While experimenting with articulation yesterday, I had a moment where I thought to notice how much effort my tongue was exerting.
I played a few notes, removed the flute from my face, and looked in the mirror.
I was pulling my jaw down too forcefully, which was pulling my bottom lip back, and my tongue was being pulled up and back within my mouth.
I know that letting the tongue lie low in the mouth helps resonance, and I also know that clear, short articulation is possible with the tongue forward in the mouth.
My good intentions of creating space within the mouth - dropping the jaw - actually led me to increase tension and compromise space.
My tongue felt tight and heavy as well, but what was most surprising was how much I wanted to pull the tongue up and back!
This might not happen as drastically for everyone, as I may habitually try to bring to my tongue down when I bring the jaw down. When I do both of these things in a forceful way, I end up in a place that feels tight and difficult.
I decided to have a look at how and why my tongue moves the way it does, and uncovered some important relationships between the tongue and jaw.
How Does The Tongue Move?
Take a look at how many muscles move the tongue in all directions.
In simple terms, there are four extrinsic tongue muscles that move the tongue and connect outside the tongue, and four intrinsic tongue muscles located within the tongue that allow us to change the the shape of the tongue.
The extrinsic muscles that move the tongue:
The styloglossus muscle retracts and elevates the tongue.
The palatoglossus muscle raises the back of the tongue and lowers the soft palate - required movement for swallowing.
The genioglossus muscle lowers the tongue and brings it forward in the mouth.
The hyoglossus lowers the tongue and brings it back in the mouth.
Understanding that there's a muscle that's both pulling my tongue up and retracting it back gives me some insights about what I was noticing.
Gaining clarity about the relationships between the tongue muscles and their origins, insertions, and functions gave me direction in deciding how to use myself in a different way for different results.
Experiment + Observe Tongue Movement
Try pulling your jaw down far but keeping your lips together, actively aiming to create space inside the mouth:
- Where is the tongue inside your mouth?
- Watch the back of the tongue - does it become tense? Is it raised?
- Does the tip of the tongue move backward?
- What happens to the bottom lip? How does this position affect embouchure?
Allow the jaw to become neutral and soft, simply hanging rather than pulling down:
- What happens to the tongue?
- Where is the tip of the tongue naturally lying?
- How does the back of the tongue feel?
- What about the soft palate?
- What happens to the lower lip?
When I re-set and let my jaw release back up towards neutral, I immediately felt my tongue release down and forward toward the teeth.
Where I was before, I had to actively bring my tongue towards the teeth to get a short articulation. The tongue was heavy and effortful in this movement.
Because I was holding it in a pulled back and up position within my mouth, it was naturally wanting to hit the roof of the mouth further back, where we create a "D" syllable, rather than a "T" syllable at the alveolar ridge. (Where the upper teeth meet the hard palate.) This might be good for a legato articulation, but for short, light, and quick, it wasn't effortless.
From a neutral jaw and a naturally relaxed and forward tongue, I didn't have to exert so much effort in bringing my tongue forward, it was already there. My tongue and articulations could more easily become short, light and quick. Beyond that, my lower lip was more available, allowing me greater freedom to angle well.
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Several band directors have recently asked for my thoughts regarding flute embouchure:
- What should the embouchure look like?
- How would I help a student with a tight embouchure?
- How do I help students develop sound?
Most often, attempting to fix an embouchure is like fixing only the surface-level symptom of a deeper problem.
Many students (including my younger self) put a lot of focus on the embouchure because it's the one thing we can see clearly, and our band directors can see, too.
I didn't come to understand and refine the fundamental aspects of sound until I came to understand the anatomy involved in playing.
When all three aspects are refined and prioritized, sound becomes full and resonant, and students can begin to gain control and flexibility.
Airstream is at the base of the pyramid because of course, without air, there's no sound. The most important element of this foundation is the understanding that:
- An exhale creates sound,
- Our inhale determines our exhale,
- Our self-use a whole determines the quality of the breath, and therefore the quality of the sound.
- To experience the difference, stand on your tip-toes and take a big breath. Then, stand on both feet and take a big breath.
- Which is more comfortable? Is there a difference in how each feels between these two different ways of using yourself?
- There are subtle habits of use embedded in our playing that can affect breathing in the same way.
- Therefore, looking at the whole can improve breathing, and thereby, sound.
