Friday, March 23, 2007

Flute Rockin' wid' Rockstro

Dear Fluters,
For some reason, this week I've been flooded with comments from readers who've just discovered the joys of tweaking their headjoint alignment to suit their own personal ergonomics. Wow!!! I couldn't believe how many good reports have been coming in.
So I've collected them all (with permission from the authors) so you can read them all, and share in the discovery. Thanks to all who wrote! :>) Jen

(modified rockstro alignment shown and described at Jen's webpage
See: Flute Alignment
Letters from happy Rockers':

Dear Jen,
I've been a dabbler in flute playing over the past thirty years and came across your article on flute alignment while searching the net for info on the Thumbport.

Following your instruction on lining the far side of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys has made a huge improvement in tone, finger, thumb comfort and stamina. It is now a pleasure to practice.

I've had one or two flute lessons over the years and complained about the instrument rolling inward and sliding off the perch, tendonitis, embouchure and finger fatigue. The advice given was to persist.

I am astounded that this alignment instruction was not found in any manuals of books on flute playing including those my Boehm and F.B. Chapman.

Don't need the Thumport when using your alignment instruction. Rolling and all the other problems related to that are gone.

Thank you so much for an informative and helpful website. I have spent hours sitting in front of this machine, reading. I had never even HEARD of Rockstro position. I on’t know HOW I managed to miss out on that, but aligning my headjoint in the way you describe has had a huge impact. I always tended to play sharp and I worked very hard to drop my jaw to try to bring my pitch to where it needed to be. This one little it of information has solved that problem entirely! So, thank you so much for an easy solution.

Sincerely, J. F.
Hi Jen. I just had to write and say...
I have just this moment read your article about the head joint alignment (far right ligning with the middle of the keys), and I could have wept with joy. I am taking my grade 7 in May, and in last few weeks I felt like giving up entirely, as I have never managed to reach the lovely tonal quality associated with the flute. I came home from work today in tears, and decided as a last resort to check the net to see if others had similar problems, when I found your article. After doing just 30 mins tonal exercises with the head joint in this position, I tried my exam programme again, and wow, what a difference!! I can't tell you how uttely grateful I am that you shared your experience of this problem with the world. I really can't thank you enough, and I owe the rest of my flute playing life to your wonderful article.

I will still fluff the difficult passages in my exam, but at least I will fluff them with a pretty sound!!
Dear Group:

Originally I played with nmy flute set up in the "traditional" manner, with the centre of the embouchure hole (EH) set up in line with the A key. Then tried to play with the keys facing upwards.

For me the flute seemed well turned out, I felt I was completely missing the EH far edge, so lacking in tone when it sounded, and sometimes not sounding at all. This also led to my posture being quite cramped as I struggled to get my jaws/lips in a poistion where I could actually blow on the edge.

((((Wow, actually writing this now just gives me the picture that the EH is actually facing upwards and is essentially horizontally flat - I am here ignoring the downward angle from left to right as the flautist stands to make it a bit simpler to describe))))))

I took a break and looked at the problem again, found Jen McCluff's marvellous articles re the Rockstro position, looked at google images of flautists (some are useful most aren't), looked at book pictures, saw Sir Jame's videos on YouTube etc.

What I found was that for all these flautists the EH was definately not "flat" in relation to the player's embouchure. How did this work then given the original EH alignment method as descibed above ? Either players were playing with the flute body "rolled in" and therefore the keys weren't flat but rolled back a bit - or the EH was turned in in relation to the keys -like Rockstro.

Back to the original point I am making I suppose - I have yet to find a decent article or explanation tackling this "problem" from the fundamental poistion of what a good EH /lip/airstream relationship is and then working from that to how the HJ then would fit with the body and how the grip, balance and stability of the flute is achieved. It seems to me that most articles take the stability or the grip or the alignment as a "given" and expect it to work for the flautist.

Personally I am finding that for me my EH far edge is aligned with the centre of the A key - but even then this sometimes feels a little too far out and I keep wanting to turn it in some more.

