Jen Cluff ~ Lining up your headjoint
Canadian Flutist and Teacher
Headjoint: The embouchure hole can be lined up in two basic positions:
1. Approximately 75% of flute players (quoted from Roger Mather in his excellent books: "The Art of Playing the Flute") may need to line up the far side of the embouchure hole (the striking edge, where the air splits) with the center of the flute's keys. This depends on the formation of the lips, chin, hands, arms and the level of the player's development.
Eyeballing down from the crown (tip of headjoint) you would line up the striking edge of the embouchure hole (the far side, where the air splits) with the center of the flute's keys.
If this position works for you (check with your private teacher) you can put a small line in permanent marker, or blob of nail-polish, or two stickers on the headjoint and barrel, so that you can line it up quickly, or re-tune, without having to sight the line each time.
This picture below is from the Altes flute method, using a standard modern flute. Note that the far edge of the blow hole is lined up with the center of the keys.
2. Approximately 25% of flute players may need to line up the CENTER of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys. The flutists who do this usually have slightly thicker lower lips, a deeper cavity in their chin, where the flute rests, have small or stocky hands, or simply find this most comfortable after experimentation.
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NOW: Check to determine balance: When your flute is in playing position, are the tops of the keys facing the ceiling or are they facing slightly backwards? If they are sloping backwards at all, then read the article below. This awkward balancing problem can lead to hand/arm strain, neck and back fatigue, and can greatly slow your progress.
Quote from a great teacher: Trevor Wye, when asked, said that he considered the headjoint's alignment, and the middle section's alignment a two-part process. First, he suggests, with your teacher's help, insure that the key tops are facing the ceiling (or leaning slightly forward.) when you play. Once that comfort zone is found and hand position established, then place the headjoint at the correct angle for your best sound and lower lip coverage. By doing the experimentation in this order, you will more quickly achieve your final alignment position, while keeping your embouchure approach optimal.
Footjoint: The footjoint's keys are held on with a rod that ends with a silver ball. This ball can be lined up with the center of the lowest key (the key that gives you F# or D on the middle section of the flute). If you need to rotate the footjoint slightly more inward in order to reach the B-key or C-key, you can experiment starting with this basic position.
Note: Do not handle flute by the mechanism, or squish the keys or rods when assembling or disassembling. Over time even the slightest hand pressure during assembly will bend the keys and rods, and cause leaking, especially with the low C, low C# on footjoint. Handle the flute sections by smooth parts only and use gentle, slow, twisting motion to put together and take apart.
Article: What's the best way to align my headjoint?
The alignment of the blow hole on the headjoint as compared to the flute's key tops is determined by the physical attibutes of your chin, lips, teeth, arm size, hand-size, finger and thumb length, and the resulting alignment of the flute can have a HUGE effect on your flute playing, and I'd like to briefly explain why:
The Standard Band method book alignment:
In the 1960s, I was taught to line up the center of the embouchure hole in the headjoint, with the center of the keys.
This is a standard starting place for most flutists. This is also where some band instrument companies actually place some assembly marks on their flutes (Artley for one.) The centered blow-hole, centered keys is also the way that flutes often appear in photographs. (undoubtedly for a "photo opportunity" reason: to show both the keys and the embouchure hole in the same shot.)
However this particular method of aligning the headjoint, actually caused my flute to roll inwards while I was playing, since I had thin lips and a flat chin, and very long fingers. When playing like this, my key tops tilted backwards, and the weight of the rods and keys constantly made my flute roll inwards while I was playing. The resulting struggle to keep the key tops parallel to the ceiling, and stop the flute from rolling inward actually held back flute playing back for several years in terms of intonation and fast fingering. So I'd like to share this headjoint alignment information with you.....so that you can perform some experiments, and perhaps discover the limitations for yourself.
First of all, how does the conventional "center to center" headjoint alignment relate to band methods? Many band leaders in the United States, with military bands as their inspiration, insist that their flute section members hold the flute stiffly, parallel to the floor, and with the flute parallel to the player's shoulders, so that it crosses the body like crossing a 'T'. If the flute is parallel to your chest, as demonstrated in the photo below, you will eventually strain your shoulders and your arms when playing.
WRONG (above): Flute should not be parallel to chest
RIGHT (above): Flute is at an open angle to the chest and shoulders. Right thumb pushes the flute forward.
If you need to re-align the chairs in the flute seating in your band, please see this band-directors/flute-student handout which explains how the chairs need to be at a 45-degree angle.
