The perfect flute player??

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!

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9 thoughts on “The perfect flute player??

  1. Dear Roderick,

    I am very glad you write this blog. It is for me a confirmation of many things I have learned and reached by logical thinking. It is a pleasure to read it!

    Please let me know what do you think about moving cheeks while playing?

    Once under a recording of one leading flute player, a woman, I read a comment… “she is bad flute player, she moves her cheeks, it should not be like that…”

    All the best,
    Sylwia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Sylwia! Thank you for your nice comment.
      With the cheek moving issue, I think it really depends on the player. I was told as a student that I shouldn’t move my cheeks either because it was causing my tone to lose focus. It also encouraged a rather heavy vibrato. So, I learnt to control that and it actually helped me.
      For the leading flute player (perhaps you could send me a link to the video by private message?) – if it works for her and she sounds great, then that is her style and the person who wrote that comment is perhaps a bit narrow-minded and unaccepting of different ways. It should really be what it sounds like that matters. Sometimes having less tension in the cheeks is encouraged since a lot of players tighten their facial muscles and can lose resonance in an effort to make a focused sound. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it if used effectively.

      Best wishes to you,
      Rod

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  2. My first college flute teacher spent much of our effort moving my embouchure. I played off to my left but to her this was wrong and she had me play with the flute centered on my lips. While working with her, I played with a centered embouchure. After I left, I went back. I don’t know why, but playing to the left just works better for my tone and pitch.

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    1. Good for you! Use your ears and trust them! Many famous flute players don’t place their mouthpieces in the centre of their lips. Because everyone is different, we can’t all follow a prototype of playing. I think the main thing is to blow in a place that the air is focused and centred – it does not necessarily mean that the mouthpiece should be in the centre of the lips- it depends on how the air travels as it leaves your mouth. You could try blowing without the flute on your hand and noticing where the air travels to naturally. Then bring the flute towards you as you blow to find the optimum position for a sound that is focused and full without force.
      Thanks for sharing your story!

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  3. Yes, you could play with your mouthpiece upside down, blowing up, which is a good and fun exercise to turn yourself into a virtual beginner by the way, the results however tell the story. This is like talking about the “perfect flute”, there isn’t such a thing either. Ever wonder why the same flute sounds slightly different depending who plays it? Well, that happens because every flute player looks for different sounds in their heads, plus the shape of the mouth resonates the sound differently depending on what they do. Which is not to say instruments don’t count at all, the instrument is also an integral part of this, one that does not change during playing on it’s own on a per instrument basis, but one that may offer a different pallete to use by the flutist. There is however an ideal flute player, a perfect flute player indeed . . . we all carry one inside, and said flute player is typically a mix of our impressions of other flute players combined with our own personal goals for sound, and interpretation. That is the perfect flute player, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to meet that player face to face, and play even better. And here’s a tip to beat that particular player . . . exaggerate your nuances to challenge your own limits, blow it out of proportion while practicing, then bring it down to where mere mortals can understand your playing, good luck beating the perfect flute player! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! The flute player inside us is the only one that we should compare and aspire to.
      I also do the turning the headjoint round exercise- it’s very good for learning how to blow up and flexibility.
      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Stephen Josephs scjosephs.com – Home Page – is all about centering your emboucher. The “Balanced Flute” Method. The flute is a transverse instrument, held to the right. Flutist think, the need to blow in the direction of the flute. This is incorect. Turn the flute to the left. You will see an immediate change in embouchure

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