Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Flute May be Metal, but You Are Not.

(click on image to enlarge) 
On one of the flute discussion boards this week, an amateur flutist wrote of their embouchure problems and search for a cure for them. In the interest of pointing out the flashing red lights that he/she speaks of, the warning signs that you are about to incur a “musician's injury”, I have paraphrased the parts of their description that jump right out at me, in order to answer, here on my blog. If you have been injured you JUMP at the chance to save others. So hopefully my rapid response is understandable.
Another flute professional, J. Brahms has also given permission for a reprint of his questions about this injury-journey and his clarifying questions for those on it. (see below)

See what you think. Comments welcome.

The Flute May be Metal, but You Are Not.
'No Pain No Gain' is the Puritanical Path to Injury

 The flutist “G” writes:
I have been playing flute for almost sixty-five years and have enjoyed playing Baroque chamber music in my middle age with an amateur ensemble. However for all those decades I never played any high register (not required in Baroque).
When I did restart flute seriously, I signed up for a challenging Chamber Music Summer Program, where some of the contemporary music required super-high-register C#4 and D4 and, of course, having no experience with these notes, I drilled myself on them, without much success.
After my super-high-note drills, I found I had completely lost my lowest notes: D, C# and C.
No sound came out.
By the time I got to the actual summer course, it was hit and miss on the low notes; most often nothing came out, but other days, for some reason, I could play them.

Highest C# and D4 are known to require the uncovering of the embouchure hole so that the lower lip covers only one quarter of the blow hole. (see article)
This is a tricky new and somewhat advanced flute embouchure procedure that takes some trial and error and lots of previously developed flexibility of the lips.

Perhaps you were using another more forceful way to obtain the super high fourth octave notes?

Many people just stiffen up their embouchure, and blow really hard from the lungs, but that doesn't work over time, as it is a civil-war between one set of muscles and the other, with no increase in aiming accuracy. A flawed method all around. So sorry you got caught up in it. A teacher would have advised against this as it leads to injury due to the constrictions and counter-tensions.
And of course, the high notes sound dreadful too.

Is that what you were doing? That alone could have been the birth of this problem.

Also, without lessons during all those decades, and with only mid-range (low/med. octaves) musical demands it's possible that your embouchure solidified into a very narrow range of motion from thirty years with no high notes (or no instruction on the best way to approach high notes).

I've seen students solidify their unfortunately now non-flexible embouchure through only missing one year of lessons and they then have to retrain for two years to get back to the place prior to their newest bad habit. So forty or more years without helpful coaching from an up-to-date teacher might also have caused you to solidify a poor neck position, or tight shoulders, or any number of “tight” methods that are  inflexible.
G continues:
Perhaps this all stems from three years ago when I signed up for the chamber music program at a nearby College.  This upcoming goal forced me to up my practice time considerably in just a few short months, and to try to regain my facility with high notes.  One day, a few months into my high note attempts, the lowest notes ceased to speak altogether.

Jen: This is a very typical problem in any intermediate flute player who's just finished practicing the highest octaves. Almost everyone has difficulty returning to low C immediately, especially without instruction about how to release tension in the embouchure so that the lips can “remember” their low register position. Even if you had been following the advice of a good teacher in gradually increasing your range, you can encounter this phenomenon where for a moment, your lips forget where the low register is.
In musician's injury stories, this is typically the time frame in which the injury becomes serious because the person is driving themselves too hard to meet a hugely challenging goal that is frighteningly close.
They don't warm up, they play too much per session, they play too many hours per day, and they don't apply easy “release tension” remedies, but just keep pushing and pushing and repeating and repeating with maximum tension, fear and fatigue.
I've done it. These are some of the flashing red lights that tend to lead directly to injury.
G continues: After the summer chamber music ended, I visited an acupuncturist to see about curing my embouchure problems,  and although my high-low conflict has eased somewhat, I still have other difficulties with my musculature.
I had an autumn appointment at a medical facility for the Performing Arts where I obtained some input and advice about going forward. That fall I also began taking private lessons.

Jen: Was the private teacher aware of the scope of the possible injuries and did they have any idea how to advise you? Were they very experienced? Did you present with the specific problems? What remedy did they offer?
I know that when I am presented with a person who has not taken lessons for decades (or who had never taken lessons but was self-taught) it can take two years of simple rebuilding from the ground up to give them the full spectrum of abilities; built on a secure skill set that is layered very gradually.
The worst thing to do would be to let them continue with all their physical habits of tension and give them difficult repertoire. (the WORST!)
G continues: For three years I’ve been quite frustrated about my not-too-great high register, and my lips feel “stiff” and I cannot play expressively. I expected that after a few months of playing again, all this would come back.
Jen: No, it's not that easy. If you are in your 70s, and these are your first few flute lessons since the 1960s, then a lot has changed about our understanding about “how to teach the flute.” And of course, none of us remembers techniques we never repeated in the intervening years.
Plus methodology has truly changed in flute teaching.

The most informed teachers would take a look at your flute playing, and gradually break it down into areas that can be re-trained in a more wholistic way. But building up that trust can take a year to develop the relationship. So it's a 2-3 yr. commitment to learn all the new things that have been developed in the decades since you last studied, and the education level is much higher now among qualified teachers.
Injury prevention is very important; be sure to choose a teacher who knows about it.
Not all teachers are equally adept. Go to a specialist teacher if you can.