Posts to Refine Breathing + Self-Use
- My primary goal for my warm-up is getting air moving. Read about it here!
- Utilizing the whole to find freedom over forcing: Read about it here!
- A Simple Trick for Better Breathing: Observe how you use yourself to inhale: Read about it here!
Resources for Refining Breathing Anatomy
- Move Well, Avoid Injury: Balance Video by Amy Likar and Barbara Conable
- Jessica Wolf's Art of Breathing Animations
- Move Well, Avoid Injury: Lungs Video by Amy Likar and Barbara Conable
- Body Mapping for Flutists: What Every Flute Teacher Needs to Know About the Body by Lea Pearson
- Lea Pearson's Facebook Live Archives
2. Internal Set-Up: Jaw, Tongue, Mouth
So, we've mentioned embouchure and airstream, but the structures between the lungs and the lips play a crucial role in developing sound, as well. As before, understanding the anatomy of these structures can lead to a more refined and effective means of use.
Statements like "open the throat" or "drop the jaw" are well-meaning tips to help students create openness and fullness to the sound. If the foundation of breathing or anatomical knowledge isn't there, attempting to open the throat may turn into forcing and lead to throat tension or noise.
Refine Your Knowledge
Have a look at this video.
Although it's about swallowing, in the first 60 seconds, the narrator points out just how large the tongue is, and that the base of the tongue is in the oral pharynx.
She'll also point out the hard palate and soft palates.
- The tongue is the floor of our mouth, and the palates are the ceiling.
- Increasing the amount of space in the mouth creates resonance.
- Therefore, tongue down, soft palate lifted will increase the space in the oral cavity.
- Understand that the tongue is large and dome shaped, and the base of which sits in the jaw and the oral pharynx. Therefore, the jaw and the tongue are closely related.
- If "dropping the jaw" leads to pulling or forcing the jaw down, the freedom of the tongue is affected. (Jaw tension is a culprit of poor articulation and tongue speed, as well!)
- The back or base of the tongue, as seen above, is essentially the front of the beginning of what we might consider to be the throat. Therefore, the tongue heavily influences our airsteam, and how "open" or "restricted" it is.
- We use these structures to ensure airflow hasn't been restricted, and to create vowel shapes that add depth to the sound.
Where's My Jaw in Relation to the Whole?
A Jaw-Dropping Skeletal Revelation: Read about it here!
How to Practice?
- Singing and playing is my favorite way to practice both airstream support and set-up:
- Singing adds speed and volume to the air stream, allows the mouth to create vowel shapes, and allows "open the throat" to occur in a natural way. Intentionally creating sound by singing can help alleviate throat tension and throat noise.
Embouchure comes last because this is point at which we add structure and finesse to the airstream. When the fundamental elements are adequate and refined, the embouchure can begin to let go. A smiling, or tight embouchure with corners pulled back is a compensation for inadequate air, a closed throat or both.
Uncovering the bottom lip and allowing the corners to mush forward towards the lip plate is now possible when air and space are adequate. From here, flexibility and seamless intervals are possible. (Insert your favorite flexibility exercises and etudes here!)
Here's one more video to see the muscles that move the mouth and the lips.
The muscles below the the lower lip are important - often, the flute is too high on the bottom lip, and we can't use the lower lip for finesse and structure.
If we try to lower the flute on the lip without the foundations of the pyramid, students won't have the tools ready to begin supporting well, and they'll lose sound, which is a scary experience! One more reason to look at the whole to make effective changes to the embouchure.
Adequate support will also allow students to begin rolling out or uncovering more of the lip plate.
In addition, the angle of the embouchure and flute-to-face are also the final elements to refining sound.
Here are three experiments for making adjustments and finding the right angle!
Here's a free visual aid with some important reminders to use for yourself or for your students! Click the image or the button below to download a PDF.
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In honor of a new month and the arrival of Spring, here's a new Technique Challenge to dive deeper into Reichert's Seven Daily Exercises, Op. 5!
first things first...
Reichert's exercises are available as a print version through most flute sheet music retailers.
They are also available as a free, downloadable PDF through IMSLP:
As with previous technique challenges, I've provided a practice guide filled with suggestions for practicing each of these exercises. They include varied articulations, styles, tips, and questions for self-observation.
