improvements for Intermediate Flutists. How to get great tone.
~ Helpful hints including
special help with the high register flute tone from Jennifer
intermediate tone articles found on this page:
Flute Tone: What it is, how to get it.
Using Trevor Wye's Tone Book?
High register and intonation corrections
A question about orchestral flutist's finesse
Tone Quality and Phrasing
Tone: What great flute tone is, and how to get it:
[From 1995 Manual for flute students~ Jenni Cluff.]
Having a good flute tone is one of
the most important things besides playing the right notes in the right
places, with rhythm and feeling. The player with the most beautiful tone
always ends up getting the best exam marks, the top awards in
competitions, and the top jobs in orchestras, and in making recordings (
as long as they also play the right notes and rhythms with musicality).
So make it your goal to constantly be improving your tone every day, so
that you will be a delight to listen to, even when you're practicing
scales! (Even scales played with beautiful tone are like music to the
ears, ask anyone!). A great flute tone will not only have a
"core" or centeredness to the sound, but will also have very
little airiness, or breathiness. It will ring like a bell, and have the
purity and flexibility of a beautiful, pure soprano voice. The more you
work on centering and ringing your tone, the more tone colours you can
later add, so that you can express music with as many variations in
"colour" as an artist can use on a canvas. Read on for
information on how to make this great flute tone YOUR flute tone.
STEPS TO BEAUTIFUL FLUTE TONE:
Imagine the sound you want to make.
Hear it in your mind as you play.
If you have an idea about what a good tone
is like, from listening to recordings of your favorite players, it is
possible for the body to figure out how to make the same sound all by
itself. The human body's ability to imitate perfectly, without knowing
how it is doing it is almost miraculous at times, so give yourself
something exquisite to imitate, and watch yourself be
able to do it almost without thinking about it!
All you have to do is spend time absorbing that sound, and imagining
that it is possible for you to play the same way. So listen, listen,
listen. Especially to recordings of excellent
flute players with gorgeous tone. ( Can you imagine trying to become an
excellent basketball player without ever having been to a basketball
game or having watched a person play basketball? Then how can a person
become an excellent flutist without listening to excellent flute
Longtones everyday for as long as you can
(at least 15~30 minutes a day.)
( James Galway does at least one hour a day on
Good tone can only happen if you are holding still on a long note. Too
many other things are going on when you're changing notes and playing
pieces of music that move around. In order to
quickly see improvements in your tone you must do as little moving
around as possible, and just stay still on one note and listen, listen,
(More on this under LONGTONES.)
very aware of the feelings in your lips.
As you hold your longtones, wake your lips up to the sensations that
they can feel. The more sensitive your lips are to tiny changes, the
more you can control those tiny changes.
Especially important is the feeling right around the opening in the
lips. As the air streams by the lip tissue around the opening, the
tissue vibrates very slightly, and this vibration is fundamental to good
tone. In fact, the more relaxed the center of your lips are, the more
likely you are to have a singing and silky tone. So allow yourself to
relax the lips slightly and feel with them. Experiment with the
following exercises if your lips are not very awake yet.
THE "WAKE UP
YOUR LIPS" EXERCISES: (Pictures not included in this text-only
1. THE TWO ROLLING PINS EXERCISE:
Pretend your two lips are two rolling pins (alright, blubbery, rubbery
rolling pins, made out of jello...but you know what I mean:) and roll
them under and over one another, back and forth. Stick your bottom lip
over your top lip, and then your top lip over your bottom lip. Do this
several times while becoming aware of the sensation of the inside, wet
part of your lips (the inner lip membrane).
Next, pretend your flute is in place, by putting a finger up to your
chin and making the lip position that you usually use for playing the
flute. Roll your lips over each other so that at first you're blowing
air upwards as your bottom lip comes forward, then you're blowing air
downwards, as your top lip comes forward.
You'll feel like the air is blowing up your nose, then down on your
Let the air stream be continuous. Roll your lips over and under while
the air is still coming out.
Feel the inner membrane at the center of your lips as you do this. Feel
the air blowing past the inner membrane.
Feel your chin moving backward and forward loosely.
Now take your flute and put it up to your chin in your normal playing
position and repeat the lip rolling, with your chin gently moving
forward and back. You do not have to be able to
get a sound that sounds like anything, you'll just want to wake up your
lips so they are free to move in a rolling way over one another.
2. THE RELAXING OF THE LIP-CENTER EXERCISE:
If you totally relax your lips they WILL be like jello, so that is
obviously not terribly useful to flute playing. In order to get a hole
in your lips the same width as the hole in the flute you will have to
compress the corners of the lips and tuck them in a little. However the
center of your lips needs to be just ever so slightly relaxed so that
the lip centers can be mobile, and free to change the size of the lip
opening. So experiment with just how much to relax the lip center by
doing the following experiment:
Play an easy note (a medium G for example) with
full HAAAA making the tightest, tiniest, most excrutiateingly tense lip
hole you can make. This will be a 10 on a tension scale that goes from 1
to 10. (You may get a sound, but if you do it will sound pretty tense
and pretty high, to say the least!)
Now relax the center of the lips just a tiny
bit and play the note again, always at full HAAAAA. (It might now come
out as a lower note than before)
Again relax the lip center just a tiny bit
more, and play the note again.
Keep relaxing a bit more each time until you're
playing at a 1 on the tension scale, a jello lip feeling which makes a
blubbery sound if any sound comes out at all.
Repeat the exercise while being really aware of the feeling in the
center of your lips. What feeling goes with the nicest tone on that
note? Was it an 3 on the tension scale, or a 6, or 5?
How does the inner membrane of your lip feel when you are hearing the
clearest, nicest tone?
Is the center part of your lips relaxed enough to feel the air going by?
Is there a feeling of vibration on the inner membrane of the lips around
the lip opening?
See how it feels to start with blubbery lips and going from 1 to 10,
getting more and more tense. At what point does the tension feel like
too much work and make your jaw feel tense? At
the relaxed end of the tension scale, how relaxed can your lips be
before they feel out of control?
Where is the most comfortable position that also makes the nicest tone?
- THE FORCE OF WIND ON THE INNER LIPS
As you add full HAAAA to a note you can begin to sense the force of
the air pressure pushing against your lips from the inside. When the
air pressure gets to a certain point it can actually turn your lips
slightly inside out, by pushing out the inner membrane (the wet part
on the inside of your lips) a milimeter or so to the outside. The
air pressure practically
splays your lips apart.
Note: all exercises that use the words:
" ah HA!!" are pronounced "aa AA". The "H"
sound is not meant to constrict the throat to hurl the air forward, but
is to activate the lower lungs do hurl the air similar to the way they
do when you laugh or shout.
To feel for this, start a note with no HAAAA on it, and gradually
increase the HAAAAA. (You may have to breath inbetween each increase in
order to have enough air for this experiment.)
As each louder HAAAA is added, relax the center of your lips just a tiny
bit more and more, until you can feel the air pushing the inside edge of
your lips out. When you can feel the inside membrane on the inside edge
of your lip opening vibrating slightly, you have relaxed the lips
enough. Keep playing at that exact level of HAAA, and with that same
feeling, and listen to the tone. How does it sound?
With the same feeling still there, of full HAAAA and a splayed out inner
lip membrane, play around with a scale or a run, without making any lip
changes. How does it sound?
If you have difficulty feeling the air splay out your inner lip
membrane, experiment by saying: Peu, Peu, Peu as you increase the air
pressure ("Peu" as in french.)
( In english it's like saying "Pe.." as in
with the Inner Lips:
Now that your lips feel more sensitive and alive, it is possible to
imagine that you're aiming the air stream with the inner membrane of the
lips, just inside the lip opening.
Picture the airstream as being movable up or down by directing it from
just inside your lips. Roll your lips a tiny bit over and under
eachother while feeling the inner membrane. Picture the air being aimed
from a point inside your lips, just in front of your teeth.
If this image doesn't work right away there is one way to feel it:
Take a straw and chew it flat or grab a spare coffee-stick from a cafe
au lait. Place the flattened end horizontally, just barely inside your
lips, not even in as far as your teeth. Just lay it in between the
center of your lips and gently close your lips on it. Now move it slowly
back and forth until you have make the inner lip membrane a bit more
sensitive. The straw represents the air stream as it passes by the inner
lips. Now, without the straw there, pretend you can still feel it, and
aim your notes on the flute with the inner part of your lips. Listen to
the sound, and experiment with feeling the air being aimed by the part
of your lips that the straw was just touching. Imagine the air passing
the inner lip membrane at that spot while listening for the best tone.