So far, your problem description reminds me of very typical issue of a flute player whose lower jaw is thrust forward at the hinges and lips are too tight and unyeilding.
Jaw position can affect "stiffness" overall because the jaw hinge is being stressed by thrusting forward of the lower jaw and pinches facial nerves over time causing a numbness or inflexibility of the nerves and sensors around the lips.
You could be injuring the nerves further by continuing to play in your old manner.
G continues: One example of the stiffness in my lips is that I am unable to do that Trevor Wye pitch bending exercise where you play a note and bend it very sharp and bend it very flat.
The note just stayed the same pitch. I could not bend it.

Jen: This is also typical of someone whose jaw is thrust forward and lips are too tight across the teeth instead of jaw open and lips "pooched forward" to give multiple angles of airstream. A fundamental looser embouchure is the kind of retraining in the new way that a good teacher will help you with over several years of lessons. You can't just "remember" how to loosen, without step-wise techniques and a coach to spot what you're doing.
G continues: But just the other day, I was suddenly able to bend the notes as per Wye note-bending.
Maybe I'm recovering? But my lips still feel “stiff” and after practicing, they really tingle as well.

Jen: This tingling is a true sign of danger, and is also typical of someone whose jaw is thrust forward. If you look in the mirror and see that you're trying to make your lower teeth jut forward to create an embouchure, and then hold that jutted position with jaw tension, then this might indeed be the cause of embouchure problems. The tension at the jaw hinge is pinching the nerves that travel to the lower face, and this pinching impinges the nerves and blood flow. This tingling is your body telling you to stop doing whatever you're doing. It's a warning that injury is imminent. Sadly, folks don't read “preventing musician's injuries” articles that list these warning signs until they are already injured. At the first sign of discomfort, tension or tingling, you must STOP.
G writes:  I usually surmised that tingling and stiffness were a good symptom of hard physical
 effort.  But I was puzzled that those sensations would persist, even when not practicing or playing.

Jen: Please take note: Rant incoming.

Pain is not an indicator of "good hard work" but instead it is an indicator of misaligned body-use and wasted effort through tensing one part of the body against another. For some Puritanical, self-denying, try-harder, break-yourself, righteous insanity reason "No pain no gain" entered the human lexicon long before anyone realized that your body uses pain to warn you that, in the case of sports, you are ripping and tearing your own muscle tissue or damaging joints or compressing nerves so hard that they can't function at capacity. In musicians, it is these creepy feelings of the suddenly protesting nerves that are screaming for you to STOP what you're doing; it can be pain, numbness, buzzing, warm-cold, but it feels odd and creepy. This is your body saying to your brain “NO, please please stop what you're doing!”. So let's modernize, and agree that we can't let this saying continue.
Pain* means “no.”
No means stop.
This is your body speaking.

*Pain can also include: weird sensation, loss of sensation, any discomfort however mild,  any strange feeling you didn't have before that seems to linger, and unintended movements that are occurring by themselves without you having a choice.
G continues: The chamber music summer program did contain multiple C#4s (ultra-high C#s) so when I did finally get them to come out, again, I lost my lowest register notes.
Jen: If the repertoire required multiple high C#s then I would question the repertoire. What work was that? It's a horrible note on the flute, and much better on piccolo. Who is the composer???? Why did the flute teacher at the chamber music program put YOU on these passages, who had never played in the fourth octave before?
In the repertoire, there are only a handful of flute pieces that actually require this note, so I don't think the composer is doing anyone any favours by writing multiples of them.
Sorry to rant; but good grief. Not for amateurs.
You might HURT them, composer dear.
G: Finally I had to stop playing altogether for eight weeks or more.
I went to Acupuncture to see if that would help.

Jen: I wonder how the Acupuncturist could possibly understand about a musician's injury without knowing how the musician continues to injure themselves? When I go to Rolfing or Massage, I take my flute and show them the body position. (my injury is neck-shoulder-arm). But they don't fully understand it like a musician's injury expert would. So I wonder if you're seeking the correct therapy.
Also, regarding the lowest footjoint notes on the flute: Besides the fact that these two notes are difficult for anyone if they are not fully warmed up and there is a procedure for loosening the embouchure, you do not mention whether your flute been checked by any other player to find out whether the low C and D come out for them? You could have a leaky Eb pad! The C key could be bent. There could be a shrunken cork or shrunken pad. Has the flute been checked over?
What if a small leak in the F or E key is destroying the tone of all notes that are below them?
Have the flute tested by your teacher, and send feedback, please.
G: After two Acupuncture appointments, I got my low notes back (they're still not great) and the practitioner suggested that maybe my lips had been in spasm. I tend to agree.
 The doctor at the musician's injury center suspected that the problem was not dystonia, or I would not be able to play the low notes at all.  The doctor filmed my highest C#4 and D4 attempts and discovered that air was coming out the sides of my mouth. So it was decided I should play it safe and limit my practicing to ten minutes a day only, until there is some recovery.

