De“pressing” the flute on one’s chin

To press or not to press? That is the question for many flute players, especially in the early stages of learning, and there are a few different opinions on this which I would like to discuss and offer my own thoughts.

When we are first taught the flute, we are told to blow across the embouchure hole. To make a sound on the flute, the air needs to divide at the outer edge, where air goes in and above the flute, creating a vibration. To control pitch, dynamic and intonation, our lips need to be flexible. So, ideally, the flute’s lip plate should be placed below the bottom lip where the roots of the teeth are. This varies, however, due to people having different thicknesses of lips. Those with thicker lips often need to place the flute a little higher up on their lower lip than those with thinner lips, since a thick lower lip would cover too much of the flute’s embouchure hole, either making the sound quite small and flat, or non-existent.

When we press the flute too much into the chin, something similar occurs. Firstly, the blowing angle is lowered due to the lower lip covering the embouchure hole more, making the pitch flatter. Secondly, the lower lip is receiving more pressure and is restricted in movement, making it less flexible. Thirdly, the teeth themselves are getting a metal (or wooden) plate jammed into them, which can have a non-desirable effect of tooth damage. Look at how free Emmanuel Pahud’s lips are.

In order to apply more pressure onto the chin, one pushes the flute with the left hand index finger (the finger that balances the flute, together with the right thumb). If you are working hard with your left hand, overusing muscles, this can only have detrimental effects on the sound and set up bad habits of tension and could cause pain issues further down the arm or shoulder. When I try to apply more pressure, I instantly feel stuck in position, with no way out!

So why do people suggest it?

I’ve seen students who have stability issues- their flutes are wobbling all over the place and the sound, especially in articulated passages isn’t stable. This can be due to a lack of pressure, but also because of being unbalanced. As stated in the Trevor Wye books, there are 3 balance points when holding the flute- the left index finger, just above the knuckle joint; the right thumb, which supports the weight of the other end of the flute; and the chin itself. If one can hold the flute without it wobbling with just the right thumb and left index finger, one has found good balance, so overusing finger muscles to grip the flute, or pressing a lot on the chin becomes unnecessary. This is especially noticeable when coordinating finger movements for C-D (2nd and 3rd octave), or any combination where the left thumb leaves the flute. If the flute is balanced, there shouldn’t be any need to press more.

Some teachers, including a very famous one, suggest applying more pressure to students, to help with articulation, so the sound is constant and consistent and not likely to go in too many directions when changing fingers. This is not a bad idea, the sound does indeed need to be stable, but is there another way? Presumably, one wants the air to go down a bit more when tonguing, since the air tends to go a bit higher when adding the tongue. So, instead of pressing more, one could simply aim the air a bit lower and find the angle of the air that gives the best quality of tone. In this way, one can control the pitch better, so tonguing in loud and soft passages is possible.

I think this brings up another issue, which is more general in nature. That is, can we find a better solution to technical problems, rather than trying to fix the issue head on (known as “end-gaining” – see a previous blog about this). Can we find the means whereby that will indirectly fix the issue, rather than “muscling” our way through, which inevitably sets up bad habits, tension, discomfort and poor technique. I can think of many examples of this, such as “support”, holding one’s breath and others, which involve overusing muscles and I may write about these another time.

So, in summary, if someone says “press more”, work out if you do in fact need to, or whether you could get the result they want another way, but where your lips are free and flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why?”. If someone can explain the reasoning behind it and you don’t feel discomfort, then go with it, but just know there is always another way.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

Andersen etudes op.15 – no.11

So, if you thought no.10 was tiring, this one will require some serious caffeine/energy bars!    No.11 is all about intervals, but played quickly con agilita.  Yes, easier said than done Mr Andersen!

Andersen 11 opening

This etude requires a great attention to detail, not just in terms of all the accidentals, but getting a smooth legato in wide intervals and creating a connection between groups.  One has to be careful of cutting slurs or rushing the ends of groups, as well keeping a good connection between notes in order to sustain the melodic line.

So, as always, practice the skeleton of the melody to get an idea of where the phrases go and how you wish to shape them:

Andersen 11a

From there, practice the intervals of the etude SLOWLY in different guises.  First, the first and third notes, making the first note slightly louder to give it the correct stress and so that the top note doesn’t stick out, thus ruining the legato.  This requires a subtle movement of the jaw to make sure the softer note isn’t flat.

1.Andersen 11b

After this, practice in these stages:


Andersen 11c


Andersen 11d

4 – 6.

Andersen 11e

When you want to get to a faster tempo, practice in chunks, always ending on the first note of the next group.  This is training for your brain and muscle memory for the fingers.  For example:

Andersen 11f

If you are struggling with the higher notes of each group, practice them as harmonics to find the air speed and direction that you need, then try again with the normal fingering:

Andersen 11g

Try singing and playing some of the etude if you feel you have lost some resonance or connection of the sound.    Remember to keep the connection between each group so the melodic line can be sustained.  Enjoy the changes in harmony and let that guide you in the type of sound you make.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

Andersen etudes op.15 – no. 10

Andersen 10

Back with some more Andersen!  Sorry for the delay-  I had a book to finish!  But now I can focus back on these blogs, which I’ve had some nice feedback on from students and other readers-  so thanks for reading!

