Skip Healy here again shooting straight from the lip this time. This tip is inspired by a question sent to me by Bill Goelz.
Bill came to me a while ago with a question about my embouchure. He observed in different photographs that I play with the flute set on the fleshy part of your lower lip, as opposed to just under the fine line where the lower lip and the chin meet (which is another common position with many flute players). Bill wanted to know how, why, and whether or not he should do this as well.
So let’s have at it.
Bill’s observation is correct. I do rest the flute against the fleshy part of my lip when I play and I recommend this position to my students. My feeling is that if you position the flute beneath your lip, you create the possibility where some portion of your lip might cover (if not go into) the back side of the embouchure hole.
Some people find it easier to play this way, but what you are actually doing is reducing the size of the embouchure hole by blocking off a portion of it. This makes the embouchure hole more narrow from front to back and artificially increases the compression, thus making the flute function with less air flow.
However, less air flow means less power and dynamic range. There’s also a chance of increasing the amount of embouchure "hiss". Is it easier to get sound out of a flute using this position? Yes. But are you also limiting your potential as a musician with this approach. In my opinion, yes.
Flutes are really just a set of numbers. If the flute is carefully and thoughtfully designed, then these numbers work together to produce a certain sound when "X" amount of fuel (air) is forced into the chamber. The chamber is a hole (the bore) that is a calculated size and length for producing a certain pitch when the resonating chamber (plug face to foot) is filled with air. The size of the embouchure hole is calculated to allow a precise amount of fuel to flow into the chamber with tone holes of exact size and placement releasing the compressed fuel at precise locations. The changes in air pressure are the notes that we hear.
By reducing the size of the embouchure hole, you’re messing with the numbers. It’s just like having a blocked fuel line in your cars engine. The vehicle will run for a while, but not very well.
By properly venting the tone holes (see Skip’s Tip #11 – Release Me, Let Me Go) and using the entire embouchure hole, you get the best airflow. Along with that, you’re now capable of getting the best possible tone and range.
Of course, when you are trying to do anything to it's maximum (as opposed to minimum standard) it is harder to control. That said, with practice you can achieve greatly varied volume and tone color. The nuts and bolts of it all is that you’re in control of the flute, and not the other way around.
And last but not least, this approach also helps to prevent the player from puffing their lips out, which also creates a less focused tone.
To paraphrase the old expression:
There is many a slip
'Twixt the flute and the lip.
I hope all of that makes sense! You all know where you can find me if it doesn’t…
October 4,5,6 2013 in the Greenwich Odeum -- "Wind On The Bay" provides an atmosphere where players, makers, teachers, and students of traditional music can get together to learn, share, and socialize in a relaxed and comfortable setting.