Jen: I have recently seen a performing doubler who, only on flute, spasms in the lips continually from dystonia (from over-use, over-practice, and overly-tight-embouchure and jaw) and they could get ALL the notes of the flute, but they had a constant fast jaw spasm at the same time.
So I don't think dystonia is fully ruled out, as it could develop if the pressure is not taken off your impinged nerves and overly tight muscles.  Dystonia can creep up on you. This doubler I met had no idea that the tremors were not entirely normal. (Note: I found the link to the flutist's embouchure dystonia AFTER writing this blog post. In the flutist's embouchure dystonia article she realized that it was using slow air speed and shallow breathing and that was what caused her to over-work her embouchure. Very important point for flutists returning after a hiatus - use your air, not the tightening of your lips to hold notes up.).

The original problem could have even started with a very typical situation: You have an old flute that needs the pads fixed and then suddenly it is played many more hours than previously despite not being repaired. The fluteplayer presses harder to get clear tone. This finger pressure would be followed by creeping wrist, arm and shoulder tension from pushing the keys down too hard, and this would be followed by neck and jaw tension, rapidly causing deterioration of abilities by setting the goals too high and too fast and then relentlessly repeating wrong motions. The combination of all these things usually leads to increased injury, which is when the body finally says "Stop".

I'm truly surprised to hear that there was air coming out the sides of your mouth and you didn't know until you were filmed at the doctor's office.  You did not look in a mirror at any time during your previous practicing? Your teacher didn't have you check your embouchure in a mirror?
If so: What does your teacher say when she/he sees you play high register now?

My brain is telling me that your neck is uncomfortably twisted, your jaw is thrust forward, and you are therefore cutting off sensation to your lips through sheer tension. But of course, without a film of you playing, I'm just guessing.

I would also be curious whether you're standing full height to practice with the right height of music stand and whether you're craning your neck to see the music? I have had several students in their 60s whose problems begin with leaking pads, and the wrong eye-glasses. It's unbelievable what can go wrong if no one coaches you and notices these things.

I even had a student admit that they actually practiced sitting down with their sheetmusic on a kitchen table, in dim light, with their elbow resting on the table. What?????
This is how to CAUSE an injury.
But the student just hadn't adapted to the idea of purchasing a real music stand.
Again: What?????
I'll save my rant on that. ha.
G:  The improvement has been fairly steady since the acupuncture visits and I do feel that the  stiffness and tingling that I mistakenly attributed to good results of hard  physical practice were actually muscular spasms.
Jen: So perhaps your belief in "trying REALLY hard" is what caused the problem to escalate? You didn't know that obtaining the right technique from a skilled teacher was the faster way to gain proficiency?

 In fact my rant about "pain does not mean gain" might be correct, in that you over-did it because of the belief in "good hard practice", which is erroneous.  I'm so sorry that this one faulty message caused you to over-do it.

However,  now that you have been advised by the specialist doctor to accomplish your progressive recovery in only ten minutes per day, are you really creating a better focus, simpler plan, and less repetition of "too tense" ways of doing things? Are you getting professional assistance to design your practice program?
G:  my 10 minute regimen each day consists of playing a C  scale or a D scale (starting on low C#), with each note followed by a  whistle tone on that note.  I only use whistle tones on the highest C# and D.  That takes most of my 10 minutes.
Jen: Sorry: But who designed this warmup? If your new teacher did, do they advise it to be your warmup???

It's a bit too complex, in my opinion, because as you ascend the scale you are tensing, and when you whistle tone, you are loosening. So it's tense-loose-tense-loose-tense-loose-tense-loose.
I've never heard of a warmup like this.

Did your teacher give you this? Can I talk to them??  :>)

And why C or D scale? (I use descending chromatic, myself beginning with first octave B to Bb a la Wye longtones when I am out of practice).

And why begin on the lowest notes of the flute, instead of the middle, where beginning is easier?
There are much better warmups that really WARM not stress.
G:  Then after my scale warmup, I practice a particularly tricky couple of lines in a Bach trio sonata. It's one with a lot of odd jumps.
Jen: This sounds like too much too soon. An easy warmup should be followed by flowing melodies that are stepwise, not leaping.
Leaping difficult intervals along with Bach's insane demands for flute (not easy) in terms of lip and jaw tension, is not a good idea, especially if you're trying not to hurt your lips or jaw, I would not start with this, I would leave this until I was fully retrained and recovered.
G: Finally, I run through a movement or two of a Telemann Fantasia with the focus on the architecture of the musical phrases and its construction.
Jen: Again, in my very strong opinion (ha ha! :>) this is far too difficult a practice routine for someone who is recovering and needs to be deeply retraining to avoid tension. Bach with large leaps, and Telemann Fantasias are true showpieces. They are not skill-building gradual warmups that re-train the body to easier and more fluid ways. I would not advise this plan at all for someone recovering from an injury. But that's just me. Your own teacher may be better informed as to how seriously you are injured.
 G: I do allow myself complete chamber music sessions every week and duets at my flute lesson,
 which I have begun again, after a halting them since last year.

Jen: I personally would find it very taxing to play duets and chamber music sessions, if I was injured to this extent, with the need for basic embouchure relaxing, gradual embouchure skill building and more relaxing warmups overall. Without those skills, and without being fully warmed up, I would strain myself trying to play suddenly in a duet or chamber piece without stopping , with my fellow musicians requiring me to keep playing no matter what tension I may be experiencing.

So I couldn't help but jump on the computer here, rant a wee bit, and just state that a lot of warning lights are going off for me, as I too injured myself in similar ways in my 20s. And I wasn't working alone!!! I had teachers there to spot me.  (The knowledge of injury prevention was just not prevalent when I trained.)