All these lip awareness exercises are actually techniques in advanced
flute playing, so come back to them often to see if they are of any use
on days when your tone is slow to come.
Meanwhile, we'll move on to the question of rolling in and out.
ROLLING IN OR OUT? HOW DO I KNOW WHERE I AM?
From time to time you may hear your teacher tell you that you're too
rolled in (this is quite a common thing), or perhaps too rolled out. It
may seem difficult to figure out exactly how rolled in or out to be,
since, from time to time "rolling in" MORE solves a bad tone
problem, and other times it seems that "rolling out" MORE
makes an improvement. How can you figure this out for yourself?
Take an easy note like low G and play it with your normal embouchure
(the normal shape of lips you use). Keep this shape and don't change it
for this exercise. Check that your chin is up, that your neck is
straight and that the underside of your chin is parallel to the floor.
Take a good big breath and play the note, while very very very slowly
rolling the flute inwards with your hands. Listen to the sound change.
It will get darker and darker, and quieter and then, finally it will
Start the note again from your normal position, and with a good deep
breath play it long, and roll the flute very very very slowly away from
you. Listen as it gets breathier, and windier, less and less easy to
play, and finally the sound disappears when the air can no longer reach
the hole in the flute.
Finally, play the note and slowly roll out and back to the middle, then
roll in, and back to the center. Do this very very slowly.
At what point does it sound beautifully clear? Right in the middle,
right? Choose a different note, and check where it sounds the best.
Again in the middle?
Well, you should never have to roll your flute in or out when you are
playing the flute, it should always be in the middle. So experiment
around to find the middle and then stick to it. Let your hands hold the
flute still at the exact middle point and leave it there for the whole
time you play. If you ever lose the middle point, simply repeat the
above experiment until your ears tell you where the middle point is
BIG HINT: The flute tone will always be best, brightest, warmest, and
most pure, if you roll out just one tiny notch more than you think
you should. Have a friend listen from twenty feet away and tell you what
sounds best: where you (who are hearing from six inches away) think it
sounds best? Or where a listener (at 20 ft. away) thinks it sounds best.
CORNERS OF YOUR LIPS FORWARD AND BACKWARD:
When you make the shape of your lips that you use to play flute, it
helps to tuck in the corners of the lips slightly so that you can create
an oval-shaped hole in the center of the lips. For beginners, this is
the shape that gives you your first sound.
As you begin to learn more and more notes that are higher up on the
flute however, it may seem difficult to hold them up simply by giving
them more air pressure (more HAAAAAA). In fact, there will come a point
where you might feel that you're "HAAAA-ing" your face off,
and the notes are just too hard to hold onto. The air pressure you're
giving the notes is right, but the tone isn't as controlled as you'd
like it to be.
High notes are actually made by two things: more air pressure PLUS
having the airstream travel less distance to get to the hole in the
flute. To shorten the distance the air has to travel from your lips to
the mouthpiece is simple:
Bring the corners of your lips forward.
As you bring the corners forward, the center of your lips puckers into
the kind of shape that you might call "Kiss-shaped". A real
kiss shape is far too much movement, of course, but you'll want just the
tiniest of beginnings of a kiss shape for this experiment.
It is very important that you look in a mirror for this exercise, so
that you can see the lip corners move.
LOOK IN THE MIRROR:
Make the flute mouth shape you usually use, and deliberately
bring the lip corners forward (so that the center of the lips pucker
very very slightly, and get pushed forward.)
Put your flute in place and repeat the forward motion of the corners of
the lips several times until you can do it in an easy and relaxed
manner. It's a gentle motion that actually brings the center of your
lips a few millimeters closer to the far side of the embouchure hole in
the flute. In order to hear the benefits of this motion, play a note and
jump it up the octave:
LIP CORNERS FORWARD FOR OCTAVE JUMPS:
At the same time that you say " ah HAAAAAA" for an octave
jump, bring the lip corners forward as you did in the mirror. Listen for
the best tone, and feel how much or how little you had to move the
corners forward to get the high note to sound well.
Check in the mirror again. How much DO the corners move? Do you find the
high notes easier to play when you've shortened the distance the air has
to travel to the hole in the flute?
Are you remembering that you'll need to pull the corners back again to
get the low notes?
LIZARD LIPS FOR LOW NOTES:
Some people normally have their lip corners quite forward, and that can
cause them to find that their tone on very low notes is not very strong
Or perhaps you have had to leap to a low D in a particular piece, and
you've found it difficult to make the low D "speak". In either
case, you may want to learn to tuck the corners of your lips in, like
tucking them in at the corners, to make a lizard-lip face. (This face is
also very popular with parents at the dinner table, and in bank
The "Lizard Lip" for low notes is created by both the tucking
in of the lip corners and the pulling of your chin back a bit, so that
you create a longer distance between your lips and the embouchure hole
in the flute: Tucking the corners in and back causes the lower lip to be
stretched tighter across your bottom row of teeth, and gives you a firm
edge over which to direct the stream of air.
Experiment with very low notes to see if their tone improves when you
make the lizard lips, and blow the air downward more by jutting out your
upper lip to direct the air downwards (like blowing down toward your
chin in the lip Rolling Pin exercise). Your lower lip may even feel as
if it is covering less of the embouchure hole. This is often helpful for
flat low notes.
The "lizard lips" feeling is especially useful if you're
playing a piece where you have to leap to a low note from a much higher
Check in the mirror. How much do you have to tuck your lip corners in
and back to get a low note to speak right away after a high one? Can you
use this lizard-lip position for all the low notes below low F or E?
Does it help with low C?
LONGTONES ARE YOUR FRIENDS, NOT THE BANE OF FLUTE EXISTENCE!
I remember when I first started studying with the flute teacher who
helped me to improve from a pretty mediocre student to an excellent
flute player (she helped me win four major competitions and get a Royal
Conservatory full scholarship!) My very first lesson was an emotional
disaster. She said:
"YOU"LL HAVE TO GO RIGHT BACK TO THE BEGINNING AND UNLEARN
EVERYTHING. I WANT YOU TO JUST DO LONGTONES!"
I went home to my parents and wailed: "Longtones! I have to
do....... LONGTONES!" like it was a prison sentence. But I could
already play really hard pieces (I was 15), I played in a first rate
orchestra at school, I was supposed to be excellent already!!!!
Longtones were for beginners, weren't they?
You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that almost all instruments
have to do longtones: violins, cellos, basses, trumpets, bassoons,
trombones...you name the instrument (except maybe snare drum) and you'll
hear the best players in the world practicing their longtones.
The reason my flute teacher told me I had to unlearn everything I
already knew how to do, was because I had never learned to do longtones,
and those are the basis of every single thing that you will ever play.
Think about it: What are you doing when you play the following passage?
(picture insert: a Bb scale-type passage that
swoops up and down in a scale-like way) What is your airstream doing
when you take away all the lip changes, take away the tonguing, take
away the fingering and the rest of the complications? ANSWER?
ONE LONG TONE (and in this case, one long Bb).
> (MUSIC NOTATION insert showing how a whole
lot of scale like notes actually pass through the note of Bb at least
half the time.)
And if your longtone is shakey, or has bad tone on it, or keeps warbling
in and out you end up with something that sounds like this: >insdert
(MUSIC NOTATION showing a flowing scale pattern with words underneath
that describe the warbling and mis-firing tone quality:)
<<Scale pattern which should be all
slurred and smooth.....>>
What you actually hear:
(fuzzball......splatt......whoops.....eeek!! egads!! splattorrama!)
Instead of this:
>(insert-MUSIC NOTATION- insert same as above)
(what you hear....)
This is why it's extremely important that you spend up to half your
practice time doing longtones. Without them you are actually wasting the
other time you spend practicing.
Longtones help your tone improve almost instantly. And if your tone is
already pretty nice, longtones will make it even more beautiful.
And within days you will start to feel that all your pieces, scales and
studies are much much much easier to play (because the airstream you
give them will become powerful, steady and reliable), and the amount of
enjoyment that you'll have playing will go way up because everything
will seem so much easier.
