WITH HIGH NOTES:
Intermediate asks: What am I doing wrong?
>I have no problem playing E3. (But) is there some
kind of gizmo for helping with third octave F#, G#, and
A?? My teacher tells me I just have to blow harder and
focus the air, but if I blow any harder my head will pop
>When I had trouble getting the highest notes, I
discovered it was because I was breathing in shallowly,
and trying to push from my shoulders. <snip>
Hopefully a REAL teacher will jump in and give a fuller
description (Jen, where are you?!) but maybe this will
help for now.
Answers: Dear C & M,
Awe.........C., you know me so well. I had already
started answering the first query last night, but then
gave up because there are too many variables, just like
your own early discovery that when you couldn't get your
high notes it was from trying to PUSH from the shoulders.
That's why I gave up trying to answer; it could be that
the person suffering from bad high notes is doing
anything from pinching their nose shut, jutting out their
chin too far, straining with their throat, throwing their
head forward, standing on their toes, pinching their lips
shut, using to little air and forcing it, to just hurling
their air so hard they are missing the blow-hole of the
mouthpiece. There are too many variables. We have to
*see* and hear the player to diagnose correctly.
And as Joe B., our Flutenet repair representative pointed
out---their cork in the headjoint could be in the wrong
place!! (and thankyou Joe---that's an excellent point!!)
But nevertheless let's try a list, and see if we can find
the needle in the haystack, huh?
(good thing I can type really fast!!!)
problems with high register tone:
If you can get E3 but
you can't get good tone on notes higher than E3, remember
that the notes that take the most careful practice are:
E3, F#3, G#3: because they require much faster air, and a
very, very specific aim on the embouchure. You need to
practice high-register-longtones daily in order to
eventually recognize the way to obtain these high notes
consistently. Follow instructions in my article called :'How to get really great
tone especially in the high register' and use Trevor
Wye's Practice Book for the Flute, Volume I, Tone.
If you're a novice
player and you've never worked on tone before, you may
want to start with working on your low register first, to
develop your embouchure muscles. It's literally
impossible to suddenly play high register with a decent
sound as a beginner. There's a build-up of embouchure
feelings that have to be experienced. That's why the
greatest flute experts (Wye, Moyse) always highly
recommended to start low when wanting to improve high.
:>) See Novice tone development
and low register suggestions.
Next, as you begin to
add these tone exercises to your daily practice, be sure
and double and triple check the high register fingerings
you're using. You may not be that surprised to learn that
F#3 and A3 only speak when you're depressing the Eb lever
with righthand pinky. Conversely, the best tone on Bb3
and B3 is to be had by lifting the RH4.
Take your flute down
and visually check your fingerings as a novice flutist.
Admit that you may have learned at least one fingering
wrongly if a single high register note sounds like
%#*&@^#*!@^ compared to its neighbour. :>D
For your practice
area:. A good basic flute fingering chart (single page
that you can tape to your music stand or put in the front
of your flute workbook) can be found here.
established that all aspiring flutists will get garenteed
results from using Trevor Wye's "Practice Book
for the Flute, Volume I, Tone" book, or "De
La Sonorite" by Marcel Moyse.
There is no substitute.
As you do your daily
tone practice descending chromatically you will be
learning to poise and steady your embouchure.. When the
downward moving longtones are well improved, you only
then add the high register, gradually crescendoing
upward, and developing a fast airspeed from low in the
abdomen, and making smooth fast-air connections between
your semitone slurs.
Another great high
register exercise is found on the first page of Trevor
Wye's Tone, and other methods. It's playing overblown
harmonic series, into the high octave, using low octave
fingerings, and a combination of lip changes and
airspeed. The lip changes are more successful if the
student thinks of more and more of a "kiss
shape" to the lips the higher they get on the flute.
description of the effortless lip technique (corners move
forward, lips go into half-kiss position) can be found in
Robert Dick's book "Tone Development Through
Extended Technique" which has excellent explanations
for rising to the high register effortlessly by
overblowing the harmonic series.If you want to see how
these harmonics are played, have a look at the overblowing
low C exercises online at this link.
also great lip exercises in Werner Richter's book
"Conditioning Training for the Flutist" which
is found at www.fluteworld.com . THe Richter techniques are
for the teacher, and then once they've ascertained how
they work, they can simplify the exercises for the
for a checklist:
1. Have your flute teacher test your flute in the upper
register to make sure that there are no leaks or problems
that are making your high register more difficult for
2. Check your cork position with your cleaning rod, (not
all rods are correctly marked, so have your teacher test
it with a tuner too) and be sure never to over-tighten
the crown which gradually pulls the cork
out of position, and makes the whole flute more difficult
3. Always warm-up your low register for 10 minutes or
more, and then your middle register for 15 or more
minutes with LONGTONES (see Trevor Wye's "Tone"
book) before trying any high register notes.
Your embouchure must be stable and focussed FIRST, before
stabbing at really high notes.
4. Always ascend one slurred semi-tone at a time using
crescendo when starting high register longtones. Start on
B2 (one ledger line B). Do not tongue every high note
experimentally, but slur up one at a time. (Tonguing can
cause you to unconsciously change your embouchure at the
novice and intermediate levels---so slurring is much more
5. When you gradually slur up every day, after several
days you may reach high G (G3) with fabulous ringing,
clear and centered tone. At G3 the embouchure and
airspeed are usually perfect for the remaining notes of
the high register (Gareth Morris concept that the best
mouth for the high register is the mouth that gives you
your best high G.) See if you can keep your embouchure
still and poised in the shape for your best G3, use fast
airspeed, and from there on up, only change your fingers
to play notes higher than G3. (some embouchure changes
may be *felt* but do not necessarily need to be *made*.)