 If you add tension to the fatigue of the body in its seventh decade, slower to heal, and easier to damage , and then put the whole thing in the pressure cooker of performing at too high a level of expectation and possibly fear of failing to make the grade, then you have a pot that's about to boil over. There is a great deal to consider here.
Let's breathe and think.

Also:  Take note of the interesting similar thoughts of a colleague who also responded with a certain level of helpfulness and panic from recognition of the danger signs.
See below for thoughts from flutist Jonathan Brahms who has given me permission to add his questions to "G"  to my blog. Comments welcome everybody!
I have written to G and await a reply so we can sort this out and all of us benefit.

Date:    Mon, 25 Sep 2017 1
From:    Jonathan Brahms

 Thank you for this detailed description of your situation as you describe it to us.
I am responding in detail because I am personally acquainted with several highly-accomplished professional flutists who lost their ability to play, either temporarily or permanently, for one reason or another.

 Been There: I have had a close brush or two with it myself, so I am delighted that you were able to heal and continue to play (as I was), for it appears that you went all the way to the brink of losing your embouchure permanently, but not over it.

 The demands of music-making and our own artistic ideals, aspirations and ambition often lead us to engage in extreme behavior, which is often destructive.

 I am sorry that you went through this ordeal, which is sometimes brought on by the circumstances of performance frameworks (both amateur and professional) and other times as a result of decisions made by the player.

 You have described the process of your cure (the "after" situation), however, I am curious as to what you did exactly (the "before") in terms of practicing to bring about the situation in which you were unable to play as before.

 Which composition did you work on that summer that contained fourth octave pitches (C#4)?

 How much time had you practiced on a fairly regular basis before you chose to "considerably up your practice time" and how much time did you practice as part of that campaign?

 Did you break up your practicing into short sessions or you did you do it all at once?

 Did your practicing (before and during) consist of a healthy blend of scales, arpeggios, études, articulation, dynamic and sound exercises? Did you emphasize any particular element/s?

 Did you spend a lot of time playing long tones, especially in the upper reaches of the instrument?

 Did you work on playing louder/softer in any or all parts of the range?

 Did you attempt to play with a dark, cutting, oboe-like sound in the low notes?

 Did you ignore warning signs such as twinges in the embouchure muscles or a wave of heat going through the embouchure?

 Did you make your practicing changes on your own, without the guidance of a teacher?

 Do you play the piccolo?

 Did you discuss what you had been doing during the summer with your new private teacher after the summer?

 Thanks for your contribution to this extremely important subject.

 Jonathan Brahms

Please comment! Comment button below.

Best, Jen

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lorna McGhee teaching Prokofiev & Beethoven

Dear Flute Lovers,

One of my all time favourite flutists is teaching orchestral excerpts on "Principal Chairs".
Lorna McGhee.  I have learned SO SO much watching her teach!

Lorna McGhee on 'Principal Chairs'


Viewing the full films costs about $10, and you need to use a credit card to buy one month's access to all their flute teaching films (remember to cancel your one month subscription of you're on a tight budget) at Principal Chairs (FAQ).
Imagine that! This is a very cheap price to fly to a series of expert masterclasses.
Plus you can press "pause", and re-watch segments, and really absorb absorb absorb.

And, I'm guessing, in that short time (a 30 day subscription), if you're a flute-maniac,  you can watch all the films (many principal flute players teaching many excerpts) and make notes and try out techniques. Super fascinating even if you're just watching to see body-language.

See all the available flute excerpt teaching films.

This is a fabulous resource (and I'm not related at all to this company, I just really love learning).

Also of interest: Lorna McGhee recommends this book:


Best, Jen

Free - Read interviews with principal flutists/great teachers:

My previous post on Michael Cox's teaching films at Principal Chairs is here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Who is playing with too much tension?

(click on photos to enlarge).
Lea Pearson Webinar
Subject: Body Awareness for Tense Flutists
Webinar - Free video online

Dear Flute-lovers,

Lea Pearson, Author of "Body Mapping for Flutists" is a great workshop leader too.
She deals with flute aches and pains, posture, breathing and freedom from pain through understanding the body's freedom while we practice flute.

Lea has just now put up a free online workshop that you can still view (June 24th, 2017).
Highly recommended! So knowledgable!

Link: Video

Enjoy your newfound freedoms!
Update Sept. 17th, 2017

NEW Lea Pearson webinar for Flute Teachers!

Set your Students up for Success: More Gain, Less Pain  35 minutes long


This is great to see and hear!
Best, Jen

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Kobe International Flute competition

Dear Flute Lovers,

Have you seen the streaming films of the Kobe International Flute Competition?
It's on youtube for your review. Results are in; winner announced.

Kobe International Flute competition
See all films:

Round ONE: May 26th, 2017:
Round TWO: May 29th, 2017:
Round THREE: June 1st, 2017:
FINALS: June 3rd, 2017:

My personal favourite from the very first time I heard her is the contestant at minute 38:00 at this
First Round film:
She is no. 44.  Boulegue H. -  3rd performer of the three.

Second Round
My 2nd round favourite:
7.  Boulegue H. -  1st performer of three

Third Round
My third round favourite still the amazing Hélène Boulègue!
She is the second performer in the third round here:

Totally far-out third selection; wowza!