After all, almost all music is just one long sound, isn't it?
SO YOU THINK LONGTONES ARE BORING?
Have you ever really spent any time listening to them? I mean really
There is a kind of listening that is extremely refined and artful. And
there is a kind of longtone practice that is a combination of
concentration, and awareness of sound.
Once you have discovered the sounds and sensations of longtone practice,
you will not find it the least bit boring, because you will improve and
improve and improve, everyday.
Do it first for a week or more before you decide whether longtones are
useful or not. I could practically offer you a money back guarentee: you
will sound tons better if you do them.
Here are some things to focus on during your longtones, so that you'll
see what I mean right away:
1. Be aware of the feeling in your lips as you play the longtone. Can
you feel the inner membrane vibrating? Can you feel the air stream being
aimed by the inner lips? Do your lips feel supple and moveable? Does the
tone improve if you bring the corners a little more forward or a little
2. Be aware of the amount of air pressure you're using. Are you using a
full HAAAA so that you can have the brightest possible tone? Is there
enough HA in the air to splay the inner lips out slightly so that you're
sensation of aiming with the inner lips is heightened?
3. Become aware of the feeling of breathing in. Are you filling your
lungs up completely on each breath so that you feel your stomach push
out, your back fill up with air, your chest feel full and strong? Is
your intake of breath silent because your throat is yawning open
slightly when you breath in? Are you able to play for longer and longer
on your held notes as because you're taking in more air? So that you're
gradually getting used to being able to play long pieces of music,
without needing extra breaths all the time? Can you hold a given note
longer and longer every day? (Use the metronome set at mm=60 if you want
to count how many seconds you can hold any given note).
4, Is your throat open as you blow out? Can you relax it open so that
you feel relaxed and unstrained, and your HAAAA muscles can do all the
work for you? Can your face relax so that you feel calm and happy? Are
your shoulders down and relaxed? Do you feel like you're singing with
your chest raised high so it can resonate?
5. Is your posture upright? Do you feel suspended by a helium balloon
tied to the top of your head? Can you gently nod "yes" to see
if your spine is being lifted up and out of your hips? Do you feel light
and bouncy? Is your chest lifted up, and your shoulders down? Is your
back doing the work of holding you up so that your arms can just float?
6. Does your tone sound strong and pure? Can you experiment with your
lips to focus the tone to an even purer one without rolling in?
Do you want to check whether you're too rolled in or too rolled out so
that you can find the best angle for a big warm sound?
And finally, are you staying as still as you can and not changing a
thing as you move from one long note to another (as in Trevor Wye Tone
exercises). Are the two notes in a row exactly the same tone?
If you wish all the notes on the flute to have
good tone you must listen carefully to see if every pair of them sounds
exactly alike. If the first note could be called the colour red, for
example, is the second note exactly the same colour red, or is it green?
Listen very carefully. If the first note is yellow, does the second one
(examples of books to use: Moyse's "De La Sonorite" or Trevor
Wye's "Practice book for the flute Vol. I ~ Tone" or Paula
Robison's "Bell's Warmup" from her book of warmups. All these
feature whole notes slurred in pairs with a crescendo going to the
second note. Each pair of
notes is a semi-tone apart, starting on B2 and going down to low C, and
then for high longtones, starting on B2 and ascending to B3.)
Both notes should have exactly the same sound with no sound of changing
notes, even! Gradually you will work your way up to making all the notes
on the flute sound so much alike that no one listening would ever know
that the flute's three octaves actually sound different. You want there
to be no screeching on the high notes, and no weak sounding breathiness
on the low notes. The whole stretch of the flute should sound
beautifully pure and of the same colour and quality. That is the goal of
The very last thing to say on the subject of tone is about finger
slapping. When you're changing notes in your longtone exercises, be sure
and listen for key noises. Each key should be closed without any bump or
thud, so that it sounds as if you are silkily gliding from note to note.
Listen to each key as it goes down.
Did you hear the change of fingers? If
so,........it was too loud.
The reason the flute is made out of silver is to make it ring when the
air vibrates inside it. We, as flute players have to be aware that the
metal of the keys is not a sound that's very musical. As we go onto the
next chapter and consider finger movements, start to become aware of the
gentle hold you'll need to develop in your hands and fingers, in order
to play accurately, and without tension.
Trevor Wye's Tone Book?
Here's the order of exercises I recommend:
Start your very first longtones on page 7, and
stay there, making a beautiful low register sound and strengthening the
low register for at least a week before moving onto other pages of this
You'll do these page 7 exercises for the rest
of your flutey life as a warm-up so learn them well, and really make an
effort to strengthen your low-register before you attempt higher
The lip-muscle development will be profound,
and will stand you in good stead for work on the middle and high
When you've really mastered page 7, you may
proceed gradually to pages 8 and 9 to continue to develop your
embouchure and lip muscles.
The following few weeks, start on page 7 and 8
and then flip to page 13 to begin longtone practice on the middle
Don't try and rush the process and zip through
pages 13-15, just perfect page 13 thoroughly (get a fabulous tone
especially on notes like E natural in the middle register, before
When you're comfortable moving ahead in the
middle register exercises, make reaching the bottom of page 16 your
At this point you're seeking to make every note
on the flute from middle register B natural all the way down to low C
equal in beauty and strength.
Try not to skip steps. It won't help you at all
to play these exercises hastily or carelessly.
Now, if you're a true keener and want to
scientifically figure out how to play the high register relaxedly and
beautifully, back up and have a look at page 6 where you learn to do
bugle calls on harmonics while fingering low notes. This topic is also
covered below in the next section of this document.
I advise some experimentation on page 6 of the
Trevor Wye Tone book before tackling the high register longtones which I
like to begin on page 20.
Note: Once you're doing longtones everyday, and
starting on pg. 7, then moving to 13, and then moving to pg. 20 for high
register longtones you'll probably find you stay on pg. 20 for a good
long time before tackling page 21.
Don't be surprised about this. Zillions of tiny
muscles in your face and lips are developing steadily and well..and you
need to learn to play relaxed and beautifully before you make the leap
to zipping your fingers around while still keeping your tone as
perfectly as possible.
Be patient, and within about 2 months of doing
the Trevor Wye longtones everyday (for 10 to 40 minutes) you'll start to
hear comments from people all around you:
"Gee your tone is so beautiful!! It's
bewitching!!! How do you get such a beautiful tone?"
Just show them the book, and tell them:
"Page 7, 13, and 20, and don't rush perfection!!!"
Have fun and make the room ring like bells!!!
How to improve
the flute high register
book: "Practicing Hints for Flutists"):
High Register Solutions for folks tackling the high register for the
first time, and for those "coming back to the flute":
The high register takes MUCH MORE AIR SPEED
than the low and middle registers, and the first thing you can learn is
to send the air from the bottom of your lungs upwards to your lips at
really high speeds. There are several images that might help your body
to understand how to do this in the most natural way.
Firstly: stand up to practice this, and stretch the sides of your torso
so that there is as much distance between your hips and your shoulders
as possible. Keep your shoulders down, and create a long distance
between your ears and your shoulders as well.
This means that your body will be very tall and stretchy, and that it
will be in the strongest position to "move the air at high
Next: Take a single piece of paper and hold it dangling from the top
edge, about six inches in front of the music stand, and blow on the
bottom half of it, to see if you can glue it to the music
stand with a powerful jet stream of air. Sense how your entire abdomen
feels when you are performing this task. That's the same feeling you'll
get when you're playing with fast air in the high register.
Next: Play a low G1 with slow moving air, then a middle G2 with slightly
faster air. Finally, finger G3 (take the thumb key off) and blow with
the same force as you did in order to stick the paper to the music stand
a moment ago. Check that the sensations are very similar in your
abdominal muscles. Hear how the high G3 "pops out" when there
is sufficient air pressure.
Another image is: Pretend you have a ping-pong ball and a 70 ft. long,
shiny, polished dining room table, and you start blowing the ping-pong
ball down the table's length.
As it gets farther away from you, you'll need to blow harder and faster
to keep it moving, since your goal is to get it all the way to the far
Be sure your abdominal muscles feel the same way when you're playing
high notes on the flute.
