want to do either as needed.
L

Author:  csoroz [ Tue Mar 10, 2020 12:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

Sedi wrote:
Here an example of the "pucker"-embouchure used by a brilliant player:
https://youtu.be/3J8TNoXELnw

https://vimeo.com/164283121

Author:  mendipman [ Tue Mar 10, 2020 1:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

Embouchure isn’t just about aperture. Experiment with differently directing the airflow. And the position of your lip in relation to the inlet hole. Firm pressure of the flute against your lip is a factor too.

A mirror while you practice may help you by seeing what you are doing at the business end. We’re all made differently so in time you will find what works specifically for you.

Author:  Sedi [ Tue Mar 10, 2020 1:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

I second the mirror suggestion. I do that quite often.


@csoroz
Cool! I think I watched "The Keymasters" about 20 times or even more since I bought it on vimeo.

edit: just watching this -- another Master at work, recommended to me by Richard (aka pancelticpiper) -- in some of his videos you can see his embouchure pretty clearly. His looks much more "classical" than I have seen on many other players. And he still gets that dark, reedy, percussive sound. Conal O'Grada.
https://youtu.be/TiZwfIpDPZ8

Author:  jemtheflute [ Tue Mar 10, 2020 7:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

Check out my Flute Embouchure document via the Resources link in my signature. There's lots of other stuff there you may find useful or just interesting.

Author:  Hack with a Flute [ Fri Mar 13, 2020 5:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning tight embouchure

FWIW...Conal is playing an Olwell, Tom has been playing an Olwell for many years and the last time I hung out at Swifts in New York, 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.

The point is, there are many brilliant makers and most of their flutes will sound almost identical in the hands of a master.

It’s not the flute- its the player. If you want to sound good there is only one method: Get a flute that’s in tune with itself and practice 2 hours a day- you’ll soon be fantastic!

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