If you are new to these exercises, no need to rush and risk learning mistakes. Consider this a chance to ingrain ease and your best sound at a comfortable tempo.
Always make use of a metronome and record your markings. Should you choose to utilize the Practice Tracker below, you may find it useful to record your metronome markings there.
GOALS + INTENTIONS
Set an intention or goal for your work with these exercises. (Remember that intentions are overall ideas that can be brought into every practice session. Goals are more specific and measurable. Both are important!)
Here are some examples:
Observe Physical Movements
Always Think Musically
Allow Natural Breath
Apply Compound Triple Tonguing to Number One
Complete Number Two in One Breath at Quarter Note Equals 60
Memorize Number 4
Practice Each on Piccolo with Drone
I will be sharing my own practice videos on Instagram and Facebook! Please feel free to join in, and be sure to tag me (@joleneflute)!
Since there are 7 exercises, I will be posting one per day beginning on Friday, March 2nd.
Once I post practice videos of the first seven exercises, I'll continue to practice one Reichert per day in order for the rest of the month! You're encouraged to post as many or as few videos as you'd like!
P.S. For week two, I'll be doing these on piccolo!
Watch Demonstrations of Each Exercise on YouTube!
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1. Air Stream and Support (0:20)
Without the instrument, get to know the feeling of support in the body. Use air sounds through the teeth to listen, and feel the natural response and engagement in the body.
2. Add Syllables to Your Air Sounds (1:09)
We often spend time practicing the double tonguing syllables away from the flute, however, using the through-the-teeth airstream exercise, we can multi-task. Airstream and double tonguing syllables should go hand-in-hand!
Try the exercise of going from closed teeth and air sounds to a relaxed jaw and increased space in the mouth, and consciously keep the air speed fast. (1:24)
3. Breath Accents (2:12)
Improve single tongue articulations by prioritizing air speed and quality with breath accents. Once the attack feels clean and consistent, add in the T and the K syllables on top. This especially helps us understand the feeling of air when using the more difficult back-of-the-tongue syllables.
4. Double Tonguing Syllables: T-K vs. D-G (4:16)
Rather than sticking with just one or the other, I find it useful to understand the difference between both T-K-T-K and D-G-D-G, and practice them both. T-K tends to be more staccato and pointed, while D-G tends to be more smooth and legato. Having both under your belt gives you greater options in the context of a piece!
5. High Maintenance Notes: Low and Middle Register (5:07)
The low register and right hand middle notes tend to be the most prone to cracking if space in the mouth is not abundant. When we play a resonant long tone without articulating, we may be thinking of an "aww" shape in the mouth. Utilize that same "aww" feeling while double tonguing ("daww-gaww") to help these high maintenance notes!
6. Practicing For Longer, Faster Lines (5:58)
In the exercise linked above, use a single note to build up from breath accents to a long, fast line of double-tonguing. Holding the first note (as we did in the initial breath support exercise using only air), reminds us to get the speed going, and keep it the moment the tongue first moves.
7. 3-Stage Chromatic Scale Exercise (Beginning to Add Finger Movement) (7:03)
Use the notes of the chromatic scale to begin translating the single note exercises up the range. With each repetition, begin decreasing the number of articulations per note as you begin coordinating finger movement with tongue movement.
8. Coordinating Finger and Tongue Movement (7:53)
Try saying or whispering the syllables while moving the fingers slowly and precisely to encourage better coordination. This provides a chance to isolate the tongue and fingers without producing a flute sound, so we can really focus and uncover difficulties. Even if you're relatively coordinated, I always find this exercise enhances the connection between movements!
9. The First Note Influences The Rest! (8:31)
Use an expressive tenuto to translate the resonance of the first note of a run into the double-tongued notes that follow. Begin with a held note, and practice making the first note shorter and shorter without losing the sound quality.
10. 2-Octave Major Scales: Slur and Double-Tongue Back-to-Back (9:00)
Break up your 2 octave scales into one octave at a time, first slurred with a singing quality, then translating the feeling to double-tonguing. Try 2 articulations per note, and think of a smooth, legato sound that resembles your singing slurred sound.
11. Singing and Playing (10:56)
Using the first notes of Exercise No. 1 from Taffanel and Gaubert's Daily Exercises, sing and play, slur, and double-tongue in one breath to reap the benefits of a relaxed throat and naturally supported airstream!
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