Practicing Octaves as
For practice in using these muscles in order to strengthen them, and get
them to react consistently try this:
Finger any low note, for example low D, and overblow it, without
changing fingerings, to the middle hold it, and then take a breath and
overblow it again to the highest octave (D3, two ledger lines above the
If you compare it to the REAL fingering for D3
( T _ 23|___4) your overblown high D will sound stuffy and feel like it
takes a great deal of air, but this is a good exercise to strengthen the
abdominal muscles and to learn to accurately overblow to a harmonic (for
future use) by using a low fingering and lots of support.
Try overblowing the three octaves (low, middle,
high) with a low E fingering, then F, then F#, then G. If you learn to
play high notes this way (by overblowing a low fingering, or, as it's
called in other systems: "playing an harmonic") then you'll
quickly learn which muscles to use and how to find a good angle for the
air, in order to play in the highest register.
Next, use the same abdominal breath support to play a low D, raise the
top index finger for middle D, and then high use the real fingering for
D3. See how easily it speaks when you use fast airspeed. Continue to do
this on a different note each time you practice so you can get used to
switching from the low fingering to the high (real) fingering.
Each time you switch to the real fingering the note's tone will improve
and you'll feel less stiffness or resistance from the flute, than you
did by just overblowing a "harmonic". The real
fingering will also sound more in tune.
Experiment each day, and in this way you'll learn the fingerings of the
highest octave and how they differ from the middle and low octaves.
Once you've go the hang of this, go on to playing with real fingerings
all the time, and learning to switch smoothly by increasing the air
speed every time you need to jump an octave.
Trouble? If you can't make a high note "pop out" from using
fast air alone, try one of the following adjustments:
~ Because the high register takes the fine-tuning of many embouchure
muscles, it is best to have practiced getting a steady embouchure and
good clear tone in the low and middle registers for at least several
months before attempting too many miscellaneous high notes. Once your
lip and face muscles have developed a bit of strength, they will be more
in control for when you need them all to co-ordinate the shape they'll
assume for the high register.
~ Make sure your headjoint is slightly rolled out for all three octaves
(and please learn to play all notes in this position.. Don't roll it in
again!), so that your bottom lip is covering only 1/4 to 1/3 of the
embouchure hole. If you're too rolled in, high notes just won't come out
~ Make sure that the hole in your lips is in line with the embouchure
hole in the flute, and not off to one side, or missing the hole in the
flute at all. Center your 'lip hole' with your flute's embouchure hole
by looking in the mirror and adjusting it.
~ Make sure the hole in your lips is not too large and loose. For high
notes especially you need the muscles around your lips to be aware, and
"muscular". Try firming the lip hole up by a tiny
amount (NOT TOO TIGHT!) just a bit at a time until you are accurately
aiming the airstream at the hole in the flute, and not spreading the air
stream too broadly.
~ Make sure that, conversely, you're not
tightening your lips so much that you're PINCHING them almost shut, or
squeezing them into a tiny pin-hole to get the high register. Instead,
you need to gently and flexibly bring the corners of the lips forward
(from a "lizard" shape to a "kiss" shape) whenever
you are ascending into the high register. If you don't know anything
about these embouchure changes, go to
above articles, reading about moving
the lip corners foward for high register and back for low register. The
lip corners control the lip shape as the muscles of the mouth SURROUND
the mouth. There are no muscles in the actual lips themselves.
Experiment in a mirror with the lip corners, moving tthem forward as if
making a half "kiss" shape, and you will find that the center
of the lips become loose, flexible and cushiony. Moving the lip corners
forward also shortens the distance between the lip centers and the
striking edge where the air splits over the embouchure plate, making
high notes sound without tightening, pinching, or needing to roll the
flute inward. The flute can stay still, and your lips can make the
distance shorter with a quick and supple movement.
~ Consult your teacher about your high register
embouchure. Basically the premise is that the longer the aiming device,
the more accurate the aim. (Compare a pea-shooter that's one-inch long,
to one that's 12 inches long. Which gives more accurate aim?). The
longer the tunnel between the lips that the air travels prior to
entering the flute, the more accurate the aim for hitting the
"sweet spot" when playing high register (lips in a half 'kiss'
shape can send air more accurately than lips that are tightly drawn
across the teeth.). The shorter the the tunnel between the lips (lips
pulled back at the corners and lips tightly against teeth) the harder it
is to create beautiful high note tone on the flute. Get help with this
at your lessons. A visual demonstration is worth a thousand type-written
~ Remember that for high register you'll need
very fast air: think of the paper, think of the receding ping-pong ball.
~ Check that you really have the right fingerings, by using a fingering
~Make sure that the back molars have a space between them so that the
inside of your mouth is saying "Awe" not "Eee".
~ Keep your throat uninvolved in the process of sending the fast air
into the flute. It should be an open conduit for the air to race through
at high speeds from the lungs. It doesn't have to make any effort to
help. Yawn it open to feel how large and easy a cylinder it can make
when it is allowing the free passage of air. Drop your adams apple down,
and lift up the soft palate at the rear of your mouth's roof. When
you're blowing on a piece of paper against a music stand, remind
yourself how the throat expanded to "get out of the way".
~ Get extra help from your teacher, who may suggest other hints for
Now that you're able to play quite a few high notes (up to approx. F3)
the more time you put into practicing your high notes, the better your
tone will sound, and the more control you'll start to develop over your
fast airstream and your embouchure muscles.
Remember however, that since facial muscles can tire easily, and your
goal is to eventually play high notes in a relaxed and effortless way,
that to start out you should have brief "high note practice
sessions" and not become over-tired or tight-muscled. It's best to
warm up first on low and middle register notes, take a break, and then
practice some high notes, take another break, and then go back to low
and middle register again.
Whatever you do, please don't over-do it on the high register, or you'll
hurt your muscles, and learn to play in a tense and tiring way.
A good motto for poising the human body is: Let the BIG muscles do the
work. Let the small muscles save their strength for the gentleness of
In other words.....use the torso muscles for pushing the fast air.
Don't involve small muscles like throat, upper chest, face and jaw,
since they tire to easily and aren't acually helping to move air or
position the flute.
To prove this point to yourself--practice leaping octaves using chiefly
your airspeed. ie: ahhhhAAAAAA!!! ahhhhAAAAA!!!
Then with the tiniest movement of the lip muscles, make the changes
necessary to the upper note to insure that it sounds as good as it does
when you're approaching it by step (as when you do your longtones.)
If you don't yet do daily longtones for tone in the high register (as
well as the medium and low registers of course), please continue
Note: all exercises that use the words:
" ah HA!!" are pronounced "aa AA". The "H"
sound is not meant to constrict the throat to hurl the air forward, but
is to activate the lower lungs do hurl the air similar to the way they
do when you laugh or shout.
For self-teaching beginners, the best way to gradually increase
your knowledge of ledger lines and the fingerings of the flute's highest
register, is to add one new note to your longtone
practice every few days. That way you're asking your brain to recognize
only one new note every few days, and you can add them IN ORDER, and
Start with B2 (the middle register B that's on one leger line above the
staff) and play it as a beautiful longtone for several minutes, until
it's a gorgeous as possible. Breath naturally, and as required,
remaining in your best posture and without strain.
Just listen to that B. Check in the mirror that your posture is tall (as
in Level ONE) and that the hole in your lips is centered etc. When you
finally have it sounding really well, open the thumb key, and slur to a
C without changing your lips. Hold the C with the exact same gorgeous
tone as the B. Match the two note's tone quality exactly so that your
ears can't tell them apart.
Once the C is just as nice in tone, start on IT, and open one more
finger to slur to a C#.
Continue this chromatic series of longtones until you reach at least
F3.and then rest. When you start again the next day, go one note higher,
Spend several practice sessions smoothing out
the tone from B2 to F#3 before adding G3 as your next longtone. This
exercise is written out in Marcel Moyses' "De la Sonorite" and
also in Trevor Wye's "Practice Book for the Flute"; Vol. I:
Tone; and in Paula Robison's warmup book where it's called "Bell's
Once you've started any of these books, and
done the longtones in it (preferably with your teacher's help) you can
continue on to the exercises that ask you to play not just two chromatic
notes in a row, but three, four and five notes in a row, all with the
goal of finding the correct amount of airspeed and the right
"embouchure shape" for all the notes to sound equally
You may also enjoy doing this exercise as it's written in Paula
Robison's "Warmup Book" where she uses a jaunty metronome
rhythm to add a triplet beat to the "Bell's Warmup" as she
It's the same exercise, but she asks you to think of ringing the tone
like a bell. Very fun.