She has one youtube up, herself, which is a trio rehearsal video:

 FINALS; June 3rd, 2017: Boulègue and Zolnacz

Yes, I still vote for Hélène Boulègue in every single round!!


Watch the Finals:


1. Helene Boulegue, of France, has been 2nd flute of Luxemburg Phil. since 2010. She placed 2nd in the last Prague Competition.

tied with

1. Yu Yuan of China, born in 2001, is also a student at Int. Music Academy of Lichtenstein.

no second place awarded

3 (i). Marianna Zolnacz of Poland is 18, trained primarily in Poland, with additional studies at the Galway Academy. She is currently a scholarship student at the Music Academy of Lichtenstein.

3(ii).  Yeo Jin Han of Korea was the youngest candidate, at 13, to ever compete at the last Nielsen Competition.  Now 17, she's a Powell artist.

 3(iii). Mayuko Akimoto of Japan is an alumna of Boston Flute Academy, and is completing her studies at Hochschule für Musik Luzern.…/…/mayuko-akimoto/

4. Anna Kondrashina of the Russian Fed. was 3rd place winner in the last Nicolet Competition. Not much info on her.
Thanks to Dianne Winsor for this information.

See Repertoire list for Finals.
More info about Kobe:

Names of contestents:


Repertoire for entire contest (check it out):

So exciting. :>D
Best, Jen

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Free Sequences from Paul Edmund-Davies

Free Sequences from Paul Edmund-Davies
Hello flute lovers,

Once again Paul Edmund-Davies is offering free interesting flute practice materials.
View introductory video here:

Paul Edmund-Davies - Free Sequences

 From Monday 15th May 2017 and for every following Monday for 8 weeks (making a total of 9), Simply Flute will be posting a free video and sheet music of a sequence. Each one will cover an aspect of flute playing that is useful to focus on.
 In our daily practice routines, we have scales and arpeggios, studies and pieces to work on and they all appear to contain very different disciplines. A sequence, not only acts as a form of ‘bridge’ between each of these groups, but also gives us a chance to work on different aspects of technique and in a musical manner. We can focus on our sound, the way in which we use our fingers, our breathing, the shape of a phrase etc. Through playing these sequences in all keys, both flat and sharp, we become increasingly familiar with those keys we love to hate!
 As I am getting longer in the tooth, contrary to my youthful expectations, I now appear to have significantly less of my day to devote to practice. Hence, on days when I find myself snowed under with paperwork, a short session on a sequence or two is a highly constructive way of toning everything up and in a fairly economical way.
On Monday, you will be able to download Sequence 1, which is really a very gentle scale ‘noodle’.
Of course, on paper, it looks comparatively simple. After all, we are encouraged to embrace scales from an early age. However, underneath this innocent looking surface, danger is lurking!
 Whilst we should focus on generating a beautiful tone in Sequence 1, we also need to realise that playing in a truly ‘legato’ manner is another major side to this sequence (and is an essential part of communication in so much of the repertoire that we are interpreting). Exactly how we operate our fingers is also to be considered. If you use your fingers in an abrupt on/off manner, the legato that you are searching for will fade away and turn to lumps and bumps!
 In Sequence 1, you should try to ‘feel’ your way around the flute (once you have the exercise from memory, it could be beneficial to take a look at how your fingers are operating by looking in a mirror). The more fluid your fingers, the greater the likelihood of a true legato. After all, the flute is firstly a musical instrument and secondly a piece of machinery!
 I love spending time on sequences. I hope that you will too!
 Best wishes,  Paul.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Anchor Tonguing on Flute

Dear Flutelovers,

I've had some questions from student flutists lately about "what is anchor tonguing?".

So I drew some quick sketches. The truth is that no one can see inside your mouth, so you are the head scientist when it comes to discovering where the tip of your tongue is. So let's start with what I can show you.

Anchor tonguing is when you anchor your tongue tip and never move it again but literally brace it against a surface inside your mouth. This type of anchoring has also been called "Na" tonguing, because the flutist can't use the tip anymore (because it is braced with pressure against the inside of their mouth) and so they say "Na" whenever they tongue a note, by humping up the middle of their tongue and using it against the center roof of their mouth. Here is a picture of the tip of the tongue anchored behind the lower teeth.

Anchor Tonguing

Another kind of anchor tonguing is when the tip of the tongue is anchored in front of the lower teeth, and supports the lower lip.
Tongue Supported Lower Lip
When the tip of the tongue is pushing the lower lip forward, acting as a cushion that pushes the lower lip outward, then the student might be even more frustrated when they finally remove the tongue tip from supporting the lower lip from behind, because the lower lip has always had the tongue's support, and doesn't know where to put itself to play the flute without the tongue's help. In this case it can take one to five weeks for the tone quality to come back, once the student learns how to form the lip embouchure without the help of the tongue's pushing the lip from behind.
The reason you need to un-anchor the tip is because you cannot double tongue at fast speeds, if you cannot say Du-Gu-Du-Gu or Tu-Ku-Tu-Ku really fast, due to having anchored the tip of the tongue.
Correct Tongue Placement for Flute
Correct Position for Tongue when at Rest
The tongue of course, really needs to lie flat in the mouth like a carpet. If that feels too heavy, imagine a lightweight, fluffy pillow lying on a floor. This resting position is used when you're either resting the tongue, or when opening the inside of your mouth cavity to play with a large resonant sound. You don't want to force the tongue flat, and add any tension, but it should be well out of the way so your mouth cavity can be like a cathedral with a huge space for the flute's sound to echo into.
Other placements of the tongue are also useful to know. They follow the vowels of singing: Ah, Eh, Aye, and Eee (and even "ooh" for very soft forward playing). They are all done with the tongue rising vertically (like an elevator going straight up) as when you say the syllable "Eh" (as in elevator) or "Eee".
With "Eh" the tongue is curved, with the sides of the tongue able to feel the inside face of your upper molars. This is good for mezzo forte fast tongue passage work.