I stress this is not to change the angle between the EH and the chin,but just for comfort and the way I like to hold the flute (like Rockstro.)

However I am "struggling" to find any other flautists for whom this is the same, or any sources that suggest that this is "acceptable" so am constantly "worrying". Sometimes I think "no this can't be right - it may have a nice tone, but am I losing something in control or intonation that I don't realise yet" ie "am I shutting off avenues of improvement as I am still learning" (aren't we all!?), and other times
I am thinking "to hell with it - it seems to sound ok".

To me my "turning in" relates to the way I hold the flute in balance, and not in order to turn the flute in - ie my flute keys are not facing up but rather forwards. Possibly they are more forwards than others, possibly not.

This discussion thread about flute lip plate placement on the chin is a great example of how we all do things differently - as is the case with most other "ways of playing the flute" - but it turns out that really all we are doing is finding how best we can individually find the airsteam/EH sweetspot whilst retaining full comfort and control, taking into account all our variety re lips, chins etc.

Most stuff is aimed at the beginners and I think this doesn't probably help most flautists after those first few weeks - but am still unsure as why this isn't covered in more intermediate and advanced books (even Trevor Wye and Geoffrey Gilbert's tomes don't really go into it very well).

Is there a concensus out there as to what a good explanation of this airstream/EH relationship should be ? I like descriptions with angles in (thats the scientist in me coming out I suppose!) as I do think that this really is the basis of "it all", but I am also aware that relations exist between the variables here, but am still struggling to find what these relationships may be.

To me this is fairly fundamental but I really haven't come across it on my web/book travels. I have seen hundreds of "noddy" diagrams that show roughly how it works, but none that either explain it as a fundamental, and then build out from that.

The following website seems to have used some of this in their "experiments" -"physical flute" in order to get some commonality across their work.

Any thoughts ?

Many Thanks for getting to the end of this!

Dear R,

Use your public library (interlibrary loan desk) to find Roger Mather's "The Art of Playing the Flute" vol. I to III. You can also buy these books at They are excellent in terms of making tiny changes, and analysing the results to keep a record of all the variables that work for you.
I recommend them to anyone who has a scientific mind, and has played at least three years. (not for kids, just for age 16 and up.)
Without a hands-on flute teacher, your best bet is to follow the experiments that Mather gives, and decide for yourself each day what is working. They are excellent books, and no other flute author has tried to make the experiments so clear, imho. I would record your results so you can listen back later, matching the sound quality to the flute tone quality (professional recordings) that you like best.

Hand balancing is also easier when you practice chromatic two octave scales (all slurred) on a daily basis. Again, this is for those who've already learned the chromatic scale. For absolute beginners, you need a teacher pronto. :>)

Jen :>)
JT wrote:
Jen, your personal students are so lucky to have someone who explains things so beautifully!! I bet everything I own that my teacher will say I sound as flat as anything now, but I will just have to work on that. I would rather a flat tone for a while than a tone that sounds like my flute has just smoked 50 ciggies!! Take care, and I will be keeping an eye out for more top tips!! x
Jen Cluff said...

Dear JT,
Thanks for thinking that my explanations make sense. Here are two tips:
1. When deciding on rolling in or out (once the flute set-up and alignment is stable) you will find that you'll sound better if you stay rolled out 1-2 mm "more than you think". This makes the sound more open and airy, and is the difference of the thickness of one or two human hairs!
2. If you sound flat in pitch, use more air velocity, and experiment with opening the hole in your lips vertically to make the lip opening 1-2 mm. taller. (if you're in the U.S. and don't know what a milimeter is, check a ruler; they're very small.)
Having a slightly rounded arch in the lip opening, by minutely lifting the upper lip in the very center, gives you your nice tone back again, often.
See my videos on embouchure flexibility for more help.

Comments (16)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JT wrote:
Jen, your personal students are so lucky to have someone who explains things so beautifully!!

