loss of flute tone
Help I have a sudden loss of tone
swabbing your flute out to be sure there are no water
droplets plugging up the headjoint, there are five
further things that may cause sudden loss of flute tone:
ears are getting better and you only THINK your tone
lips have drifted off their mark and are not hitting the
optimal "sweet spot" on your flute.
is something physically wrong with your flute
4. You are
not supporting the air with full lung capacity.
have adopted some tense or "overcontrolled"
method of producing tone that is no longer working.
Some words on each:
1. Your ears are getting better:
Youve just started practicing Tone in
the past few months, and the more serious you get about
listening for good tone, the better your ears are able to
tell you that your tone is actually not that good at all.
Trevor Wye covers this in his Tone book
(Practice book for the flute, vol. 1). He suggests:
"Your tone hasnt gotten worse; your ears have
Keep going; experiment until you can get the tone that
your ears demand.
Work low register first before ascending to higher notes.
Do extensive longtone work every day as a warmup.
De La Sonorite (Alphonse Leduc publisher) by
Marcel Moyse is a workbook that covers this in depth.
2. Sudden fuzzy tone over several days when it
was fine before?
Possibly: your lips have drifted, and are in a different
place than when your tone was great.
Check the mirror. Its very simple for the hole in
your lips to have unconsciously moved to the left or
right, or that youre placing the flute off-center,
and havent felt this.
When your tone sounds great, look in the mirror and
analyze where everything is in place while
playing (chin should be up to look at lips, chin goes
down to look at where the air is hitting the hole in the
If there is no mirror, learn to sense where the
sweet spot is on the mouthpiece through
Blow in all directions, slowly moving the lips to blow at
all points of the compass, and to experiment with closing
the lips more on the left, or closing them more on the
right, or opening more on the left, or opening more on
You will eventually be able to sense where the best sound
is, and move your lips into this position without a
mirror, but mirrors make it a lot easier.
If using your ears, keep a mental record of what you did
when the tone finally became good and clear. If all else
fails, play chromatic scales, or low register melodies,
just using the gradual improvement in sound that appear
naturally, and relaxing into them to keep the flute
Pay attention also to where you place the flute on your
chin: placing the flute's lip plate either too high, or
too low, or not flush with the skin of the chin, can
cause you to sound different every time you play. Place
the flutes blow-hole at the lower line of your
bottom lip (where the skin turns from red to skin-tone)
if you have thin to moderate lips. (Thick lipped players
may place the flute higher on the lip.)
Experiment with allowing the pressure of the flutes
lip plate to be felt chiefly across the roots of your
bottom teeth, through the skin of your chin.
If you use this same facial placement each time your lips
will have more mobility (pressure of lip plate is not
squishing lips) and lower balance point on the chin
allows the flute to remain more securely in place no
matter what embouchure experiments you try after that.
Its also sensible to place a dab of ink or nail
polish (or cut out stickers that line up exactly) for the
spot where you typically align your headjoint, so that
youre putting your headjoint on in the same way
everyday. Changing where you align the headjoint to the
keys, or having a different set-up each day doesnt
allow tone consistency to develop (flute is always in a
different place, and balances in the hands differently).
If your tone is getting progressively worse because the
weight of the rods and keywork is slowly causing your
flute to roll in while you play, see this article on aligning the headjoint so that the keys stay balanced as you
Finally, if you have a sudden loss of tone:
3. There may be something physically wrong with
Some examples of whats wrong when the tone suddenly
a) Headjoint leaks:
- leak in the cork
- crack in the solder that holds the lip plate on (to
avoid this, never grasp the lip plate during
To check for the above leaks, stopper the headjoint with
a wetted finger pad laid over the blowing hole and do a
suction test through the open tenon end. The suction
should be like a mini-vacuum. If you hear any hissing
through the cork or the lip-plate, and cannot create a
vacuum, take to a repair person.
A dent in the exact wrong place can affect certain notes,
as it interferes with the node required for that note or
notes. Not all dents affect the sound, but a dented
embouchure hole will often make a flute unplayable.
