Dynamics for flute
novices (louds & softs)
Question: K wrote:
> This last year I have started some serious work on
dynamics. Before that I worked a lot on tone development.
<snip> Before I tried to control air with holding
in my stomach, now I'm sort of pushing downward with the
muscles - causing a steady airstream upwards through a
"open" me, <snip> it works best while
playing loud, but I feel it will help when restarting
with dynamics, espescially in high and low registers
<snip> > Anyone who would care to develop the
subject? Clear some things out for me. Help to develop?
Answers: Dear K,
I'm not sure what you're asking---but I am sure that with
a teacher to help point the way, and lots of experimental
hours on your part, strengthening your muscles in new
ways, adding finesse to each skill level, and adding new
ideas experimentally, each hour of experimentation will
show a gradual improvement.
But if you want an outline of the basics, maybe we can
help out with some descriptions.
to play forte, with a full rich tone is usually the first
step to expanding one's control of flute dynamics. Most
beginner students play with a soft flow of air into the
flute, and don't use any abdominal muscles. So good;
you've already developed to the next stage beyond the
beginner level; you can play a good full rich tone at the
loud end of the range.
that the air is spinning out quite quickly, and in large
volumes, and you're relaxing the embouchure opening,
making it slightly larger and looser. Flutes get shrill
and piercing when they are too loud, so remember to
listen for lots of overtones (harmonics) in the tone, and
keep opening and loosening the embouchure in new ways
until you have the richest tone possible. (See Moyse's
book "De La Sonorite" and the exercise called
"Fullness of Tone" to develop this further.)
stage will come when you begin experimenting with using
the same fast air, and blowing from low in the body, but
play with a smaller aperture in the embouchure, possibly
gradually changing the lip shape to a more forward
"ooo" and seeking a smooth transition to mezzo
piano, and finally piano.
about playing softly is that it takes MORE control than
playing loudly.So it's virtually impossible to ask a
beginner to have the control to use the forte muscles for
piano playing; to spin the sound with a beautifully
clear, pure and carrying tone, and to impart the illusion
of tremendous gentleness in the sound.
the techniques of such diminuendos use vowels to shape dynamics. Prepare by daily holding a
long note and gradually, experimentally, crescendo and
diminuendo on it. Simple longtone dynamics are standard
in even the earliest flute method books.You simply keep
the tone pure while blowing more air, and for the
crescendos, allow the releasing of all muscles into a
looser state, while maintaining good tone, then, when
diminuendoing, gradually "Poise" the muscles
(lips and abdomen) so that the airstream is more
controlled, while listening to keep the pitch and the
airspeed constant. The best tone for pianissimo playing
does NOT feel as though you are pressing down with your
ab. muscles, but you will discover this over time.
Some past posts on these type of "blowing"
sensations are cobbled-together below, starting with
basic "blowing", forte playing, and finally
might also suggest that if you want to practice beginning
a note softly, start it with the lips saying
"Peu". (that's a trick that can often help.)
articles on this site on breathing, tone etc.
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Start with Simple
fashioned blowing methods featured instructions on which
muscles to use, and how to harden or stiffen them. All
this ab-work is wasted, and at times actually harmful in
that it creates isometric tension and a tight,
constricted (constipated :>) sound on the flute.
wants to do instead is imagine gently blowing a ping-pong
a 70 foot table, and keeping it going the farther it goes
away from you.
Stand up and create this imaginary scene right now. The
table is at chin level, and you are blowing a lightweight
ball down the length of the table, keeping it moving,
even when it's many yards away.
your body does to produce this.
It's a natural gesture that does not require your brain
to figure it out.
Give it the task and the body will blow naturally.
The "blowing muscles" already know what to do.
Experiment with the concept of making the ping-pong ball
move faster along the table, or very slowly and steadily
down the table. These two sensations relate to loud and
reiterate: Your body already knows how to do this. It
does not need brain-instructions.