I couldn't agree more! Thank you for posting this article! This issue is soooo important, isn't it? I align my flute head joint so that the far side of the blow hole matches up with the middle of the keys too. I don't have my flute marked, which allows me to 'bend and flow' a bit depending on the piece, and helps me to learn quickly to perfect the alignment of my flute with ease. However, I have in the past had it marked (it came off!) and it is very nice to have a fast solution. :) I need one of Jen's fancy 'shiny-surface pens', so I can do it again!

I actually some times rotate my head joint a hair further back than the far edge of the blowhole. Of course, I sometimes get a little overzealous, and have to roll it forwards a smidgen again, but usually I get it bang-on, and a tiny bit further back just seems to work for me.

It's very encouraging to see other doing this too. It is so very important, especially when you play another instrument (as I do), and have two (or more!) different kinds of muscle use going on for long periods each day. If you're clamping your flute far too tight because of a funny head joing position, arms and shoulders will soon get sore, and playing another instrument just adds to the pain. It isn't fun!

Anyway, that was a long blurb, but thanks again!

Saturday, March 24, 2007 10:58:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Sheila for your great comment!
You can use a "shiny surfaces" pen or even a "Sharpie" permanent marker.
I also get a great deal of mileage out of tiny stickers cut from a cassette or video label.
They can be lined up (as seen on my "flute marking video) and if you swipe with alcohol first to get finger grease off the flute, where you're going to stick them, they're very fast to line up.
Jen :>)

Saturday, March 24, 2007 12:17:00 PM

Anonymous Fluty Flynny said...

Dear Jen,

I'm confused....I read your article on the Rockstro hold when I first started fluting (beginning of this year) and had great success with it. But then I upgraded my student flute and couldn't play low C, and later also had difficulty with the higher register. Then I read your other article which said you should turn the headjoint out for the higher register. My flute teacher also confirmed this - so now I use a conventional hold and have some balance issues but am happier with low C and the higher register. Is it a matter of give and take between turning the headjoint in and out? How can i improve my balance and still sound my low c?

Secondly I want to mark my flute - do you use Sharpie Permanent markers (not non-permanent)? I can't find any which say they're for shiny surfaces. If i buy markers for marking CDs would they work? And can i wipe off the marks with alcohol later?

Sorry for the million questions and please keep up this wonderful website and blog!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009 8:50:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Flynn
Finding your headjoint alignment takes a week or two of experimentation for an advanced player, and several months for a novice player. It's based on experimentation with your own physical ergonomics.
Above all, you'll want the key tops to be parallel to the ceiling so that the weight of the rods doesn't pull the flute inward when you lift all fingers off. Also you'll want to find your best chin-contact with the lip plate so that it stays still for all three octaves, and allows your lips freedom to move forward and back (ie: don't trap the lower lip).
I would not move the headjoint outward JUST for the high register, nor move it inward JUST for the lower register.
High and low registers are improved through the angles and shapes of the lips (which are freed to move flexibly when the pressure of the lip plate is felt against the roots of the lower teeth.)
You'll want to work with your teacher on this for some time yet, I imagine.

Regular magic markers wipe off too easily with hand oils, and markers that are made to write on shiny surfaces resist being wiped off accidentally, but remove immediately with alcohol. I'm not sure what kind of CD-marker you have there, but try it on a fork or knife handle and then see if it wipes off and how easily.

Hope this helps, and see for more details. I don't believe I ever said to change the alignment of the headjont to get high register tone; I would have said "angle the airstream more downwards or more upwards" but not "change the alignment of the headjoint to the body".
Can you give me a link to the misquote? thanks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009 9:31:00 AM

Blogger jen said...


For low C I have a whole page on my website on "What happened to my low C? Why can't I get it?"---I'll have to dig up the link.

- you have a leak in one of the pads on the footjoint
- your footjoint needs to be moved closer so you can reach low C with the RH pinky without strain or excess motion
- you're making a sudden change at the lip when you don't need to (low C should have the same basic embouchure as low G) etc.