The use of flute lyres (tiny music holders for marching bands) that strap to the front forearm, that must be held high in order to see the music, may also have had something to do with the marching band "look" and uncomfortable arm and hand positions. Having high elbows and/or the flute parallel to the chest can also lead to some very strained muscles and often shoulder rotation injuries and hand/arm pain in flutists.
Wrong: Left shoulder is pulled out of its socket and pulled across the chest to try and get flute parallel to chest. This cause thoracic impingement over time.
Right: With right arm pushing the flute forward to create an open angle between the flute and the shoulders, the left shoulder drops down in its socket and remains stress free during hours of play.
At a National Flute Convention a few years ago, a panel on hand and arm injuries from flute playing asked how many members of the audience had experienced injuries and pain, and over 60% volunteered that they had experienced arm/hand injuries. Recently, Sir James stated on his Galway Chat Yahoo discussion group that he had been taught by his early teachers how to hold his flute without fatigue and had never had any pain or discomfort, and was surprised to begin to meet young students in their teens who were about to be treated for chronic arm or wrist pain. On a one-on-one basis he worked briefly with each flutist to correct their method of holding the flute, and stated that he was surprised they had never been shown the correct method. If you study Galway's videos online you will see the method he uses.
There are many young flutists, in my experience, who during competition and exam preparation have suffered from over-use syndrome and had to wear braces on their arms, or rest extensively from playing, or who quit due to RSI (repetitive strain) injuries. And if you look at the numbers of professional players with arm-pain histories, you will begin to worry, like I did, that the problems of holding the flute are endemic and universal solutions have not yet become entirely accepted.
The typical problems with the "Marching Band Flute" posture are that in lining up the center of the blow hole with the center of the keys and then trying to hold the flute parallel to the chest (instead of at a 45 degree angle to the chest) the flutist may then have to compensate in their posture by:
1. Lifting the elbows too high in order to lock the flute into place because it is unstable in the hands creates several additional problems besides general fatigue. The shoulders are strained, the tendons in the arms are strained, and the posture is very difficult to sustain without tension.
Wrong: Elbows too high. This strains shoulders, can block blood flow to arms, as well as can tire the player quickly.
RIGHT: Elbows are down and make plumb-lines to the ground. Wrists are not cocked backward.
2. The flute student with an unstable flute may try to correct the feeling that the flute is rolling in the hands by cocking their wrists backward or bending the wrists backward. This shortens the tendons that operate the lift of the fingers and can cause tendonitis.
a). Problem: Bending the left wrist backward and then operating the fingers rapidly causes much tension in the tendons of the forearms over time. This can also be one of the first precursors of tendonitis for those susceptible to it.
Wrong: Left wrist is cocked backward shortening tendons
b) Also, with elbows too high, the flute student may also be bending the right wrist backward, or cocking the right wrist, in order to wedge the flute into a more stable position.
Wrong: Right wrist is cocked backward shortening tendons
3. A dented or sore left index finger can result from an unstable flute. The student will find themselves exerting more and more pressure with the left forefinger, locking up the left hand and causing tension in the left shoulder (I suffered RSI in the left scapula and arm from longterm tension in the left shoulder/thoracic area, that's why I'm so keen to eliminate this set-up.)
4. A misaligned headjoint can also cause the student to hold the flute so that the keys are slightly leaning backwards, or they may look parallel to the ceiling, but the flute feels unstable and needs to be gripped. Having the weight of the rods pulling inward makes holding the flute even harder, as stopping the flute rolling toward you when you take the left thumb off. This balance issue also makes fingering slower. See a video on how to correct this if this is how you currently align your flute, and during play can see the keys leaning backwards.
Flute Unstable - Keys are tilting backwards causing the flute to roll backward when all fingers are off.
4. Misaligned headjoints can cause the student to gradually increase the pressure on the chin trapping the lower lip by pushing the flute very hard into the chin. This impedes flexibility in the soft tissues of the lips. Lip flexibility would have led to more sophisticated tone colour and dynamic control if pressure on the chin was reduced.
5. The flute student with a misaligned headjoint may also try and correct the angle of blowing by bending the head forward, tilting chin downward, crimping the throat, or somehow lowering the face and head downward from their natural angle (when standing normally) in order to blow downward into the blow hole of the flute.
WRONG: Flute student bends neck forward, and brings chin down in order to blow downward on a misaligned headjoint.
RIGHT: Neck is upright and flute is brought up to the upright head. You should feel as if you are reading a bulletin board while you play.