Take to a repair man and have dent assessed.
c) Leaking pads or bent keys:
- thumb pad leaking will affect all of the flutes
notes except those which have no thumb.
- G# pad leak will affect all notes below G.
- D# pinky pad leak will affect notes such as E, D and
- Bb key leaks will affect A, Ab and G primarily, and
make low notes slightly fuzzy.
- other pad leaks will cause clenching of the fingers,
and pounding of the keys.
If you notice that youre clenching and pounding, a
habit which builds up unconsciously over time, as leaks
become greater and greater, take flute to repair person
To test with feeler papers to find out exactly which key
is leaking (in case you can then use an adjustment screw
for a quick repair) see my article on Test your flute for using feeler papers.
To save your flute from bent keys, never touch moving
parts when assembling or putting way. To save pads, never
buff the pad edges accidentally when cleaning off finger
prints, and always swab out before putting away.
A top-notch repair person should check for leaks at least
once a year.
d) Gunk build-up inside embouchure hole can cause fuzzy
tone (as can water condensing while practicing in a cold
room or hall.)
Swab flute frequently in cold rehearsal spaces, and clean
once or twice a year with alcohol, gently using a Q-tip,
inside the embouchure hole.
Old lipstick, lip-moisteners, facial make-up and sloughed
off skin cells can cause problems for some people if they
havent cleaned the inside of the embouchure hole.
Water buildup inside the flute, from warm air condensing
against cold metal, can also cause a stuffy tone quality.
Swab the flute frequently using a flute swab or The
Flute Flag (which can be ordered as full-length, so
that you dont need to take the flute apart to
remove water), or close all keys and blow fast blasts of
air through the flute to let the water drip out (this
last method is only for the privacy of the practice
A final possible reason for sudden loss of tone could be:
4. Youre using almost no abdominal muscles
to blow with, but are trying to play the flute with very
little air, and very tight lips.
This is basically self-explanatory.
Get your teacher to help you trigger abdominal blowing
support in a systematic way.
- saying HA, HA,
HAAAAAAAAA!!! (or "Ah , Ah, AHHHHH!) while holding a
longtone, to jumpstart the abdominal blowing
- singing and
playing at the same time to develop lung and throat
- pushing down
against the floor with the feet to engage the floor of
the pelvis as this is connected to the diaphragm with
- pushing out
against and imaginary belt tied loosely around stomach
All these are
tricks to using the abdomen to create the basis of rich,
full tone and keeping the throat, jaw and mouth relaxed
They are of great
help in getting rid of the fifth possible problem:
have adopted some tense or "overcontrolled"
method of producing tone that is no longer working.
players go through periods where they seem to have lost
their tone, and for no apparent reason. If all the above
helpful hints (looking in a mirror, increasing air flow
and support from the lungs, and opening up the mouth,
throat and jaw, are not working, it could be that you
have become "tone obscessed".
frustrating civil war of being "tone obscessed"
you will find that your muscles and brain are at
cross-purposes, and that the harder you TRY to play with
beautiful tone, the more elusive a great tone has become.
steel yourself, grit your teeth, tense your jaw and try
harder! And your tone gets worse.
finally get really upset and give up.
gone through this as students, and even, from time to
time, as professionals.
actually happening is that we are
"overcontrolling" the body, and not allowing it
to find its natural way to produce a singing sound.
If this is
happening to you, calmly read over these great words from
Flutist and teacher Fiona Wilkinson. They really really
"The Physical Flute" book; original edition
(this text was not included in updated editions of this
are days, once the tone is established, when the sound
just will not come. The flutist usually blows a few
notes, stops---feels dissatisfied, blows, stops, etc.
This produces little success because each time you stop,
you create a different embouchure, ie: there is no common
denominator to work from. You must work from the sound
you have that day even if it's not to your satisfaction.