Most often, I find students put their footjoints on with the low pinky keys too far away, and then they bobble their flutes when shifting the pinky to these difficult-to-reach keys.

Also, most low C leaks in the pads are caused by grasping the footjoint rods and keys during assembly which bends them and makes the C# and C pads close unevenly.

If the flute is in perfect working order, and the footjoint is aligned for easy pinky reach, then finding a good embouchure shape for a strong low C is still about three to five weeks experimentation.
It is a difficult note for beginners.
What does your teacher advise?

Saturday, December 19, 2009 9:36:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Solutions to problems with low C:


Saturday, December 19, 2009 9:38:00 AM

Anonymous Fluty Flynny said...

This week, my low C and high register are magically coming together -thanks to your tips, and my teacher, and practice practice practice!! But it is with a conventional hold after all, not the Rockstro which I had a lot of faith in at the beginning.

I found the link at last: - here's the excerpt:
"Make sure your headjoint is slightly rolled out for all three octaves (and please learn to play all notes in this position.. Don't roll it in again!), so that your bottom lip is covering only 1/4 to 1/3 of the embouchure hole. If you're too rolled in, high notes just won't come out easily enough."

Did I misinterpret this or is rolling out better for high notes, and conversely, will the rolled in position of Rockstro compromise your high notes?

Thanks in advance for clarifying this point! And merry Xmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009 7:41:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Flynn,

Alright, yes, I understand now.

It's easy to misinterpret "roll inward, roll outward" so I'll try and be clear.

The lips are very flexible. Once you have found a position for the lips on the blow hole that allows all three octaves to sound well, then keep that position.

The big problems are:
- students who are so rolled in (covering over 2/3rds of the blow hole) to get a "good tone" that they cannot make the highest notes speak. They need to roll out and stay rolled out, reforming the lips to move forward and back rather than playing completely rolled in all the time.

- students who are so rolled out that they sound breathy and harsh. They need to move the lips forward to aim more accurately and reduce breathiness.

- students who roll inward and outward with their wrists because they mistakenly believe that wrist movements help tuning while they play (too hard to do compared to moving the lips forward and back.)

- students whose flutes bobble and move around because their hand hold is unbalanced. This gives insecurity to the keyboard of the flute, and creates many more problems.

- students who have the headjoint misaligned and contort their bodies, arms, hands, neck, in order to find the "sweet spot" on the flute's embouchure plate. This leads to posture and arm problems.

There is a small controversy over how much of the blow hole the lower lip should be covering.
James Galway insists that it is 1/2 to 2/3rds of the blow hole, and to my mind, that is correct for the top octave of the flute. But this position is obtained from moving the lips forward. They are very flexible, and are capable of small degrees of change, unlike the entire angle of the flute as it relates to the face/chin/lips, and is controlled by the hands and arms.

For low octaves, the lips retreat again to covering 1/4 to 1/2 of the blow hole, but to do so reliably requires that the flute stay still in the hands, and is never rolled in and out during play.

All this is learned over time.

But the no. 1 reason why I wrote "roll out for high notes" is that most flute students have already rolled in too far, and find high notes difficult because the lower lip is over-covering AND the angle of the air is too acute.

As you can see, it's very hard to describe in words.

Additionally, all of the above are possible regardless of Rockstro alignment or center-to-center alignment, as the angle changes are very small and difficult to see.

However Rockstro position keeps the flute's keys parallel to the ceiling for those flutists with flat chins and thin lips, whereas center-to-center alignment keeps the flute's keys parallel to the ceiling for those whith more concave chins and slightly thicker lips.

So there are many variables.

Very difficult to pinpoint what needs improvement without having the student and teacher work together to experiment and determine the individual case.

Hope this helps,

Speedtyping on Christmas Eve,

Thursday, December 24, 2009 10:09:00 AM

Anonymous Carme said...