Unfortunately, the badly aligned headjoint and standard "Marching-band" posture are still being taught by lots of otherwise good teachers. They haven't experienced the release of tension that a change in flute alignment brings, because they haven't yet felt the negative effects of the tension. One anomaly in this regard is Sir James Galway himself who uses the center-to-center alignment with no hand or arm pain whatsoever. However the headjoint alignment is very much predicated on the shape of the lips and chin of each individual player, and much variation exists.
Luckily, however, the simplest experiment of "effortlessly holding the flute" can be had in under one minute of your own at-home test:
6. Finally, adjust your headjoint alignment accordingly. (rotate the headjoint toward you while leaving the rods uppermost on the middle section of the flute. Keys should either be parallel to ceiling or leaning very slightly forward while lower lip covers 1/4 to 1/3 of embouchure hole.)
You'll also find that with the rods more upward, and the keys VERY slightly tilting forward, and the left hand keys are a lot easier to reach (especially if you have an in-line 'G' which means all the keys are in a straight line.) Some people then feel that the right hand is uncomfortable, because they feel it has to reach over top of the flute to put the keys down. If this is the case, then you've rolled your flute's body TOO far out. The angle of the keys tilting forward should be almost unnoticeable, it's so slight. And the right hand becomes much more comfortable if the right thumb is more around the back of the flute, rather than under the flute. A cork "roll-bar" or blue-tacked pencil grip, or "Thumbport" device can all help the right thumb gain purchase on the slippery cylinder. :>)
You can do the above rod-weight experiment every day if you want to, or whenever you're questioning your alignment and set-up, but you'll soon find that with the rods slightly upward, and the keys slightly tilting away from your body, that the flute is no longer rolling toward you when you take fingers off, that the fingers no longer have to hold on too tight, trying to re-balance the flute the entire time you're playing it.
Fingers need to be free to move up and down many times per second, and can't be used for gripping if they are to achieve maximum speeds.
Therefore for this reason alone, I suggest that you begin to learn balancing the flute in the hands as a way to determine your own headjoint set-up.
A further advantage you'll also notice is that the left arm can relax downward, and hang more, with the left elbow pointing down, and making more of a "plumb-line" to the floor.
This is zillions of times more comfortable than having the elbow in the air, as you'll immediately feel for yourself. Most flute pains start in the left shoulder, and having the left arm in a natural position in its shoulder socket is well worth a few minutes of experimentation every day or whenever you notice the left arm working too hard.
The Far Edge Alignment references
Don't just take my word for it, when experimenting with or changing from "Marching Band" to the 'Rockstro' or three-side hold METHOD. To read about Rockstro method etc. see below.
Several articles on this are now online (2005).
The flutists who align the center of the blow hole with the center of the keys and do so very comfortably and without eventual arm and hand pain, do so because:
a) they have deeper concavity of the chin
b) they have a thicker lower lip
c) they have experiemented extensively with flute balance
d) they have very short fingers and very strong arms. Here are some more reasons why I prefer to line up the FAR SIDE edge of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys, when putting my flute together.
The benefits of experimentation with headjoint alignment can be:
1. With more skin contact in the chin area, with the flute's lip plate, there is alot less need to grip with the hands. The flute is getting more grip from where it rests on the face. With this extra balance point (one square inch of chin, instead of a tiny strip just under the lip) I can much more easily balance the flute in my hands, without any additional effort from the arms or fingers. This means I can play all day as a professional flutist, rather than just for an hour, as I used to as a student..
2. With lighter finger action, and better flute balance, I can actually play many times faster in fast tempo pieces and studies. I actually set the metronome and determined how fast I could play in each position. With some experimentation you can try this for yourself and prove it to yourself, too. :>)
3. Thumb keys become easier to operate, as the thumb of the left hand is not trying to reposition the flute all the time. With the Marching Band method, my flute was always rolling when the fingers came off, so the two thumbs became key to keeping it tipped forward to stop the rolling. See for yourself by doing thumb trills.
The far-side alignment is also a concept that's supported by many many teachers both old and current.
Read Rockstro's book on the flute to see what he had to say about alignment of the headjoint and see additional simplified description below.
Additional references from Flute Books
Thomas Nyfenger talks about headjoint alignment in his wonderful book "Music and the Flute" and you will find countless other advocates for the change in the headjoint's position to "far edge aligned with key centers"
Example: This is written by Stephen Preston in the introduction to the Drouet Method that was recently reprinted;
" Examples of famous players who advocated turning the embouchure inward
Walfrid Kujala also has a great article in the appendix of "Flutist's Progress" where he gives innumerable details about "Rockstro" headjoint alignment and how he discovered it late in his career to great tonal advantage.