This is an etude not for the easily bored!  It is relentless in its sequences, but excellent for legato lines, embouchure flexibility and sonority.

Firstly, let us consider the directions:  dolce and con calore.    Sweetly with warmth.  Right off the bat, we have a lot of C sharps and in the first bar- indeed, each 1st beat begins with a C sharp.  These act as anchor points for all the other notes-  it is therefore important to make sure that the colour and intonation of the C sharp are good and have suitable warmth.  Quite often, C sharp can sound like a dying owl’s hoot!

Practice finding a good C sharp

Pitch bending exercise.  Find where the harmonics are in tune.  See my videos on pitch bending for more information.  Click here for  Pitch Bending and    Harmonics in tune videos.



Play a low C sharp and then go to the second harmonic without changing fingering.  You will get the next octave C sharp.  Switch to the normal C#2 fingering and compare the pitch and tonal quality of the harmonic and real note.   Try to match the depth of sound, pitch and quality of the two notes.

Intervals using Moyse

Next is to negotiate the intervals, like in the other etudes.    Let’s use a variation of Moyse’s De la Sonorite exercise for these.  Loud to soft =  lower lip goes forward.  Low note to high note=  lower lip goes forward.  “Aaa-ooo”   and air speed increases.

Andersen practice


Next is to consider the rhythm and stress.  We want to hear the main beats of the 12/8 bar, with slightly more emphasis on the 1st beat.  Within those beats, the first eighth and third eighth are important, so practising the Moyse-style exercise above will help make sure the 2nd eighth doesn’t get accented.  Higher notes just need care with the air speed and direction, not by blowing more.  The third eighth propels the music forward to the next big beat (dotted quarter).

Colour in piano

I find that the most difficult thing about this etude is to sustain a suitable colour throughout.  The over-arching dynamic is piano, which makes things even harder!  Practice it in a comfortable mezzo forte with warmth and sweetness, then take the dynamic down a notch and then another notch after that.  The movement of air needs to be free and uninhibited.  Often when one sees piano  or pianissimo  we tighten up, so by practising it a bit louder at first, you can retain a sense of openness and ease as you gradually make it softer.

Legato tips

Keep the line very smooth by making sure the fingers move minimally and lightly and not letting them dictate how you blow.  I often practice this by blowing on the barrel of the flute or away from the embouchure hole, so I know what I want to do with the airstream before making any sound.  This works on fingers and air alone, then when you blow at the embouchure hole, the sound will be free and easy.

Another thing to do which I’ve mentioned before is to practice the skeleton or outline of the piece, paying attention to sustaining the sound.  Break it down to a very simple melody of the 1st and 3rd eighth notes, played as a quarter and eighth.  Feel the lilting quality of that rhythm and incorporate that when you add all the notes back.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Flute superstitions 

“I can only play well if…”

I think we all have our own pre-performance rituals, but sometimes it can get a little out of hand (myself included!).  Here are some common ones that I relate to. Your comments are appreciated!


“I must eat [pasta] before I play”

Often people have a particular food that they must eat, such as rice, sushi, bananas, chocolate etc.  For me, it’s always been a mocha or hot chocolate.  Ever since I did a successful audition at Royal Academy of Music after a hot chocolate, I’ve found the need to drink it before every important concert.  Somehow the hot milk calms my nerves and the chocolate makes me sound better.  I wish I had a less calorific ritual!  Conversely, if I drink tea (especially green or mint) or red wine, it makes me sound worse.   How about you?  What’s your go-to or must-have food/drink before you play? 

Lip balm

I’ve seen players apply this like crazy, whereas some say it makes their lips even dryer.  I find I need to do a sugar & olive oil scrub once a week to make my lips smoother, especially in winter, when they tend to get chapped.  Every night, I apply lip balm to protect my lips from the dry air.  But then there are so many choices!  These days I find Aloe Vera Vaseline works well (sadly not sponsored!) 

How do you protect your lips? 

Warm up

 I always do a solid warm up before I play, but try not to do too much, just little and often, mostly to check my sound is alright.  I do singing and playing, whistle tones, harmonics and pitch bends to help find my sound.  When that doesn’t work, I’ll do some lying down semi-supine (Alexander Technique).  It helps get my body aligned and, in turn, makes my sound better.  

What about your warm up routine?  I’d be interested to hear what people do!


Doing stretches and going for a walk/swim/run are common things to do before playing.  It gets the endorphins flowing and distracts one from concert jitters.  I often do some stretches and breathing exercises, just working on keeping the air steady and expanding the areas of the body responsible for breathing.  Tension goes straight to the breath and airstream.  

Quiet vs chit chat

I’m a big fan of silence or having a moment of calm before a concert, but have often played with people that let out all their stress right before the concert, which is frankly a nightmare.  Of course, I listen and nod but I’m secretly thinking “It would be nice to hear about this person’s problems after the concert over a drink!”

Let me know your thoughts and findings! This is a topic which fascinates me! 