When you are saying Eee, your jaw has closed more, your mouth cavity is smaller, and the sides of the tongue may be touching the insides of your back upper molars even higher. For rapid tonguing in the high register, this can be a helpful position.

However, remember that the syllables for flute are Ah, Eh, Aye, and Eee. You don't use "eee" for everything you play, just like you don't use "Ah" for everything. (See Wilkinson's Vowel Dynamics).

And of course, you'll find this all out in your flute lessons. No rush; it is all taught in stages to make it easy.

But do take a look at the tongue's tip in these drawings.
The tip should not be pushed against anything, but should be free to move and easy and light in its very small motions up to the roof of the mouth, and then flick straight down again to its starting position. Whichever movements of the tongue you make they must be very much like singing or speaking. They are very simple movements, you just have to know where in the mouth the tip of the tongue is.
To feel this: you can sensitize the tip of your tongue by biting the tip just lightly until you can feel your tongue-tip nerve endings. 
Next:  allow your tongue to lightly touch the backs of the bottom front teeth. This is where the tongue is every time you are simply playing a long note. Look at the above picture and notice there is no pressure where the tongue is lightly resting against the inside of the lower teeth.
Correct Position for Tongue when saying Du or Tu

When you say Du or Tu (both are used in flute) the tongue tip rises up to the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth, says the D or T very lightly, and then returns to the first position, where it is lying down relaxed on the floor of the mouth, the tip still lightly touching the back of the front bottom teeth.

Get help from your private teacher in learning this correct way of tonguing, and don't get worried if it takes a few weeks to master. You may have to get rid of a lot of tension to have a loose, light and relaxed tongue that is no longer working so hard, but has found a simple, ergonomic motion.

Hope this helps for those who are confused about "what is anchor tonguing". It may have arisen because:

- the flutist is speeding up their air-speed by using "tongue-assisted embouchure" where they are saying "ewe" or "euu" or "eee" with their tongue, crowding the front of their mouth-space, and thus speeding up the air as it runs through a narrow passage (the Venturi principle). Their forward bunching tongue is so far forward that it is spilling into the lips from behind (and so they can feel the inside of their lips with the tongue's front half.)

- the flutist is pushing the flute too hard into their lower lip or too high on the lower lip, and needs the tongue as a cushion to temper this arm-pressure and lip-crushing pressure. The answer of course is to learn to play without pushing the flute into the chin so hard, and to lower the pressure of the lip plate (covered in Roger Mather's books, vol. 2).

- the flutist is blocking the air from escaping by bracing the tongue to let the pressure build up behind it (you'll hear this as explosive tonguing). Rather than playing with fast and supported airstream, they've taught themselves to pressurize their tongue and mouth and explode on every note. This needs a teacher's help to develop good air speed instead of pressure-valve-explosion air-speed.

- the flutist simply didn't know where their tongue was, and didn't realize there was a problem until they had more tonguing demands put upon them (they improved to the point of needing double tonguing.)

But I did want to clear up what is and is not "anchor tonguing" because when you google it, you get everyone wondering the same thing, and no one quite clearly understanding what it looks like because none of us has mouth-cameras. :>)

While I'm here blathering, I also want to comment on other disruptive things the tongue can do, so called "French Tonguing" which I've mentioned before. So far there is no proof that any flutist uses "between the lips tonguing." even though there's always someone who extolls its virtues, I've never seen a single bit of proof that it's ever used under normal circumstances. I call it "Lip Disruptive Tonguing".
Here is a picture of that. Avoid it; not useful in real music.

Lip Disruptive Tonguing

Paul Edmund-Davies mentions "tonguing between the lips" and demonstrates it for a single note just as an experiment in his videos (linked to earlier blog post). But I would say, don't bother learning how to tongue between the lips unless it is only the first stage in your getting rid of anchoring your tongue tip.

Letting your tongue tip learn where everything is on the inside of your mouth is an easy and quick exploration any of us can do. Touch the tip to every surface and move a tiny amount and find the next surface.

Explore all the places your tongue tip can be in your mouth.

However when it comes to flute articulation, use the easiest possible method: Say Tu-Tu-Tu-Tu or Du-Du-Du-Du, or even Hoo-doo-hoo-doo-hoo-doo to see just how easy it is to speak the articulations using words. If you can say it, you can do it on the flute. You just have to discover your own tongue's way of moving freely.

