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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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March Technique Challenge: Reichert

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of D-I-YHOLY GRAIL.jpg
 

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:


OVERVIEW

  • 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:

  • Intentions:

    • Ingrain Ease

    • Observe Physical Movements

    • Always Think Musically

    • Allow Natural Breath

  • Goals:

    • 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

 

Practice Videos

  • 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)!

 

SCHEDULE

  • 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!

 

Happy Practicing!




Watch Demonstrations of Each Exercise on YouTube!



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How My Philosophy On Warming Up Has Changed (And How It Helped Me Learn To Love Long Tones!)

I just completed my first Instagram Live session which was All About Exercises! In preparing for the discussion, I began to sort out the what, why and how of each of the initial steps of my typical practice session.

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of D-I-YHOLY GRAIL (1).jpg

In doing this, I realized that I’ve come to value my warm-up, tone, and technique studies as independent tasks with specific goals of their own. Viewing them as separate tasks that build upon one another has helped me to find more freedom and enjoyment while practicing.

Let me tell you why...

Up until the past year, I never truly distinguished a difference between warming up and working on tone and technique exercises. I would jump in and start warming up with scales, long tones, harmonics… and by the time I had completed several exercises, I would feel "warmed up."

Some days I would love long tones, and sometimes I would dread them. It felt like the thing I was supposed to do first to warm-up *slash* work-on-tone, but it often felt frustrating to jump in and try to make my best sound right out of the gate. I was missing a step.

 

What Changed My Mind About Warming Up?

I finally realized the benefits of distinguishing my warm-up from my tone studies when I discovered Dr. Terri Sanchez's Epic Flute Warm Up! In doing this warm-up each day, I’ve come to realize that I have one primary goal for warming up:

 

It's All About Getting Air Moving.

 

We normally take shallow, automatic breaths during the day, but when it comes time to play, we need to begin to breathe deeper and with greater intention to make sound. Just like we need to stretch our arms and legs in the morning, we need to stretch the muscles surrounding the structures of breathing to prepare to play.

Think Of It Like This...

When we warm-up at the gym, we're preparing for our workout. The first 5 minutes on the treadmill are about loosening up and getting the heart ready (Warm-Up). Then we're ready to strength train (tone), and jump into more cardio (technique). When the basics are refined, we can use these tools to enhance our artistic choreography (repertoire).


Messy Sounds = Less Perfectionist's Tension

The first page of the Epic Warm-Up provides the perfect opportunity to begin breathing deeply and flowing through notes without forcing to transition from not playing into playing. I don’t analyze my sound or try to perfect anything.

I especially love the singing and playing and breath kicks, because opening up with messy sounds is a great way to start off a practice session - it’s freeing and fun! I add in even more “air movers” with jet whistles and beat-boxing syllables.

Dr. Sanchez strategically includes a warm-up for the lips, fingers, and tongue towards the end of the warm-up once you’ve had a chance to open up the sound with freer breathing.

Warming up in a fun way that addresses what the body needs to transition from not playing into creating a beautiful, resonant sound has been key for allowing me to enjoy long tones and subsequent tone studies!

 

I Can Achieve More When I've Prioritized Air First

My mind is ready and I’m no longer dreading how I’ll sound. I’ve invited more of my whole self into breathing, and from here, I can refine the focus, resonance, and projection of my sound, and translate this to all register with long tones. I can work more in depth on lip flexibility because I’ve prioritized air first. I can more easily practice phrasing with shapes, dynamics, and colors because I can support efficiently from the start of my tone practice.


In Conclusion

I was missing out on really digging in and refining all the good stuff when I was using my exercises as my warm-up! Now that I’ve made the distinction, I’m enjoying my warm-up, and I'm diving in to bigger and better goals and improving with intention each day!



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