Remember, the higher you go, the faster the air has to be, so crescendo
into each new note, so that your air is getting faster and faster the
higher you go.
Problems? Longtones too boring for you?
Try one of the following:
~ Make the room ring like a glass crystal. See if you can fill the air
with a gorgeous singing sound, like an opera singer warming up, or like
a top-notch flute player's tone from one of
your favorite flute CDs.
~ See if you can hear every subtle thing about each long held note all
the way through, like looking through a microscope at an incredibly
intricate texture or pattern. The goal is to be
"interested in the details" of what you're hearing.
~ See if you can crescendo evenly in to
each successive note, so that there are no lumps or bumps, but just the
smoothest possible finger changes, and an uninterrupted airstream
ringing and singing out of your flute.
The tone gets worse
and worse the higher you go?
In general the tone may sound worse at first but will start sounding
better after a few practice sessions. However if it keeps happening, ask
yourself whether it happens on a particular
note every time. If the tone sounded really nice on one note, and really
on the next note, see if one of the following things might have
~ Your fingers slammed the keys too hard and the flute
"bobbled" out of position on your lip.
~ You had to take your thumb off, and the flute rolled inward toward
you, causing a different (and worse) angle of the airstream.
~ You changed your lips drastically when you changed your fingering. Lip
changes should be minute and even unnoticeable when you become adept at
just moving the inner lip membrane.
~ You pinched your lips shut, and created a
spitty, constricted sound or....
~ You made your lip hole too big and loose, and the air wasn't able to
be aimed accurately.
All of these problems will eventually go away if you use soft, gentle
fingers, close to the keys, avoid sudden movements of the lips (keep
lips the same for notes that are neighbours to
eachother), and endeavour to be as smooth and as "slow motion"
as possible. If your teacher isn't around to help you, use a mirror to
see where you're making a sudden movement, or slamming a key too hard,
and you'll soon be your own "Sherlock Holmes" and spot the
problem in the mirror.
* * * * * * * * * *
High Register Solutions, continued. Several
points will act as reminders and may appear again and again in these
hints sections as you progress. It's so easy to forget when you're doing
so many things at once, that I find it helpful to have "hinty"
At this level of high register flute
playing, there is no substitute for the excellent and inexpensive slim
volume by Thomas Filas called: Top Register Studies for Flute. The
publisher is Fischer, and this book is readily available at larger music
stores (or they can quickly re-order a copy for
If you need to order by mail try: www.fluteworld.com
or Topwind in the U.K.
Filas says in the introduction that there are three steps to performing
the top register of the flute with ease and fluency:
1) Reading the notation easily, through daily playing
of one or
more of the three-line studies each day and making a direct link from
the printed note with its leger lines, and your instant fingering of
2) The Execution of top register intervals in all keys.
The book starts with C major/A minor and then gradually adds flats and
sharps to introduce you to various combinations and to improve the
polish and ease of your finger-changes in the high register.
3) The Articulation of top register intervals; the
coordination of tongue, lips and fingers with breath control, enabling
you to play the three-line studies with no slower and faster bits, but
just solidly and easily.
The great thing about these short studies is that they sound like
adorable fragments of truly fun/goofy music. They're easy to listen to
as well, and very smooth and pretty.
No two are exactly alike, and yet they cover every high note, every key,
and every weird possible fingering in the top register of the flute.
So here are my studio suggestions of how to practice the Filas Top
1. The key to practicing these is to begin very very slowly in tempo,
perhaps at quarter note= 60 on the metronome...and to at first play the
three line study through all slurred, breathing as
If anything about it seems difficult, break your Filas study down into
easily conquorable pieces. For example:
a) It can be very relaxing physically to just play three or four notes
of each bar several times, and then holding the last note out like a
longtone. Then choose three or four other notes in the same bar (move
your starting place around each time you've managed well) and play them
b) If a particular large leap to a high note is giving you trouble, stop
and relax, and then start on the lower note that you must leap from and
very easily do chromatic longtones up to the note that you will leap to.
ex: F3 to A3 leap too tough?
Play a beautiful F3. (Walk up to it chromatically if necessary from B2
as if you're re-checking your high longtones from your earlier warmup
Now play F to F# and hold.(always crescendo to the second note when
Match the tone of the two notes.
Then play long held F# to G. Then: G to G#.
Then: G# to A.
If you've matched the tone all the way up, and left your lips as near to
the position they started in, and fingered delicately, and not changed
anything drastically in your embouchure, then you'll
have found the right "mouth" and wind speed for the high A.
Memorize the feeling of that "mouth", and then play with that exact
same mouth when you move from F3 to A3.
c) If a series of notes seems to lose air, and have unstable support
from your lungs for the tone try this:
PUSH through the notes as if your air must reach the end of
three-notes-in-a-row. Make your airstream like a river that's always
running ahead to the next place.
It could be that your airspeed was becoming static, and only vertically
supported (like saying a short "HA!!" instead of a long "HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!"
So be aware that your lung support and torso muscles will feel
constantly helpful, and are not going flabby during a series of notes.
d) fingers must stay low to the keys and relaxed. If you come across a
note you're not familiar with, or a finger exchange from one note to
another that gives you instant-dyslexia, take 10
minutes or so to sit down, check the fingering chart, look at your
fingers, and make a metal connection between which fingers are rising
and which are falling.
The last thing you want to do is "flail" at an unfamiliar
fingering. It would be like sending a novice out in a one-man-sail-boat
in a heavy wind....how long do you imagine it would take until all the
sails and ropes are banging about in the breeze and the whole boat is
listing right and left, and getting waves over the side?
So don't bother with this flailing. Sit down, bring the flute's keys
close to your eyes, and closely watch your fingers go up and down from
one note to the next. And when they're up, leave them close enough to be
able to go down again without any wasted effort.
2. Know all the notes, and have great tone throughout all bars of the
study now? Okay...now we can go slightly faster.
a) increase the tempo very gradually, but no faster than you can do it
b) leave the study in little chunks, and pause often, holding a note, to
make it like a longtone ending to a mini-group of notes.
c) breath when you need to (make the mini-groups small at first) and
take a good fully-rib-expanded breath when you need to as well. Don't
wait too long to take a breath and play with no air in your lungs. This
will only tighten your body, face and throat up unnecessarily.
d) design your own little melodies from these mini-groups of notes, and
feel free to expand them into your own invented compositions.....adding
trills or held notes, or adding
decorative notes...or even improvising just out of pure creativity.
(This helps release your sense of freedom in music.)
3. Take a break. Stretch and relax.
If you're really clever, you'll put on a CD of a fabulous singer
(classical or R&B, jazz or folk even) or truly great and inspiring
FLUTE player and just bask in the ease of their high notes. Their lung
control will become a familiar sound while secretly your body will
absorb the familiarity with beautiful soaring sounds and begin
biologically processing how to emulate it.
4. Come back to your Filas three-line study later that session or later
that day, and play through the whole thing a few times, all slurred and
slowly. Any fingery areas that cause stumbling or any areas of bad tone,
circle in pencil.
5. Work very slowly on the pencilled areas, and repeat suggestions
mentioned in number 1 above. (longtoning up to high leaps, moving the
air forward toward a goal note.)
6. The next day, go through the same process, and speed the three line
study up slightly. Each time you speed it up, focus on the beauty of
soaring phrases, and what emotional interpretation you'd try with this
if this were a piece you were emoting.
You can certainly attempt dynamics, just for fun and fooling around with
colours and expression. But by and large you'll want to play at a
soaring mezzo forte, with occasional swells to fortes.
(Playing piano or pianissimo in the high
register will be covered in my up coming book. But if you're anxious to
get to it right away, first learn the method of controlling dynamics
recommended by Fiona Wilkinson in "The Physical Flute". Use it
in low and medium registers as a preparation for high notes. See article
on "Wilkinson's Vowel-shape dynamics" on Jen
Cluff's Flutenet files or on this site under DYNAMICS in the novice and
intermediate level articles..)