And speaking of Thomas Nyfenger's "Music and the Flute", there are some simple cross sectional drawings that explain Nyfenger's preference.
See drawings & photos at this link:
Here is an explanation of photos and pictures at above link:
If you draw a circle to represent the flute seen in cross section, and then drew a cross through the circle to divide it into four quarters, this would be a representation of the pressure points you're using to hold the flute in the "four-sided hold".
Each intersection represents a direction of force.
The left forefinger pushes toward you, the chin pushes away from you; the right thumb lifts the flute up, the heavy fingerings push the flute down.
You're pushing from all directions.
Compare the above four sided hole to the three-point circle with three points of balance, such as you'd have if you lined up the FAR SIDE of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys. In the second example of the "three-sided" hold:
The left forefinger acts as a shelf. The flute sits on this shelf.
The right thumb guides the flute way from you.
The flute swings on the shelf as a hinge, or fulcrum, and when the right thumb pushes away, the headjoint comes toward your chin.
You don't need to press it into your chin, it just swings up and under the lower lip.
The lower lip is not squished by any pressure and stays moveable and flexible.
There is no pressure being applied, so all the fingers are free to move up and down rapidly. And the flute has no tendency to roll, as the rods are balanced toward the top of the flute.
OBSERVING OVERALL PROFESSIONAL POSTURE:
It's estimated that about 75% of flute players advocate this alignment, or a slight variation on it and continued experimentation, and that the remaining 25% either don't know about it, or have thickish lower lip, very concave chin dip, or other dental structure that doesn't require this particular 'three point hold' or "Rockstro" alignment procedure.
And if you watch any filmed concert (or live one) and are able to view the professional flute players, either in an orchestra or soloists, you will see that they have their front elbow down (pointing almost to the floor usually) and that the flute makes about a 45 degree angle to their shoulders when viewed from the side.
They do not hold the flute across their chests, and parallel to their shoulders, like a letter 't' , but are pushing the right hand away from them so that the flute makes a 'V' shape to their bodies.
Their right arms are not pulled back, behind their right shoulders, but are well in front of the right shoulders. Their flute is being balanced on top of their left forefinger, and not being pushed into their faces with the left forefinger.
Professional flute players have a similarity in the angles their bodies make to the flute after years and years of daily long-houred practice.
See if you can imitate their posture with the "Marching Band" alignment, and then try the "three sided" suggested alignment (far-side of embouchure hole lines up with key-centers), and see for yourself which posture would allow you to play for up to 8 hours or more a day without any sense of clenching the flute for stability.
IMPORTANT POINTS ABOUT LIP COVERAGE:
Now, the very first time a student changes to this "far edge of the embouchure hole" alignment, they'll feel that the embouchure hole is too turned inward compared to their usual alignment.
The solution is to turn the body of the flute outward, and leave it turned outward so that the lip hole feels like it's either in it's previous position, or even one or two millimeters more rolled out than usual.
Check in the mirror (by bending forward and keenly observing the embouchure hole and lower lip) that the lower lip covers only 1/4 to 1/3 of the embouchure hole and no more.
If you cover more than that your highest octave will be difficult to play, your tone thin, and leaping between distant notes will require huge and disruptive embouchure changes.
In this new position you'll also notice out of your right eye while playing that the keytops tilt very slightly forward making the left hand keys easier to reach, and the right hand keys easy to play with curved fingers dropping from the palm-knuckles.
This optimal finger-position is SO easy when the flute is aligned this way, that all other hand-position problems start to disappear.
Notice too that when your flute headjoint is set up in this way, that when you put it up to your face to play that your left arm doesn't have to cross your chest so dramatically, and instead, by swinging your right arm forward in an arc, that you can allow the left shoulder to rotate back, and down in its socket in a more natural position.
Once you've experimented with the rotation of the left shoulder so that it can freely hang down in its socket, proceed to mark your flute using the extremely brilliant idea below:
EXTREMELY CLEVER IDEA:
Once you have determined a comfortable headjoint placement with regards to assembling your flute, clean off a little area on the barrel and headjoint with a Q-tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol (from drugstore) and affix a tiny set of stickers (cut out little rectangles from a cassette label, or use cuter stickers for children if they prefer.) You can also mark the "set-up" position with coloured nail polish if you'd like a little coloured blob to line up to.