Keep blowing loosely, and let the airstream and lips
wander to a sound that you are happier with. Breathe
without taking the flute away from the face, and come
right back in where you left off. If you keep a steady
stream of sound going like this for 4-5 minutes, keeping
the mind and body open to responses in the sound, the
body will have found its own way to a better sound. Trust
yourself to sustain. We don't play enough "steady
sounds" in our practice. It's an excellent stamina
trick (while playing your 5 minute stream) is to try to
ease the sound out in every direction. Spin the sound up
and around your head; fill the four corners of the
ceiling with sound.
excited about what you are doing. Once the sound begins
to sing, keep the breaths short and jump back in the pool
of sound you have created. Don't change the pitch, just
keep that sound going until you have your room hummiong.
A singing sound is an efficient sound. Use only as much
air as you need.
break, then come back to apply it to a warm-up.
that are really great for a singing sound are given in
this book "The Physical Flute" by Fiona
Wilkinson. To purchase see: www.fluteworld.com)
are less tense, investigate tone exercises that include
playing harmonics, whistle tones, dynamic swells (soft to
loud etc. as found in the Moyse "Sonorite"
book) and particularly the tone suggestions in Roger
Mather's book "The Art of Playing the Flute"
(in three volumes, this is available through interlibrary
loan at your public library.)
Best of luck, but
consult your teacher, and possibly a repair tech. and see
more articles at the link below:
Free flute articles on TONE development and getting great
high notes and great low notes:
Tone articles for novices:
Tone articles for
Books for researching how to
obtain a professional tone.
I'm getting ready for a performance and my tone keeps getting
"pinched off"; what am I doing wrong?
Unfortunately my tone gets progressively pinched off
whenever important performance comes up.
Is this from overuse of embouchure muscles due to a
sudden increase in practice? do I need to put
away the flute for a few days to rest my lip
muscles? what if I can't afford to do that? I have
a grad-school audition coming up.
The problem you describe can be the result of
several possible flute playing problems, but only your
teacher can really judge which of them you're doing Have
you heard feedback from your private flute teacher on
this topic yet?
And to narrow it down for us, do you want to guess at
which area needs work first? Maybe read the possible
problems below over and send feedback?
Possible reasons for tone
getting progressively pinched off prior to performance
and increased practice:
1. Your headjoint is positioned in
such a way that your keys are tilting slightly backwards;
this causes them to continually roll the flute in from
the weight being too heavy on the back of the flute. As
you play the flute rolls inward, inward, ever inward, and
finally the tone starts to degenerate. Meanwhile your
hands are struggling to hold the flute.
2. You typically play with a very tight embouchure, which
has been fine for short bursts, but as you play longer
and longer without a break, it starts to literally 'pinch
off' the air supply with the lips.
You may have your jaw really tense, your throat really
tense, AND your lips very tense. Solution? Play longtones
in low register and relax the jaw as if you're talking.
Play longtones and open throat as if yawning. Play
longtones and relax every muscle in the face.
3. You start out your practicing with a good tone, but
the more tired you get, the worse your posture gets, the
more you lean toward the music, getting your head off
balance and clenching your hads. And the tenser you get
the more determined you get and you pounding out your
You have to notice when you've started over-using and
over-tightening any muscle you're using. And you have to
slow down and rest as you recognize the poor posture or
Solution? Take frequent breaks, even if they're only for
30 seconds. Take the flute down, and relax everything.
To learn to relax while playing,
play only one or two notes at a time, remaining
completely relaxed for those two notes.
Later: Practice a bar or less at a time, and choose a
note to pause on, and hold. During the hold suddenly
relax all embouchure muscles while continuing to sound
the note you're paused on. Later, you can join the
phrases back together again, relaxing on every long note.
Read: "De La Sonorite" by Marcel Moyse
4. You may be blowing too
softly or with lips too tight or too loose. This can be
coupled with inhaling inadequately, blowing from high in
the chest, and not using the abdominals to help move lots
of air from lower in the body.
Solution? Re-learn embouchure and blowing techniques from
a good teacher. Also read:
5. Finally, if there's any chance
you're using a "smiley" embouchure you may want
to break the habit by focusing on re-developing your
embouchure with your flute teacher, and/or by following a
loosening exercise that Galway used to fix HIS tone when
Best of luck,
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