6. The higher you go, the lower in the body the sound
should be originating. Use deep belly breaths, and
support from low in the abdomen. (feel as if you're
pushing against the floor with your feet, or keeping a
loose belt around your tummy pushed outward and taut, in
order to trigger the right muscles to help you.)
7. The higher you go, the more important it is that your
throat has no tension,and that your upper body is not
PUSHING at all, but is just an open conduit for the air
from the lower lungs to be travelling through.
8. The higher you go, the better tone comes from "a
sudden relaxation of the whole face and embouchure, while
continuing to sound the high note."
This advice is from Moyse in "De La Sonorite".
If you can just suddenly LET GO of all tension, while
keeping a high note sounding, you will find that the note
sounds clear and easily compared to when you are
straining and tensing all the wrong muscles to keep a
9. Check the mirror if your tone is still fuzzy on high
notes. You could be twitching your lips offcenter so that
the hole in the lips is no longer aiming the air at the
"sweet spot" of the mouthpiece.
10. If G#3 is very difficult on your flute, experiment
with the fingering:
LH 234 | RH 234
Adding the right hand middle and ring fingers to a high
G# brings the
pitch down and makes the tone more stable-sounding.
10. RE-find the
"sweetspot" of clearest-possible-tone if you
lose it, by making tiny circular, experimental,
re-aimings with your lips in a 360 degree direction (very
microscopically small changes) all around the microscopic
perimeter of the embouchure hole in your flute. Make a
slow-motion figure 8 or infinite symbol in the tiny area
where your embouchure directs the air to the mouthpiece.
You may find, if you go slow enough, a perfectly focused
spot where the high note sounds ringing and pure.
Go very slowly, and take note of your successes.
It could be that a micron of a change to the air
direction to the north, south, east, west, or up or down
suddenly gives you your tone back instantly, if you had
it before and then, for no apparent reason, lost it.
Lips are easily
twitched out of position, so learn to SEEK the
correct"sweet spot" for a certain note by
This is what your teacher may mean by "focus the
Ask the teacher who can see you and hear you for more
help on this.
11. You could be holding the flute too high on your lower
lip, or changing the flute's height on the lip after
taking the flute away from your face.
Keep it in the same place on the lower lip for the whole
3 octave range, and move the corners of the lips
gradually forward (to make the lips less tightly
stretched across the teeth, and more fleshy and pouty) as
you ascend the three octaves. For more information about
keeping the flute in the lowest possible position on the
chin, see Roger Mather's books "The Art of Playing
the Flute". His explanations are the best there are
(use interlibrary loan to borrow the three-volume set of
Mather books, or buy from www.fluteworld.com )
12. You could be trying
to use too large an opening in the lips. To correct this,
do harmonics, overblowing low C to the high register,
every day following the first pages on overblowing bugle
calls from Trevor Wye's "Tone" book.
13. Your jaw could be in the wrong position. You may
think that you have to jut the jaw forward for high
notes, and are jutting it way too far forward, missing
the correct angle for high notes by miles!
Try aiming the air down to your left elbow instead or
aiming high for high notes.
14. You could be holding the lips too tight against the
teeth. Try and lift your upper lip off your front teeth
so as to create a tiny air-pocket with which to aim the
air into the flute.
This works great in all three octaves, but is especially
in taming the high register. It goes along with #11
above: Not keeping the lips tight against the teeth, but
playing in a more "kiss-shaped" position the
higher you go (change is very slight---almost
un-noticeable. A real "kiss" position is far
15. Many "band
flutists" never really learned how to play in the
high register with ease, and instead over-tighten their
lips, blow really tightly (not enough air but very small
lip-opening) and even roll the flute in with their hands
in order to shorten the distance to the splitting edge.
The corrections are
manifold: The student must RE-LEARN how to play high
register without reverting to their self-taught
bad-habits, and this will take time and patience and a
step by step procedure. If you don't yourself know how to
un-do this common high register mislearning, contact a
superior flute teacher and take special lessons on how to
fix it. It's a time-consuming but absolutely essential
fix to learn how to:
- Blow with more and
more air speed every half-step ascended during longtones.
Learn to get high notes loudly at first, and don't
attempt to play them quietly until several months of pure
ringing tone has been achieved.
- Not to tighten the
lips, but make the lip aperture smaller without tension
using the muscles that surround the lips (pressing the
lower lip vertically ONTO the upper lip can be a good
- Blow from the
abdomen, without tightening face, neck, lips or upper
chest or shoulders
- Keep the flute low on
firmly placed the chin (don't roll it in EVER!)
- Keep the lips
flexible and free
- Keep the lip opening
round like an "o" by allowing the lip corners
to come forward
- Keeping the lips off
the teeth in a "half-kiss" so that the air is
passing across an increased amount of inner-lip-membrane.
A dedicated flute
teacher will demonstrate these concepts to you over
several lessons with special exercises to help ascertain
their use. They may teach overblowing of harmonics,
whistle tones or any other new-habits to you.
My best advice:
Continue to get help from your teacher or from a great
If you are doing something extra-added that is not
helping (like standing up on your toes, or suddenly
blowing from the left side of your lips, or pinching your
throat shut, or hurling air from your collar bones) they
will spot it and be able to bring your attention to it.
A good high register takes about 20 min. a day of slurred
longtones for about three months or more depending on how
many extraneous "trying too hard" habits have
to be removed.
Stay calm, stay relaxed, ascend one note at a time, and
focus the sound with gradually faster air.
You should find the answers yourself by experimentation
providing your flute is working normally. :>)
Best, Jen :>)
Click below for a systematic plan of working on tone
using standard methods:
Low register tone and ideas for
working on it.
High register tone and ideas for
working on it.
to Jen's homepage