7. As the week progresses, experiment with adding the articulations
(staccatos should be produced like a short "HA" with the air
being stopped in the lungs, not in the mouth), and the lungs should
continue to feel supported and not go flabby immediately after a
8. Continue to speed up the study until it's just ROLLING from phrase to
phrase like a river. Make a new emotive statement with it each time you
feel it's familiar and easy.
Another great thing about these studies is that they're in 12/8 and
pieces in divisions of three roll forward very naturally like a wheel
going round and round. Lean on the downbeat slightly in
each bar if you like, to feel the overall rolling motion. (like a funky
9. Just a reminder. Never sacrifice tone. Everything about these studies
starts and ends with great tone. So remember that you must practice each
day. If you've not practiced for a few days or
weeks, go back to step one willingly and happily.
At no point do you want to feel tight, fatigued or frustrated.
10. ABOVE all: ALWAYS use very low finger heights, and very little
You should be touching the keys as though they were butterfly wings or
rice paper. Any thumping will only slow you down. So if a fingering is
unfamiliar, stop and look at your fingers,
and really discover which fingers are going up and which down, so that
they don't panic and FLY up and down in a hysterical way.
Make mental connections to them as they change from note to note, and
allow them to feel secure, so they don't jump up high off each key, but
instead hover securely over the key that they're about to depress again.
The more speed and flow you add to each of these studies, the lower your
fingers can be, and the less pressure on the keys.
When you see a professional flying around on the high register on their
flute, you'll notice that it seems effortless. The only effort their
body is making is the air-speed and lung muscle
support. So if you LEARN the high register with this sense of ease and
effortlessness, you'll never have to "Un-do" the harsh,
shrieking and pounding stage that is SO unattractive, and VERY tiring in
band-only or self-taught players.
Take my word for it: folks will think your high register is
"Angelic" after only a few months of Filas Studies. And
eventually, the cat and dog *will* love you again (try pet treats
at end of high register practice sessions.)
Have fun. Be creative.
Intonation and high register playing:
LETTER FROM FLUTENET MEMBER:
>I noticed as I go up the scale, I move my bottom jaw out, then at
some point around E3 or F3 (I think) I pull it back and blow more down
into the hole. Then I start over (so to speak) pushing
the lower jaw out more to get the higher notes. I can feel myself
getting very tense in the third octave. Any thoughts on loosening up in
the third octave? and improving my 3rd octave
notes? They all sound like crap.
Dear Jane and other "crappy high note" sufferers. :>D I too
was taught to play by moving the jaw, and by 28 had to have my jaw
realigned due to TMJ (dentist filed my teeth to
correct occlusion) and a whole lot of massage therapy on my jaw muscles
because they had created great "thunks" and "clicks"
during normal use, and there were even a few scary nights where I woke
up with my jaw lodged painfully open (no jokes you guys---it HURT!!).
Please take this as a warning.
I now teach not to manipulate the jaw to change the angle of the
airstream but to use the soft tissue of the lips to blow at various
higher and lower angles.
- Picture the lips as moving DIAGONALLY and in
opposite directions to create angle changes. Instead of jaw-forward,
think: "Upper lip moves diagonally in and down for loud
playing. For soft playing the lower teeth rise, and this causes the
lower lip to move diagonally out and up." See if the jaw can be
slung open and free of tension at the hinges while doing so. If it
is thrust forward or back, it is simply too much work, and makes too
huge a change to the flute's position on the lip. The jaw goes
slightly back and slightly forward just from being open and closed a
very small amount. You don't actually need to MOVE it. It moves when
the lips move.
- We must work more with a "long
barrel" on the lip opening to direct the air. And to do this we
must manipulate the "inner membrane of the lips (the wet part
on the inside) as a longer fleshy "aiming device". In my
file on "Intonation in ensemble playing" that's on the
Flutenet "Files" page (click on the word files on the left
hand side of the Flutenet homepage and look for my name) I made a
whole host of suggestions for high register tone and tuning.
I also have a half-completed article ON the high register, from
beginner level to expert, coming along at a tortoise-rate, for
future publication. But in the meanwhile, here's an excerpt of
experiments to try:
******From "Flutenet Files" Intonation in Ensembles.*****
EXTRACTS from othe articles on this site that relate:
For great flute tone without playing sharp::
2) The flute embouchure hole in general needs
to be 'not too high' on the lower lip, or the intonation never really
gets "centered" and a lot of jaw and lip overcorrections begin
happen. In your regular daily practice, spend time on each of the
following to be sure that you've found a position of the flute relative
to the mouth that allows MOST notes to come out close to
"in tune". You'll want to do and re-do these experiments for a
lifetime of flute playing. But in an emergency, see if one or more gives
you the "centered" sound you need for now.
a) Try opening your jaw more; imagine there are blackballs between your
back molars, so that you drop your jaw open and say "Awe".
This really works to bring down the pitch of sharp high
notes, especially altissimo notes (notes above high B natural or B3 as
b) Try rolling the flute out 1 to 2 milimeters more than usual and
poking your upper lip over in a "beak" shape to aim the air
also helps to imagine there's an airpocket between
your teeth and your upper lip that aims the air downward for high notes.See
c) Try getting more contact between the embouchure plate and the chin
area. If the lower lip is pursing forward too much, you may be aiming
too high for the high register, and thus sharpening by too acute an
angle. Instead of aiming high, narrow the hole in the lips by gently
pressing the bottom lip against the upper to reduce the size of the
aperture for high register playing.
d) Try working on keeping the pressure of the lip plate as low as
possible to allow the bottom lip a great deal of freedom. This goes
along with more chin contact on the lip plate.
In Roger Mather's book The Art of Flute Playing, he
suggests that the final, lowest contact point (after much experimenting)
will be against the roots of the lower teeth on silver flute
headjoints (piccolo placement will be a touch higher).
The embouchure hole will *always* be at the red line of the lower lip,
but the "pressure" point will be much lower, to allow the lip
When I went thru' his book and gradually lowered the pressure point, I
lost my tendency to play sharp. [One of the problems of
"jawing" is that the approach angle to the flute is rarely the
same twice. If the flute's pressure is NOT on the lip, but below the lip
proper, then the lips changes
will not displace the flute itself.]
e) If the high notes sound tight, thin or spitty, think of raising
the very center of your upper lip aperture by one or two milimeters.
Pull up from a line vertical to the center of your nose.
This particular "hint" made
a HUGE difference to me personally, and is a quick fix for many high
register tone problems.
It could be that you've made your lip hole too long and narrow, and
there was no room for the airstream to have any "height" as it
left your lips. Sometimes just "thinking" this arc in the
upper lip is sufficient to open up your high note sound and make it
sound freer and more ringing and "glistening."
f) Try aiming up for the lowest register, and aiming more downward for
the highest register (using the inner lip membrane moving diagonally).
When we're beginners we often are told the opposite, to angle the
airstream higher for high note, and angle down into the flute for
lownotes. At a certain level of advanced playing, it's best to picture a
bit more of the opposite in order to place the notes "in
tune". Don't over-do this angling: sometimes all you need do is
"think" the angle change and that'll cause a tiny shift that
is sufficient to tune the notes.
(see also number 5, from the Physical flute, below.)
3) Experiment with "Blowing from the belt." Alot of shifting
intonation problems really stabilize when you do the "belt
trick". Pretend there's a belt done up two notches too loose around
your waist. When you breath in, and also as you blow out, keep the belt
taut around your waist. (try with a real belt to see if you're doing it
right.) This really works!!!
4) Sing the pitches you're playing one or two (or even more) octaves
below, and then play the flute parts while "silently singing"
the pitches you're playing. The lungs will resonate deeper, because
their size for a pitch is matching the flute's size for the pitch. You
wouldn't believe the deep harmonics you'll hear when you silently sing
your flute parts, and it really brings sharpness down in the high.
5) From Wilkinson's "The Physical Flute":
Picture the harmonic series of possible notes above and below the
sounding pitch as a vertical ladder of sounds. (for ex. on a low C,
overblow as high as you can to recognize the ladder of sounds available
with all fingers down.) Now visualize this ladder when you play any of
the notes on it. If you're playing a high G, aim your air so that you
can still get an aural inkling of that low C; if you're playing a low D,
aim the air so
that you still hear an inkling of a D3. This lets high notes sound less
sharp, and lowest notes sound less flat.
