jaw

The Priorities of Good Sound for Flute & Piccolo [+ Free Download]

 

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?

 

My answer:

 

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.


1. Airstream

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

 

Resources for Refining Breathing Anatomy


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?

 

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.

3. Embouchure

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!


Free Download!

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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A Jaw-Dropping Skeletal Revelation

After recording and watching many videos of myself playing in the last month, I noticed one of my tendencies is to begin with my head balanced on top of the spine, carefully considering balance at the A-O joint when turning the head to the left, and then allowing the jaw to drop as a second step. Step three I breathe. Somewhere after I've begun to play, head-spine balance goes out the window until the next long pause where I can regroup.

I set a goal to keep head-spine balance as an ongoing intention while I play, and to consider how I'm using my body as a whole more often.

While looking at my skeleton the other day, I remembered that in actuality, the hanging part of the jaw sits in front of the cervical spine (the top seven vertebrae). My mental picture or body map included a jaw and a spine, including a cervical spine, on which the the head balances, but the relationship between them was either blurred or missing altogether. Looking at the skeleton, I had an a-ha moment about the importance of balance and alignment of the cervical spine (which can't be had without balance of the entire spine, which can't be had without balance from the ground up, and without it, the head cannot be in balance...) and its impact on the jaw. 

I examined the skeleton from all angles, while palpating my own jaw, the base of the skull, and the cervical spine. I also remembered exactly where the jaw joint is, and took note of the angle in which the jaw hangs when viewing the skeleton's profile, and applied this to my own mental picture.

Have a Look:

joleneharjuflute1

Ultimately, compromising the space in front of the cervical spine here compromises the jaw's ability to be free, which compromises free movement of the tongue, affecting the amount of space available for air to move through - in addition to ease all the cervical muscles, including the important sternocleidomastoid, which is connected at the clavicle, affecting arm and rib movement... the list goes on! 

Animated Views

The following two videos give a 3D breakdown of the important anatomy the skeleton does not show.

First, a look at the respiratory anatomy. (Beginning at 2:17, where the animation includes the skeletal system):

Next, a look at the important muscles of the jaw, face and cervical region:

Where you can encourage freedom of movement and space while playing?