Setting the Groundwork
Prior to getting students on instruments lay out some groundwork so that students know that you have their best interests at heart. They need to know there are pros and cons to every instrument. My recommendation is to present the flute as an exciting musical instrument. Allow students to hear what great flute musicians sound like and show them how to hold the instrument.
Directors need to identify how the flute makes a sound, which is somewhat like blowing on top of a coke bottle. I would not try to avoid telling students some of them may have to reconsider their instrument of choice due to physical characteristics, such as a “tear-drop” lip. Communicate that this sort of characteristic may hinder their chances of being successful on the instrument. Ignoring the problem will likely get them frustrated and pre-maturely quit the program.
On the day the student learns the flute it is imperative that the teacher models proper playing position. If at all possible have a mirror available for the student to see his or her embouchure formation. This will be something that will need to be checked frequently.
Approach to Flute Embouchure
First, Start Without the Flute
Have the student place his or her index finger under the bottom lip and have the student blow with a mouth shape of the word “pooh.” Next, have the student blow a steady stream of air across their finger. Some may need to think as if they are trying to cool hot soup on a spoon to get the correct embouchure shape. Be sure to model this with the student and encourage a steady airstream.
Start with holding the headjoint with both hands parallel to the floor. The bottom portion of the embouchure should be placed on the lip plate. This should be just under the wet, pink portion of the bottom lip.
Creating Our First Sound
Similarly to using our finger, we will place our lower lip on the lip plate so that just a little goes over the hole. Blow air so that the flute embouchure points the airstream in the direction so it splits at the outer lip plate edge. Slightly more air should “swirl” into the flute hole than air that is blown across the lip plate. If the student is able to direct the airstream correctly by using the flute embouchure formation then a beautiful headjoint sound will result.
Having Trouble, Try This
If a beautiful sound is not created then have the flute player relex the bottom lip more and create a “pouty” face so that the corners of the mouth are brought down.
Another problem that might arise is that the flute may sound airy. If this occurs, it means that the aperture of the mouth is too large. Counter this by making the hole smaller and oval-shaped. Try to visually imagine that you are trying to cool down hot soup by blowing on it. A second alternative is to think that you have a small, light feather on your lower lip and you are trying to blow it off.
Be aware there are flute embouchure roadblocks to creating a beautiful sound. These include:
- Aperture too large
- Solution: Have students envision a small, fast airstream.
- Smiling embouchure
- Solution: Create a “pouty face” to bring down the corners of the mouth.
- Child with Teardrop
- Solution: I highly recommend getting the student on a different instrument other than a flute. If this is not possible, it will be necessary to have the student to play on one side of the lowered portion of the lip.
- Improper lip placement
- Solution: Avoid the “touch and roll” method of lip placement because it is often not the “sweet spot” for the flute embouchure. Focus on just finding the lip placement just below the wet, pink portion of the lower lip. Also remember the lower lip should be partially over the hole.
- Playing with the head too high or too low
- Solution: Keep the head straight and the flute parallel to the ground.
- Not having enough teeth separation
- Solution: Try thinking that you need a “small baby carrot” amount of space between the molar teeth in the back of the mouth.
- Weak airstream
- Solution: Flute takes just as much air to play the tuba. If the airstream is weak then the sound will be unsupported. Most importantly, practice breathing exercises that will help students produce greater volumes of air for longer periods of time.
Creating a solid and correct flute embouchure is vitally important for the success of a young musician. Use these steps and solutions to provide the confidence every student wants and deserves. In short, you will have a thriving and beautifully sounding flute section.