Since 99% of pitch problems are cured by listening and singing, I'll
suggest that pitch trouble can be overcome with the use of (human)
"body resonances"...and not the instrument but the player
can fix it. Even superbly in-tune headjoints and flutes sound out of
tune without body resonance.
If you play as if you were "singing" you know you'd hit the
right pitches with your voice, so have the same notion: Sing your parts.
Good luck, and let us know what helped.
5. A question about orchestral flutist's finesse
A question about orchestral flutist's finesse
From a student on Flutenet:
> Your articles are AWESOME! I'm only half way through with
them and I can't wait until tomorrow when I can sit in front of my
mirror and play long tones and > scales and practice my articulation
ALL DAY... Ok, I'm > a little extreme, but on a more serious note, I
find your writing incredible and very interesting, to say the least,
especially these vowel dynamics. I may not have read/experimented enough
to ask this question, > but I'm curious to know how you manage those
beautiful note endings and nuances and resonances characteristic with
many great orchestral flutists (something I'm > messing around with
at the moment). If you really do > like reading about me and more of
my many > ugly-sounding experiences and adventures in attempting >
to play the flute, I have a book full of thoughts and > questions in
my head just waiting to be expressed. <snip>
> My playing lacks the many aspects of a truly > refined, focused,
and stylisticly, tonally, > intonationally (making up words here) and
technically > adept performance. Luckily, a passion for music and
> musical thinking is second nature to me now, so just > using the
flute to express that is my problem. > Thanks for any help you can
Your own teacher will help with this as well, but I can get you
started with some ideas about note-ending and diminuendos with which to
end phrases beautifully. I'll start
with the basics: _______________________
1. The very first thing to practice is holding a long-tone on an
easy note, and cresendoing slowly and steadily, listening to
your tone to insure it still sounds perfect all the way up to a forte,
and then dimuendoing again back to your starting volume. The
cresc. and dim. should be very slow and gradual (no lumps or bumps).
You may want to picture several whole notes
tied together of a low G for example, that has a long cresc. for two
bars, and then a long diminuendo for 2 bars.
You want it to sound very smooth and
gradual. The steady, even and
flowing quality of the air that this exercise engenders is good for a
mental 'posture-check-in', good for breathing deeply, good for your
co-ordination (as you've lots of air for only one long note, and can
measure your own timing so that you can get *used* to swelling one long
note for however long is comfortable to you at each stage of your
development) and is creative-sounding; like creating pure sound waves.
You also learn to control your
support-muscles, naturally, through asking them to do a simple task
well. You can start with easy low
and middle register notes, and then move your range outward from the
easy starting notes into more difficult notes.
Over a month or so, gaining proficiency in long
slow crescendos and diminuendos, the under-pinning of all expressive
music, you'll really develop some expressive colours and abilities, just
by listening and experimenting. These
*are* the underpinings of all music, but even easier than
printed-dynamics on sheet music, because you don't have to move your
fingers at the same time.
All you have to do is experience the zen of the
whole thing, even without looking at the music stand.
This is the beginning for everything
about expressive playing. Simultaneously
you'll hear and begin to understand the natural proclivities of the
flute as you put first more air into it, and then when getting softer,
You'll notice that:
When you crescendo on
the flute it tends to go sharp.
When you diminuendo the
flute's pitch tends to go flat.
These are some of the flaws of the
instrument that the string players, like violin and cello, don't have
to deal with. (when they draw their bow slower, or lighten off their
bow and arm pressure, the note doesn't go amazingly flat like the
flute's notes do. Lucky them!!) So
there are a couple of interior adjustments we have to learn in order
to add dynamics to a phrase or note in music, and especially in
learning to end notes and phrases as beautifully as a violin does when
it leaves a ringing note in the air.
Famous flute teacher's method books
cover some of these basics,and you'll find exercises specifically
designed to teach these flute techniques in the following titles:
Practice book for
the flute- Book One -TONE
and his Book Four - INTONATION
Marcel Moyse's - De La Sonorite
Robert Dick's - Tone Development
Through Extended Technique
Walfrid Kujala's Articles in
three parts: Jawboning and the Flute Embouchure. This
article is found in three places:
1987 Flutetalk magazine May/June, and also
Sept. and Oct. '87
1971 "The Instrumentalist" Magazine
The Anthology of articles published for the
fiftieth anniversary of "The Instrumentalist". Look for all
these three journal sources at a University library or order using
"interlibrary loan" from your public library.
And there is a very interesting
description of this in the fabulous book by Thomas Nyfenger
called: "Music and the Flute" (which I found
through Interlibrary loan at the public library, so maybe you will too.
:>) But until you get ahold of
one or more of these books (or ask your teacher for a loaner of the
pages from Wye or Moyse) I'll
try and get you started:
First of all consider:
2. Getting Louder without going sharp:
The airspeed and support coming
from your lungs may be greater when crescendoing to a rich and full
sound, but you don't want to push the pitch sharp by "over
blowing"---therefore you need a way of tempering the air BEFORE it
gets to the flute.
As you blow faster and faster air, you
need to pull down the upper lip so that the jaw hinges open a little,
and you can gently drop your jaw down, a tiny amount ie: 3 milimetres. (
The jaw hinges should be open and freely hanging like an easily strung
hammock). With the upper lip pulled down a tiny amount feel as if you
can open and relax your lip opening, or aperture, making it larger, in
order to let the air stream very slightly slow down and mellow before
rushing into the flute at great volume.
Having a larger mouth syllable like
"Awe" insures that your tongue is well out of the way and
there is a maximum resonating chamber (like a Cathedral) inside your
mouth cavity for the air to slow down in before reaching the flute.
Relax your jaw, relax your neck, relax your
Make your mouth feel very open.
This more open mouth syllable will also allow
the sound of the flute to re-echo back into the mouth and create a
really lovely full-body tone colour. (like a singer's "body
resonance".) If you're clever,
you'll also open your chest, throat and nasal cavities as much as you
can so that your largest double forte rings your whole resonating
chamber system, inside your body.
Singing the note an octave or two lower, can also help your body pitch
itself to resonate this note back and forth between your cavities and
the flute. This can be an amazing
sound, and if you stay very relaxed from the chest all the way up to
your face and lips, can become almost effortless to produce (except for
the large torso muscles below the chest pushing the air really fast and
In Moyse's book "De La Sonorite"
he calls the gradual acquiring of this relaxed LOUD state, the
"Fullness of Tone" exercise.
You begin on any easy middle register
note such as the C natural in the middle of the staff. It looks like a
really long whole note with a pause over it, and it's marked pp, then
breathe and start p, then breathe and start mp, then breathe and start
mf etc. all the way up to ff.......but each one is a long and gradual
crescendo up to the next one.
You always breathe between each degree
Because it's difficult to start the note 'ppp'
as you shortly will be asked to do, Moyse explains that you first just
play a basic C mezzo forte with good clear tone, in order to
find the 'sweetspot' for a C on the headjoint, and assure yourself that
you're know where C is before you have to manipulate it.
Once your mf C is tested, and
centered, you take a deep and relaxed breath and start to play a ppp C,
gradually and evenly crescendoing until you reach 'p'. (this is for a
long whole note with a pause over it.)
When you reach 'p'......... pause, and
keep holding that perfect C at the dynamic 'p'. Take
a deep breath and start a C at p and crescendo to mp. Hold and
pause at mp.
Take a deep breath and start a C at mp
and crescendo to mf. Etc.
Keep doing this until you are fully open
and relaxed on an 'ff' C. Over a
series of days you can add different pitches to this exercise, but you
only do it for less than 15 minutes a day.
The goal is to learn to get a fuller and
fuller tone, and to control its growth very slowly so that you become
aware of a zillion infintesimal degrees of dynamics between all the
ppp pp p mp mf f ff ffff.
And that you teach yourself to control pitch
and tone as you get fuller and fuller and fuller.
3. Avoiding flatness when performing diminuendos:
After a few weeks of doing cresendos and
diminuendos on long tones, and then some "fullness of tone"
above, you may wish to further perfect your diminuendos for use as
phrase ends and note ends. Note:
Even Moyse mentions in his book that diminuendos can be very tiring to
the lips, and not to over-do them.