For non-anchor tonguers, remember too that easy, clean tonguing on flute with great tone requires fast fast air with lots of lung involvement. It doesn't require any change in your lips. In fact changing your lips when you tongue is another whole problem that people don't realize they're doing.
So... Lots of articulation advice here.
Comments welcome.
Best, Jen

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Clarinetist told me to roll my flutey wrists

Clarinetist says: "Roll your wrists; you're out of tune!"
Dear Jen,
In my concert band rehearsal I was playing along happily when a nearby clarinetist said: “You're out of tune! Roll your wrists!” What does this mean? Why is he telling me that?

“Roll your wrists” derives from a beginner band method which allows the flutist to discover, by holding a long note, and then by deliberately changing the angle of their flute on their chin by very very slowly moving their wrists, whether that long held note they are playing is flat or sharp to a comparison note.

As they slowly, infinitesimally roll their wrists they will hear the flute change pitch and can do some comparison listening as it becomes either more in tune with a comparison pitch, or less so.

As they roll in their flute will go gradually flatter in pitch, and sound more and more "covered" with dark tone.
As they roll out their flute will go sharper in pitch, and sound more and more "airy" with a bright tone.

However “roll your wrists” does not work for anything else except the playing of one long comparison experiment on one long note very very slowly. You cannot roll your wrists while playing the flute in band, and here's my explanation why:

Rolling the flute in and out on your chin changes the tone quality from “too dark and covered" (too rolled in), to "too sharp and airy" (too rolled out.)
At their extremes both of are unattractive flute tone qualities. When we play, we seek the exact middle of the tone spectrum; a balanced sound quality.

 We seek to make the flute mellow and ringing with equal tone quality throughout three octaves. We seek to play in the middle of the pitch; right in tune. We also need to be flexible at the center of the lips, and flexible with our air-speed so we can rise to the right pitch during complex and demanding music. All this takes time and daily practice.

 And I might mention, ha ha, that rolling the wrists while actually playing a phrase of music would be impossible for a clarinet, I imagine. Might affect the old reed embouchure, wot?

On flute:

a) Changing your wrists makes the arms and hands uncomfortable, and the flute feel unstable in the hands. Every finger and every angle is affected. Holding the flute "funny" makes everything feel unstable in the hands. As a result, fingerings may be missed. :>)

b)Wrist rolling disturbs the entire embouchure. The chin plate becomes less and less stable, and you gradually lose all contact with your normal way of forming your lips. Such a sensation is too bizarre to play normally with. So it's not useful when actually playing a phrase.

So it's unlikely an adult flute player is going to roll their flute around and lose all control of it just to find out whether they are individually flat or sharp; it throws everything off about their playing.

Perhaps the person who said “roll your wrists” is not fully knowledgable about the flute but knows just a tiny bit about band-teacher instructions, but not enough to employ the true solution.
Maybe here's what you should do instead:

Solutions: When someone says that you're out of tune:

1. Check your headjoint draw. The amount that it is pulled out is very important and needs to be consistent as you develop. Look at the draw of your headjoint into the barrel of the flute; is the headjoint pulled out the correct amount for your normal tuning?
It should not be pushed all the way in.
A headjoint that is normally pulled out 1/8th to 1/4 of an inch from the barrel is more typical.

 You can find out exactly how much to pull out your headjoint by working with the Tuning CD* over several weeks, and then mark a line, in indelible ink on the flute's tenon where the flute is in tune with the Tuning CD tracks. More in the booklet and links below.

You may find that as you develop, and eventually play with a fuller more professional sound quality that you may eventually pull your headjoint a few millimeters more than you do now, over time.

2. During the rehearsal, if you hear an out of tune portion (or someone mentions it to you) write down the rehearsal number or bar numbers, or put a star or invent a symbol on the music in pencil to show where the "tuning problem" occurred at rehearsal, so that you can remember where it is for when you play the piece again at home. Correct it at home using the Tuning CD.

Then at home:

i) Use the Tuning CD (links below)* to practice the marked passage (bar number or symbol on the music). Match the pitch of every note to the chosen pitch track of the Tuning CD.

After several months work, when you are consistently playing in tune with your normal embouchure and tone, if you haven't already, take a 'shiny-surfaces' permanent black magic marker and draw a line on your flute's headjoint to show where the correct "in tune" position that is set for the current way you play your flute. This mark will wear off, but you can re draw it any time. A mark that shows the correct placement of the headjoint can be used anywhere anytime as a visual reference.

ii) Think about why you might be out of tune. Here are some common reasons:

- If the tone quality is fuzzy or diffuse, the pitch can seem both high and low or indeterminate all at the same time, due to having no “core” to the sound. So improve the centered tone quality of your sound by specifically practicing "Tone" with your teacher's help.

- The flute's top register is always sharp and we must correct it. If you've never corrected sharp high notes before using the upper lip, get help in your flute lessons. We need to blow more deeply downward with the upper lip and open the jaw.

- The flute's lowest register is often flat. Get help in lessons to develop the power, pitch, strength and core-of-sound in your lowest register. Often the low register is confused with playing softly. Tone development starts with learning to play forte all the way down to low C. This is important fundamental stuff and gets rid of "I always play flat when I play low". See Low Longtone Warmups.

- Dynamics can be causing the problem. Without correction on flute:

 Loud equals sharp and soft equals flat.

Eeek. We can't allow it.

