Thursday, June 28, 2007

Centering the embouchure in a grade 7 student

Dear Jen,
I have a question. I just got a new student who is entering seventh grade and has only been taught by a band director. Her embouchure is WAY OFF! Her mouth hole is on the FAR right side. She has well shaped lips. What is the best way to help her with this? She is an intelligent, hard-working girl who could be an excellent flute player, but her sound is lacking.
Thank you so much! L.
Dear L.
This topic is covered in Roger Mather's books "The Art of Playing the Flute" in three volumes.I think volume I is the one you want. The library should be able to get you these books by interlibrary loan.

The fundamental point to make with the student is this:"You're likely to have more control over the purity of your sound if you move the lip opening to the center of the lips, and aim the center of your lips at the center of the lip plate. Let's get this set up so you can hear the difference."

Then you get a mirror (on the wall or on the music stand) and begin to work in the mirror.

Lip centering with full flute or headjoint only can continue for a portion of four or five lessons.
'Headjoint only' is easier at first (as you can move around more easily without bashing the flute into each other and the wall/stand).

"Right hand on the barrel" with the footjoint off is also good for this.
Let the student work in such a way that they're not worried about fingering the keys.

Tell them that centering the lip opening is the goal for this month, and that they need to use a mirror at home.

If during this time you find that in fact they DO need to have an offset embouchure, suggest that offset on the left side of the mouth is easier for the arms in the long run (this idea from Roger Mather's books, and has to do with the comfort of the shoulders).

You can also explain that the headjoint makers use the exact center of the flute embouchure's hole to decide how to make the headjoint ring with the most colour and tone, and that whatever way we have to position the lips to aim directly at the "sweet spot" is the manner that we're seeking.
For practical purposes, introducing low longtones (B to Bb, Bb to A, A to Ab etc. all the way down to low D) is the best tone exercise at this time.
Send more questions if any of the above is unclear.

Dear Jen,
Okay, great. This is what I have been doing already up til now. I feel better having it corroborated. I just think it’s sad when students have to relearn something as basic as embouchure. My only question is this. DO I allow the student to continue working on technical passages (as in preparation for Junior IMEA auditions) or do they need to just stay with the head joint and practice long tones till they get this thing right?. I feel that working on technique is only going to make the process of centering the embouchure much longer. And my student definitely heard and saw the difference. It’s just so darn frustrating for her.
Thanks so much for all your help. L.

Dear L.
The two things that have to be learned are:

a) to center the embouchure so that the middle of the lips are aiming air at the center of the splitting edge to get the most focussed tone

b) during fast technique when the fingers are flying, the centering of the lips never changes, but stays on the "sweet spot".

So I would teach it in two parts, and then add the two parts together.

The question the student asks themselves is:

Am I keeping my lip opening centered when I move my fingers?

This breaks down to:

1. Can I keep it centered in the mirror using the headjoint?

2. Can I keep it centered in the mirror when I add the body joint? ( the student can hold the flute with the right hand on the barrel for this, and use only G, A and B, C.)

3. Can I keep it centered with the footjoint added? (can play right hand on the barrel and then switch to right hand on F, E, and D. etc.)

4. Can I keep it centered so that the tone stays clear when playing a piece of music? (can take just two to three notes at a time, and, away from reading the music, sense the centeredness and check in a mirror.)

Explain to the sceptical ones (some students may wonder "why all the fuss?") that by making this change in the sound using these four steps at home, when practicing, she may be more likely to do well in her competitions, performances, because the sound is so pure throughout.

Here are links to two videos I made that cover some of the terms I used in my advice to you (in case you haven't seen "right hand on the barrel" before.)

Video on teaching headjoint only and right-hand-on-the-barrel

Video on teaching novice flutist's hand-placement

How's that for advice?


Jen Speedtyping
Dear Jen
You’re the best. I have given your web site to my more advanced students! L.
Comments (4)
Blogger Sheila said...

Yes! This is so important! Thanks for the teaching tips, they are now stored away in my head!

Thursday, June 28, 2007 10:44:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Sheila,
I think it was a tricky question though, about whether to keep the young student on headjoint only until she had achieved centeredness, or whether to continue to work on pieces as well.
That's REALLY TRULY tricky!
I had a student once with a "dew drop" (center of upper lip dipped downward into the airstream) who wasn't willing to spend time working to correct it, but just wanted to play pieces. No matter how often I came back to it, she wasn't interested....very hard to effect a change unless the student is curious to put in the time to find their own results.
Then one day, i checked her embouchure when she was playing with a great tone in the high register (probably just a good day, and by accident) and found that when she played with 80 mph air (faster air stream) the force of the air blew the dew-drop out of the way, and her tone was great, and her lip opening completely centered. I'd given up by then; and although she never kept up with her flute lessons, I realized that not everyone who plays offset (even with a dew-drop/tear-drop) has to stay that way.
Interesting. Learn from experience....
Thanks for your input.
Jen :>)

Thursday, June 28, 2007 11:40:00 AM

Blogger Sheila said...

Hi Jen,

That's rather interesting! I suppose if this tricky question came up, it would have to be dealt with according to the kind of person the student is. For instance, L's student sounds like someone who would be willing to take time to work headjoint only for a while, but the student you just mentioned, with the 'dewdrop lips', probably wouldn't.

Each case is different, and I think it is so incredibly important that we don't approach them all with a 'one size fits all' method.

Thanks for the comment on my comment,

Thursday, June 28, 2007 2:45:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Sheila,
Excellent point!!
There are skills to be learned, and there are ways of making them simple and direct, but if the student doesn't want to do the work, or doesn't see why they WOULD want to (what goal they personally have) the work won't be done.
Our main goal is to teach our students to teach themselves, so that they no longer need US to teach them.
So, it's kind of zen-like in the end. :>)
You're a very smart person! :>)
Jen :>)

Thursday, June 28, 2007 10:39:00 PM


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