Also, as one of our European Flutenetters pointed out
there is currently some German research for
woodwinds/brass concerning different human breathing
methods. Not yet translated fully into English, these
studies have described both "Inhalers" and
"Exhalers". One group feels they must use
muscular force to inhale, (exhalers) and might need to
consciously correct their tension as they do so, and the
other group must use muscular force to exhale (inhalers)
and may need to consciously correct tension as they do
learned from reading about this topic, and by trying the
experiments is that we often don't use one of the most
natural features of air-pressure inside the lungs. High
pressure inside the lungs, vs. lowered pressure outside
the lungs, means that the air pressure will seek to find
equilibrium by escaping through the lips, if we simply
allow it to..
When your lungs are full, there is more pressure in them
then outside. By making a small hole in your lips, and
opening your throat, this air will naturally flow out of
your mouth with sufficient airspeed to play middle
register or low notes, or even high quiet notes (if your
lip aim is good.)
Once the lungs become half-empty, you will switch to
actively "Blowing" the air out. (as in
Ping-pong ball exercise above)
you start blowing very softly, as though playing a long,
soft, pianissimo phrase on the flute, it will be as if
you simply open a tiny hole in the lips and the air comes
out by itself, seeking to equalize the pressure outside
and inside the lungs.
It is only when the air pressures are equal, that the
WILL power to keep the imaginary ball rolling away from
you triggers your ab muscles to continue to actively
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Developing your Forte is
Blowing steadily against imaginary resistance for
full forte tone:
Recently I ordered the Vernon Hill The Flute Player's
Book and found a very succinct explanation for
increasing the loudness of the flute's tone, that I
hadn't come across before.
benefit to this is that it adds "presence" to
your sound, and enlarges your pallet of choices for
Note: If you normally play very softly,
you will have too few dynamic choices, and will be in a
real pickle if the music asks for "ppp" when
your normal playing loudness is only really an 'mp.'
However if your normal playing is a full-spectrum mezzo
forte, and playing forte is easy for you, then and only
then do you begin to develop the quiet end of the dynamic
The more you develop the 'forte' end of your flute's
sound, the easier it will be to simply play mezzo piano
or piano simply by NOT playing forte, but by just playing
easily with no tension or 'trying'.
practice in playing 'forte' strengthens all the flute
playing muscles (lips and abs) just enough that they're
in good form for when you need them to play soft and
sustained passages in the future (muscles will be more
"toned" and strong, therefore capable of more
subtle and controlled use in the future.)
instructions for enriching your tone read as follows and
this is a clever way of teaching the body to blow forte
with more strength: The ideas are from "The Flute
Player's Book" by Vernon Hill [ Former Principal,
Lower lip should cover 1/3 to 1/2 of the blow
hole. Don't turn the
flute in too much. Keep the flute's keys facing the
ceiling. Keep lips
supple, not pulled back or tightened.
Try this experiment:
1) Blow a G while holding your flute in the left
hand only, and put
the first finger of your right hand under your nose
(parallel to the
floor) exactly as if you were politely trying to stop a
Very slowly lower this right finger (while still blowing
the G) until
it gets in the way of the air escaping from the other
side of your
You'll notice two things happen if you lower the finger
- The pitch of the G will start to go flat.
- The G will actually stop sounding, even though there's
into the flute, there's not enough allowed to escape to
keep the sound
2) Blow a G and repeat the above descending of the
"sneeze finger" but
even more slowly. When you can still hear the G, but the
been weakened and flattened slightly by the finger
escaping air, blow harder, with the intention of playing
Restore the the note to the exact way it sounded before
your finger to block the escaping air.
Result: As you blow harder and stronger
(with your finger still under your nose, and lowering
toward your flute's escaped-air path) the quality of the
sound will become harder and stronger, until it starts to
take on the basic qualities of a much stronger,
full-bodied flute sound.
these experiments, make the same strong sound using
regular playing techniques.
developing this over several months should you begin work
on playing at quiet dynamics (in my opinion) as the
muscles will then be toned.