To fix:  Reduce your dynamic range to the middle. Play mezzo forte. Play all your music in tune, listening carefully, and slowly at your most fullsome mezzo forte. Concentrate on creating a good centered tone quality. Do this for a week or two before adding dynamics again.
When you add dynamics, do it with the Tuning CD going.

 Listen carefully to be sure you don't go sharp on crescendos or fortissimos. (or flat on soft notes, or last notes when you're running out of air.) Practice dynamics with Tuning CD* at home all the time for reference to just where to place those pianissimos and fortissimos with your air speed and embouchure angle.

Other things you can do at home:

A better way to prepare:

1. Listen to an actual recording of the actual band piece. Lots are on youtube (although not always the best, some are good)  and listen closely. You can use the pause button to clearly distinguish what exactly is going on in the music during the area of the piece where YOUR tuning problem is.

2. If the recording is A-440 (and your band plays at A-440) then you can stand by the computer speakers with your music stand and just play along in tune with the recording. Again, just use pause button to play small sections and if you're into it,  use a software called "slow-downer" if tempo too fast. Make your own in-depth practice tracks using truly great recording Bands!

3. Or better yet: Record your actual own concert band rehearsal and listen to it carefully at home; figure out where the tuning problem is and what it is, by following along with your sheetmusic. This is what I would do. I'm so surprised that we don't all record all our rehearsals for self-correcting and tempos and orchestration etc. But that's just me.

Things you can do during band rehearsal:

 After preparing the marked passage at home with recordings and Tuning CD*, play it in the band rehearsal just as you prepared it. Listen to hear if the tuning problem is still there or not. It may not be you; it could be another instrument, or the clarinet may change from rehearsal to rehearsal.

 If the tuning is still wrong at that part of the piece, ask for clarification (sharp or flat?) and then ask for a quick session of checking tuning with the instrument(s) in question (during break).

Time permitting (perhaps in the break or early before the next rehearsal) play the passage with the person who asked you to change your pitch, and humour the pitch in the direction they are asking for until you blend well with them. Mark this change on your music using up or down arrows (Up = sharper, Down = flatter.)

 If you are consistently sharp in the high register or consistently flat when playing softly with not enough air, (most common in band flutists) then consult your flute teacher for help with those areas specifically.

For high register sharpness the correction is to move your upper lip out and over, to direct the air in a downward angle into the flute. You don't want to roll your wrists, and you don't want to feel as if the flute is in an unnatural position on your chin because you need to move just your upper lip downward, while leaving everything else stable.  Using the upper lip to aim downward is the easiest method to correct sharpness as it can use just the very center of the lips and be non-disruptive to the embouchure.

For flat players, the problem is that they are not moving enough air.
There are lots of ways to coach yourself to learn to move more air. See articles here.

All this may take a year or two to develop fully if you've never worked on it before. Ask your teacher for help so you can get right on it. It's fun work.

Things to remember about flute-clarinet phenomena:

Unless corrected for, just when flutes go sharp, clarinets go flat.
This is a well known phenomenon that is overcome through practice and knowledge.

Examples in Bands if uncorrected:

In a soft dynamic: Clarinet goes sharp. Flute goes flat.

At a loud dynamic: Clarinet goes flat. Flute goes sharp.

So as you can see, the two instruments can easily get into pitch conflicts for understandable reasons.

Flute pitch in general:

Flutes tend to go flat on:

Low notes (correction: use faster air speed, aim at a higher angle)

Soft notes (correction: use faster air speed, aim at a higher angle)

Right hand notes (E and F in the middle and low register; correction as above)

Notes where the thumb is lifted and the flute rolls inward on the chin (high G, middle register C and C#) (Correction: Consult your teacher on how to stabilize the flute when your thumb is off.)

Flutes tend to go sharp on:

High notes (Correction: Aim downward in angle with upper lip over;drop the jaw; drop embouchure tension).

Loud notes (Correction: Ask your teacher how to play forte but stay in tune)

Notes that are naturally sharp on the flute: high G#, high F#, high E etc. (Correction: As above, but also use alternative fingerings where appropriate.)

Other typical problems are:

Flabby Leaps:

 Leaping to a quiet high note from a low note can make you underestimate the air-speed and hit the high note with overly slow air, starting that note flat in pitch. You freak out at the awfulness of the flat high note, and sag further. This is fear of leaping. Very common.  Get help with this from your teacher. You will learn to speed up your air-speed before you leap.

Ran Out of Air:

 Playing when out of breath can make your pitch go flat. Be sure and practice your breathing so you are taking HUGE big breaths where they are needed, and normal breaths everywhere else. Mark the HUGE breaths with a special extra breathing symbol, so you don't get caught short. Write "Save Air" over parts where you expend air too quickly and unnecessarily. Your teacher will help you plan all your breaths.

In general; and believe me I'm not related to this product in any way....
I recommend working with the Tuning CD everyday for warmups, improvisations, slow melodies, high longtones, slowed down sections of pieces and etudes etc. After several months you will absorb the whole of the "Tuning" situation from constantly working with and hearing the pitch and matching it.
And you will have more fun practicing; it's so nice to play in tune with SOMETHING!

*The Tuning CD: LINKS*

Note: you only need the first 12 tracks for the chromatic scale. (the rest of the tracks on this CD are chords you don't need.)

The Tuning CD booklet

More flute tuning articles here.

Wrist rolling ha! Tres middle school-esque, eh? ;>)
Best, Jen