Is there such a thing as having the perfect embouchure? Are flute players with thin lips more likely to play better than those with thicker lips? In other words, are some people built to play flute?
My answer would be no, but this is after I and others being told various myths like, “your jaw is not good for flute playing”. “Your lips are not flute player’s lips” etc.
If anyone else has been told something similar, you should ignore it. Everyone is different and even the perfect flute body might struggle to play well.
I have an underbite, meaning my lower teeth rest slightly in front of my upper set of teeth. I had dental work done when I was young (including head gear at night time and upper palette expansion), but it didn’t really get “fixed”. It’s not that noticeable now and both rows of my teeth almost meet, but it nevertheless bothered me when I was young.
So, if I were to play in the same way as my teachers or most other flute players I would be very sharp since the airstream would be much higher. So I worked out that I needed to either angle the head joint towards me more and pull the headjoint out a lot, or drop my jaw back a bit so that the teeth are meeting. This lowers the pitch to an extent where I don’t need to pull the headjoint out as much as others to be in tune. I learnt from Jacques Zoon in a masterclass that when we blow the teeth should be slightly apart and the front teeth should be directly above the bottom to allow for a smooth uninterrupted flow of air.
For me to achieve this I need to drop my jaw more than most. This is where I get my best tone and from years of tone exercises with Wibb and my other teachers, I have found how to play with my best tone. I found that the most useful exercises were pitch bending and fullness of tone exercises (cresc., decresc.) – they helped a lot to find where my sound rings and where all the harmonics are in tune.
When some teachers have seen my approach, they have tried to suggest going back to a “normal” position or one teacher even suggested surgery. To what end?
The very thing that gave me this struggle actually made me work extra hard and intelligently to overcome it and has made my playing better. And now I see it as an advantage since I can get a full sound due to creating space in my mouth and releasing tension in the jaw which is difficult to do if you have a “normal” bite.
If you don’t look like Pahud, Galway or Wibb when you play, you have to find your own approach. Look at the embouchures of Marcel Moyse or Denis Bouriakov- they play completely differently to the “norm”, but listen to their tone! So embrace your differences and don’t try to copy those you admire – it might work for them but not necessarily for you.
If you have any similar stories or would like some advice on your own situation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the comments section.
Thanks for reading and happy fluting!