See: Whole note crescendo/diminuendo exercises by many
flute method authors. Examples:
Altes, Trevor Wye, Marcel Moyse etc. in exercises in
which you crescendo and diminuendo on a longtone in order
to discover air control, pitch control, and dynamic
back to top
Vowel sounds for shaping
dynamics from Fiona Wilkinson's "The Physical
from Fiona Wilkinson's Book "The Physical
Flute" about using Vowel sounds for dynamics. For
ordering information about The Physical flute, call in
Canada: Waterloo Publishers: 1 800 563-9683 or order from
supposed to move the jaw for dynamics? (out for p, in for
I was taught to make a diminuendo just as you
describe...with the jaw gradually advancing until finally
the lower lip is so far forward that the air going to the
flute is less and less, and then "tapered off"
or "feathered off" by the jaw's final forward
position pushing the lower lip in front of the airstream.
It's tiring, and there's a hiss to the sound when you get
to a certain point of the air 'missing' the flute's blow
Even Trevor Wye's fairly recent book: Volume One:
"Tone" has exercises where he suggests a
combination of the use of the jaw, lips and tilting the
head back, to uncover the blow hole. He's vague about how
to exactly do it, and just says: "Keep
I taught that method too, until I read "The Physical
Flute" by F. Wilkinson where she says, I quote:
PITCH AND DYNAMICS:
The flute's inherent pitch problems can be summed up as
The low register is usually flat.
The high register is usually sharp.
The quiet dynamics (pp-p) are usually flat.
The loud dynamics (f-ff) are usually sharp.
Here we want to establish a method of practice to keep
every register and every dynamic level consistently in
tune. We must first start by understanding the
relationship of jaw, lips, air and mouth cavity in the
forte to piano dynamic ranges. A mental concept of a
vowel shape in the mouth will help accommodate the
different air pressures for forte and piano.
forte the jaw must be dropped and relaxed, the lips are
loose and flat against the embouchure plate. The oral
cavity must be large. Try two mental orders:
the roof of the mouth
2)Say the vowel "O".
For piano the jaw comes forward (as do the lips) keeping
the flat contact with the embouchure plate (ie: don't
Try the two mental orders:
1) Let the roof of the mouth fall toward the
2) Say the vowel "E".
All the vowels in between are merely small changes on
these two shapes.
To learn these changes, use the exercise below easing a
natural reflex between forte and pianissimo. Don't demand
that you incorporate it all at once with great success.
Go through all vowels and dynamic levels; by gentle
repetition your body will develop the right balance of
"how much". Demand that you listen to the
relationship between the physical changes and the sounds
Develop a physical memory of your successes.
shows a very long low 'G1' with dynamics marked
are written the vowel shapes:
time you've changed to the AY vowel, you have closed the
mouth cavity enough, more is unnecessary. By doing the
last two vowels, you are bringing the sound forward in
the mouth. The basic concept here is that the pitch will
remain constant by allowing the air to adjust inside the
mouth. The loud dynamics need a lot of room for the sound
to respond without forcing or becoming sharp. The soft
dynamics need a small amount of room to keep the sound
froward enabling it to project and keep from becoming
Change the process to pp -p -mp -mf -f
shapes inside the mouth do not affect the lip formation
(embouchure); they merely change the size of the mouth
cavity which acts as a resonating chamber.
2) The air moves just as quickly in the p dynamic as in
the f dynamic. This is how we keep constant pitch.
3) the bottom lip must keep flat to the embouchure plate.
Puckering pushes the flute away from you giving you much
less control especially in terms of colour.
4) The jaw moves only in very small amounts as a result
of the lips moving. Too much movement only causes undue
this information changed my entire method of dynamic
control, leaving it a practically effortless maneuver.
It's great to discover that diminuendos work equally well
with only the lower lip advancing (diagonally forward and
up) at the very end of the diminuendo, and you don't need
to "jaw" at all. (preventing jaw-strain and
hissy sounds to boot.)
If you need to enter on a piano, you just assume the
correct vowel shape, form your lips, and emit the note
with fast and well supported air.
Try it, and tell us what you think!! :>)
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