Dear Jennifer,

I discovered your page yesterday, while searching information about Kujala's books. And let me first tell you that you have made a great page with lots of useful information. It will take time to me to "walk upon" all your articles and posts, but be sure I'll do!! :D
So, my question: I played for a lot of years in a "centered" position, having tone and wrist problems, till I moved to Paris and my new teacher changed my position to this new one, aligning keys with ceiling and moving the thumb backwards to create this balance of forces between the two arms. Now, I'm back in Spain, and I work as a teacher. The first years I only worked with the medium and advanced students, but this year I started to work with children, and I wonder if it's good for them to start directly in this position. I'm not sure about it: for the thumb, they use it usually to hold the flute instead of pushing with it; but I find that some children start having wrist problems very soon. I must say that music education law in Spain does not allow me to work with tiny flutes or piccolo with the youngest, they must start directly with the standard one, so there's the problem of weight for many of them. Also I'm insecure about starting to play with such a covered embouchure, as in Spain, traditionally, we've been told to start with an open and clear sound.
So, my question is if you would recommend to work on children directly in this position or not, or if it's better to try it only with the children that already have wrist pain and the ones with difficulties in producing sound.
Thank you very much for paying attention to my concern (and excuse me if my use of english is not correct)


Wednesday, June 23, 2010 2:11:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Carme,
I start small children on the flute like this:

1. Headjoint only
2. Middle joint added to headjoint (right hand on the barrel) B, A, G.

With right hand on the barrel holding the flute firmly, the position of the line up of the embouchure hole can be seen by the teacher as whether it's working or not in centered position.

Gradually, as the child develops, I observe from the side view, and move the headjoint's line-up until the keys face the ceiling.

I mark this line up with stickers or with black ink.

And ususally I don't teach children younger than nine years old. By 11 we have established a lineup that works for them, and then can change it as their chin shape changes.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010 9:51:00 AM

Anonymous Carme said...

Hi again,

thank you very much for your advice. As I told you I'm new working with children and I'm worried about their specific problems. In my case, I cannot choose at which age they will start, the conservatory doesn't allow us to do it (it's foolish but, Spain is different...) so sometimes I find myself with children that cannot support the weight of the flute (8 years or less or with very tiny body).
I'll try your ideas since next scholar year starts.
Thank you very much for being so kind to answer.


Sunday, July 18, 2010 12:20:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Carme,

For very small children, I would use a Yamaha fife, a brass flute with six finger holes, a plastic Recorder (soprano), or if there was money to purchase one and the student was very serious about playing the flute, I would look at the new Azumi made for small children, with a "U" in the headjoint to shorten it.

Rockstro-headjoint-lineup does work for children who are holding the flute around the barrel with their right hand and playing only with the left hand B A G.

But for very small children recorder or fife is fine and very inexpensive for the family ($25 to $40), plus unbreakable and comfortable to learn on for small fingers.


Sunday, July 18, 2010 12:37:00 PM

Blogger jen said...


Dear Carme,

I would buy the Yamaha Fife and Goodwin "Fife Book" for your small students:

Yamaha Fife for age 5-9 small child: $9 U.S.

The Fife Book - Goodwin: $16 U.S.


Sunday, July 18, 2010 12:41:00 PM

Anonymous Carme said...

Hi Jen,

thank you very much again for your answer.

In the conservatories we are not allowed to use these little flutes, just because the music education system here in Spain considers that any child of eight years old is able to play any wind instrument no matter how her/his constitution is (ha, ha, ha).
Anyway, I'm considering to make them buy one to work at least in the groupal lessons. I think this will not be a problem for anybody (I hope) and will encourage them.
On the other hand, I find great this idea of working without the foot; I'll try it this next year (october).

Best wishes,


Sunday, August 01, 2010 7:38:00 AM

Anonymous Diane Wilson said...

I just now heard and learned about the Rockstro method, and happily realized that it is EXACTLY what I've been doing for years because it works best for me! Nice to have that confirmation.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 3:27:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Yay Diane!
That's confirmation for those of us who learned it late, too. Yay go yay! :>)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 6:49:00 PM


Post a Comment