10 minutes a day for a few weeks should
be enough, once you've begun to master the two other exercises above.
Your airspeed may well become less when you
diminuendo, but the air-pressure shouldn't sag so much that the note
starts to go flat. So keep the airspeed very slightly faster than you
think it should be when playing softly. This
is important to visualize for most of us.
The air may not be under much pressure
in soft playing (the gut muscles aren't pushing that hard, they're more
sort of "floating" the air out) but the amount of the air, the
volume of air, should still be flowing out quite fast.
So....in order to aid the steady but slow
volume of air coming from your lungs to go at a slightly faster speed as
the air gets closer to reaching the flute, you can change the
inside of your mouth to a smaller chamber, so that, using the Venturi
principle, the air will move faster through a smaller
space (like putting your finger over the end of a hose makes water
that's just trickling out, start the stream of water shooting out fast
Kujala, the Chicago Symphony flutist writes
extensively on using the lower teeth as a way to play softly. His
acronym is PLOT. Plot stands for: "Piano----LOwer teeth UP".
By bringing the lower teeth upward in the mouth, the mouth's size is
smaller, the height inside the mouth is reduced, and the air speeds up
as it goes through the mouth cavity.
Lips should remain poised, not too
tight, and not too tense, still soft and cushy, but definitely more
"alert" than when playing loudly and relaxedly.
To practice this, use the vowel
syllables from "The Physical Flute" by Fiona Wilkinson, on an
easy low note like A, and listen carefully to ensure that you stay at
the same pitch no matter how softly you blow.
Take a deep breath, and starting loudly hold a
long low A, and gradually diminuendo from ff to pp. Use
the interior mouth syllables below, and don't change your lips until
just at the softest possible "ooooh" syllable, where you will
"feather off' the end of the note with the lower lip aiming up and
outward very gently.
From loud to soft you can try the
Syllables: Awe Aye
ehh eeee oooooh (also see my
article on "Vowel
dynamics" for fuller description.)
Keep the flute in the same place on your
chin-skin the whole time, and avoid puckering it away from you. It
should make flat contact with your chin skin, and the airspeed should
always be slightly faster than you think it needs to be to keep the
sound rich and ringing.
Keep the air coming even past the point when
the note has stopped sounding, so that the air-support, no matter how
slight, is going BEYOND the end of the note, like a little comet-tail of
air that follows the note out into the imaginary hall that you will one
day fill with this beautiful tapered off note.
Let this practice become part of your
"poise" check, everyday when you're warmed up and looking to
develop your finesse.
If you've got a good ear, you should
notice immediately whether you're dropping in pitch as you get softer,
and will make a zillion of microscopic lip, air-speed and mouth
adjustments to teach yourself how to keep the A perfectly in tune all
the way to ppp.
[If you're unsure whether you're staying
on the same pitch you can use The
Tuning CD (highly recommended) or an
electronic tuner, an A that drones out of your metronome, or can hold a
piano chord (fun to use different chords that contain an A) while
holding down the sustain pedal of a piano.
An electric keyboard could even sustain a chord
for you to play against, if you have one of those. :>)
Work at this only for a few minutes at a
time, and do a little each day..... Soon
you will have a whole pallet of dynamic colours to play with, as well as
better and better control at perfectly in-tune crescendos, diminuendos,
and note endings.
Ask more questions for more specifics.
quality and phrasing
1. Great tone is about making the flute ring; finding
the sweetspot on the embouchure hole's far side, splitting the air over
it neatly; relaxing the lip opening just enough to control the air with
a long barrel of inner-lip giving really accurate aim.
A constant stream of air is needed, and the lung, throat and mouth
cavities have to be open to let the sound resonate.
You hone all these tone-development skills while doing chromatic
longtones (ex: B to Bb, Bb to A, A to Ab), as Moyse (De La Sonorite) and
Wye show in their Tone Exercises books.
Longtone exercises start initially by joining just two notes together,
then three, then four.....so that you learn how to ensure the tone stays
pure no matter *what* your fingers are doing or how many of them are
going up and down.
It's all about finding the "ringing spot" on the headjoint for
all the notes of the flute, and you might as well do this on every
single note you play all the time you're playing.
That's why I too always start with tone above all other issues when
2. On the other parallel road of development is Phrasing:
Great phrasing (or joining the notes together in a musical sentence that
has a river-like continuity, direction and a goal) is a twin skill to
It relies firstly on the continuity of the airspeed and support of the
exhale and then, eventually, on the ability to "colour" the
exhale, so that the flute sounds as if it's a singer with
something to SAY, when they sing.
Instead of just joining two notes, or three, or five, or nine......whole
sentences of notes are put together.
To work on phrasing:
First the exhale has to become steady and long: As if you're blowing a
continuous stream of bubbles with a child's bubble-blowing soap-toy.
(try this for real too.) The air has to flow STEADILY, and not whoosh
all out at the first blow.
A long chain of constant soap bubbles through a bubble ring, is what
Then add to this that specifically, for the flute, your controlled and
constant airstream has to have continuous air-support even when the
lungs are half-emptied.
To spontaneously learn this you can imagine blowing a ping-pong ball
down a really long 70 ft. dining room table (at eye level), and keeping
the ball rolling all the way to the end. (try this live too! :>)
As the imaginary "ball" gets farther and farther away, you'll
discover that you use more and more natural abdominal support to keep
the air coming at the same speed.
This is about creating a constant flow-rate of air through very open
throat, mouth and chest cavities, with no excess tension.
As you get better and better at this, practice inhaling each time
without tension, and jumping right back in and continuing that constant
river of air.
As you get better at doing this on two or three notes at a time, then
you can try it out on an easy piece of music that you'd love to hear
smoothed out. (you're looking for purity of sound throughout longer and
longer groups of notes at this stage.)
Finally: To this skill of air-continuity, you eventually add human
emotional "expression", just like a singer does when they sing
Over time you teach yourself that your exhale must be able to crescendo
and diminendo on strong and weaker parts of the phrase, just as when
singing meaningful words to a song.
For example: as the phrase becomes more impassioned, the airspeed
becomes stronger and richer.......if the phrase has quiet and more
thoughtful bits, the airspeed slows down, and the lips stay poised to
keep the air spinning out softly.
If you compare this to the ping-pong ball dining-room table image, its
as though you learn to blow faster and then slightly slower again, in
order to speed up and slow down the ping-pong ball's progress even as
it's getting farther away from you. :>)
But I would think it most useful if both of these things, Phrasing and
Tone Quality, are developed side by side.
Tone excersises join a handful of notes together, and phrasing joins
longer and longer groups of notes, just as smoothly.
While practicing, alert ears will allow the flutist to spot whichever
one is the weaker of the two:
- did I lose the tone?
- did I lose the connectedness of the constant river of air between
.... and take a few moments out from the piece to re-poise your tone or
exhale-smoothness, and then transfer that poise back to the actual notes
of the piece of music.
So I agree that they can both be worked on simultaneously; and here are
some examples of working both, side by side.
I often ask the flute student chopping their way through a piece (maybe
because the notes look like blobs of black ink, and not like a
continuous river of air.) to take away the tonguing, and slur all the
notes "like a forward moving RIVER", in order to poise their
air-flow and tone quality again.
Or, if a tough leap is involved, to just play the two leaping notes,
chromatically long-toning between the two notes until they poise the
tone quality again.
I say stuff like:
At any point if your flute stops ringing with great tone, just quickly
zip back to doing those notes as longtones to get the tone back; then
gradually add the notes that come before and after those ones in the
piece again--to join them all seamlessly together again.
[ I don't re-add the tonguing until the tone and phrasing are smooth
If at any point the phrasing seems all choppy, and the notes not joined
together, there are two more practice choices:
a) stop playing the piece for a second, take the flute away, and
practice the imaginary exercise of blowing continuous bubbles or
the ping-pong ball down a table (at eye level) until your natural
continuous motion of the exhale comes back.
b) SING the choppy part all legato and smoothed out with Ah or Oh
syllables. (sing in an easy octave for your voice.)
You can even:
c) Sing first, and then sing *and* play the flute simultaneously
(in octaves as required) to smooth out the phrasing and tone at
the same time.
Hope this helps,
:>) Jen Cluff
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