More flute imagery

Following on from the tennis shot analogy, here are some more examples of imagery I use in teaching flute:


When I want a student to play scales with a really good even tone from top to bottom and with a great legato, I use two images.

1.  Walking through water (or honey) instead of normal walking.  The effort it takes to take each step is like the effort required to blow from one note to the next- no giving up on the airstream, but a good healthy supply of air through the whole scale

2. Passing a carefully wrapped present upstairs

Since scales are literally stairs or ladders (from the Latin scala, like escalator), one can think of taking a beautifully wrapped present up stairs, passing it to another person a step higher (or lower).  So, take a beautiful sound from the first note and pass it to the next one.  As you go higher, more effort is required (air speed and angles).  As you come down, the present should look the same (the sound should be the same) as it did when it was first passed.

Air speed and vitality

Imagine your body, more specifically your breathing apparatus, is full of water instead of air. Visualise how your air leaves your body.  You can even fill your mouth with water and notice what happens as you let it out.  If the air comes out too slow, the water will just droop like a water fountain that isn’t working very well.  The air speed needs to be fast enough for a good vital sound.  

 Similarly, you could think of your sound as a plant- without enough water, it wilts and dies.  So, don’t let your sound die- give it the air speed it requires (at all times) to keep it alive!   But not too fast – that also kills it (“squeak!!”)

Imagery in flute teaching

Lately, I’ve found I’ve needed to be more creative to explain concepts of tone production and note endings to students.  Here is something I used that I’d like to share:

Playing tennis

I used to play a lot of tennis when I was young and was constantly inspired by the superstars that played at Wimbledon- Sampras, Agassi, Graf, Williams, Federer etc.  When you watch the top professionals play tennis, it’s as if time stands still.  You see a beautiful form and approach to each shot.  “Keep your eye on the ball” is commonly taught as a metaphor for staying focused.  But my concern is the actual shot process:

Backswing – touch – follow through

Without backswing, we get an unreliable and often wayward resulting shot.  On the flute, this relates to preparing the airstream before playing a note.  When we sing, air moves over the vocal folds before a sound is heard.  Before we play a note, the air speed and direction need to be in mind and the air moving before a sound is heard.  Blow with the jaw forward and gradually aim the air down to find the speaking point.  

The point where the racket touches the ball is our speaking point, where we hear sound.  In tennis there is something referred to as the “sweet spot”, the point where the ball hits the middle of the racket, producing a satisfying ‘ping’! On flute, this is where your sound is focussed with the harmonics in tune, where the air speed and angle is just right.

Finally, we have the follow through, the stroke that follows the trajectory of the ball, so the result is one smooth action from start to finish.  On the flute, this means finishing the note beautifully, not abruptly by closing the throat or mouth, but by lifting the airstream with the jaw, ensuring the note decays without going flat.  By practising this movement with the jaw, we can get a natural, fluid “stroke”. 

My book goes into more detail on this technique, known as messa di voce (placing of voice).  

Then, of course, we have different ways to attack the note or colour it, like a tennis player has a whole repertoire of shots to play, with different shades and intensities.  The imagery works for almost all aspects of flute playing!

More imagery in the next blog post!

Mastering the Flute with William Bennett (IUP) – available to order

Front cover

My new book if officially available to order!

Here’s the link:

I look forward to sharing with you some useful exercises and advice passed to me from the master himself, William Bennett.

Here’s some reviews from the people who have read my book

“Bennett’s principles of musical expression are rooted in the physics of sound as well as an awareness of compositional construction…. The principles of phrasing assembled here are applicable to all musicians, whatever their instrument or voice.” —Kathryn Lukas, Professor of Music (Flute) at Indiana University Jacob’s School of Music

“Now in his eightieth year, [William Bennett] is still in high demand as a teacher at the Royal Academy in London and in masterclasses worldwide. However, finding any of his methods and exercises in writing proves to be difficult, as he hasn’t written them down himself… Seed has studied extensively with… Bennett and his students, and has also assisted at his masterclasses, so his knowledge of the material is impressively thorough. Mastering the Flute with William Bennett is an invaluable resource for flute players.” —Karen Evans Moratz, author of Flute for Dummies and Principal Flute in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

“Roderick [Seed] has collected a wide range of exercises covering many topics that give the flute player the tools to play with different dynamics and a range of expression, and simultaneously helping them with associated technical difficulties such as pitch control. [He] has introduced my approach to the flute in a clear and logical way with his own insights and experiences.” —William Bennett, Foreword,Mastering the Flute with William Bennett

Here’s a table to contents to give you an idea of what topics the book covers:

Foreword / William Bennett
1. Finding a Sound
2. “Harmonics in Tune” Tone
3. Reaction in the Sound
4. Attacks, Articulation and Repeated Notes
5. Prosody: “Elephants And Taxis”
6. Harmonics Exercises
7. Shakuhachi Exercise for Embouchure Control
8. Intonation Exercises
9. Flexibility Exercises
10. Other Exercises: Whistle Tones and Vocalises
11. Approaching Melodies

If you have any questions about how to order the book, please let me know.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!