HAND POSITION REMINDERS:
The left hand should act as a "shelf-bracket" to hold the flute's weight just above the lowest knuckle of the index finger, curling it underneath just enough to hold the flute up. If this feels odd, shimmy your left hand down the barrel of the flute a few millimeters, getting closer to the Ab key. If your left hand fingers look curved over the keys, instead of straight, then they will be twice as fast at repeated movements, so get used to this new position gradually, and check often in the mirror to see that those fingers remain curled over the keys at all times.
The right hand should balance the flute ON THE TIP OF THE THUMB, somewhere comfortable underneath or slightly behind the flute , either beneath the F key, or between the F key and the E key (under first trill key) or in special cases, if you need further thumb positions, have a look at the Galway thumb position on his albums. This is also the thumb position that Joanna G'Froerer advocates. See photo at: http://users.eastlink.ca/~jenpublicover/JoannaGfroerer2002.html
If the flute rolling inward still plagues you too often (depending on whether you are working on right hand pinky keys for the first time, for example), and you feel you have to clench your hands to keep the flute stable, a small square of a wine-cork glued on the back of the flute, above the thumb with contact cement, will act as a terrific "roll-bar" and make your whole body more relaxed, while stabilizing the flute in your hands. The new product called the THUMBPORT is also excellent in this regard. See photos at links at very bottom of this page.
So be sure and try these ideas, and send feedback, for I'm utterly convinced that for me, and for every student I've had, that this simple flute alignment principle cures a whole host of future ills for the student.
And with full knowledge of the possibilities, you can always change your alignment to suit if your technique or embouchure approach changes.
Cheers, Jennifer Cluff :>)
The flute is balanced on three points:
A good article on this is now online (2005).
Best, Jen Cluff
One of our team asked how to stop the flute from rolling and/or bobbling out of position when they open the left thumb key to play C or C#.
Here is a video on this topic. And here was my answer:
Experiment with this. Put the rods more and more toward 12 or 1 o'clock and sense when they become perfectly balanced and the flute stops rolling toward you when no fingers are on the keys at all.
You will prove this to yourself in about 2 seconds.
2. To allow the rods to be "upper most" like this, you must experiment with assembling your flute headjoint so that the FAR SIDE of the embouchure hole is in a straight line with the center of the keys.
Once you've found a perfect assembly position and adjusted to it so that you are fully comfortable, you can put small stickers or a dab of nailpolish on the barrel and headjoint so that you can use this assembly position rapidly each time you assemble your flute.]
You will also notice in this new position, with the rods more on top, that the flute's lip-plate will touch MORE of the skin of your chin, so that there is more surface contact.
Allow this chin-skin contact to be sensed (feel for fuller contact with as much of the lip plate as possible), without the need to push inward with the left index finger.
5. Next, observe the left index finger joint where the flute rests.
6. Your left index finger makes a better shelf than it does a forceful pushing-finger. Try this:
It should look like one-half of a prayer, or one-half of clapping, directly in front of your chest.
**You will now find that the flute is at a 40 degree or so angle to your shoulders, hips and chest. Remember to allow your head to swivel to the left as well as remarked earlier.
8. Once the left hand is curved in the normal manner, to reach the left hand keys easily, keep the idea in mind that the left index finger is gently holding the flute from UNDERNEATHE, and no longer needs to be pressing the flute toward your chin.
9. If you find yourself returning to the habit of 'left finger index pressing', shift your left hand more UNDER the flute, instead of on the side of the flute. If this seems uncomfortable, experiment with curling the left hand fingers more, and sliding the left hand down the flute (closer to the Ab key) one or two millimeters at a time, until all four fingers are curved over their keys.
By the end of all your experiments you should find that you no longer rely on the left thumb's pressure on the thumb key at all to keep the flute steady.
Good luck, and ask more questions if you need to.
Question: I'm having some strange problems with my hands lately...
Jen replies: I've had these problems before, and sympathize. I have written all my solutions into a series of articles on relieving hand and arm tension. Go ahead and read that now, and use the links to photos below to look at some pictures of simple flute ergonomic modifications.
In brief, though, here is a short list of things to do:
6. Roger Holman's "Thumbalina" is a cork piece that attaches to the RH end of the flute to stop the need for gripping it to keep it in place. These cost $8 U.S. and are removable, and self-adhesive. 7. The Thumbport is also a new device that's excellent for right hand thumb. I've tried it and would never do without it now.
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