Today, we talk flute embouchure.
Whether you're a beginner player whose picking up the shiny tube for the very first time OR an experienced player, the flute embouchure (pronounced om-boo-shore) is a playing concept that's like oxygen.
You can't do without it.
Go to any flute forum, Quora or Facebook group, and you'll see its one of the most talked about topics.
Take a look.
Well, mastering control of the embouchure is critical for
- beautiful rich tone
- effortless leaping between high and low notes
- control over dynamics (volume)
- intonation (playing in tune)
and that's just for starters.
To play your very first note, you'll be using your embouchure.
But, it's actually the most difficult concept to grasp as a beginner. Yikes.
So let's get started.
Here's your easy guide to mastering and understanding the flute embouchure.
What is the Flute Embouchure
The word embouchure is rooted in the French for ‘mouth’ and refers to the shape of the facial muscles, tongue and teeth when we blow into a wind instrument.
The opening in our lips is called the aperture.
Its shape and size helps to channel our breath and regulate its speed and direction into and across the flute. This makes it one of three vitally important factors in good sound production,
- The material a flute is made of, and
- The physical cut of the head joint
can make or break the quality of your sound.
(By the way, before you buy a flute, make sure you know how to spot a dud by clicking here .)
The flute is an exception in the woodwind family.
Along with his little brother, the piccolo, its the only modern orchestral instrument without a reed.
A reed creates resistance, causing vibrations which then produce sound.
With the flute our mouth is effectively the reed – the conduit through which the air travels into the instrument.
No reed - no sound.
How does the Flute Embouchure Affect Sound Quality?
Shape and size
To make a ‘sound’ on the flute, the air needs to travel diagonally down across the embouchure hole.
The shape and size of your aperture creates a jet of air.
The length, thickness, angle and speed of this air jet all act together to produce the vibrating column of air within the flute that makes sound.
Change any one of these parameters and you'll produce changes in pitch, volume or flute tone.
For example, if you play with too little air speed, it means the column of air will vibrate slower, which means you’ll play flat (under pitch), softly and with a raspy, weak sound.
Still Struggling to Make a Sound?
Click below to get instant access to my simple strategies to form your embouchure PLUS how to avoid the common mistakes that may be SABOTAGING YOUR SOUND.
(This series has ALREADY helped hundreds of players, and I'm certain it will help you too!)
(By the way, here's what people are saying about it...)
What is a Flexible Flute Embouchure?
As your playing ability improves, there's new skills to master.
You'll expand to playing notes at the extremes of registers.
Playing over a large dynamic range from very, very soft to very, very loud.
As well as playing in tune.
To do all of these things, your embouchure needs to remain ‘flexible.’ This means it’s actually necessary to make subtle modifications as you play.
Your face and throat can't be tense or locked into just one position.
Your embouchure is dynamic.
Here's an example of using embouchure flexibility...
To make the interval leaps in measure 40 above, you need to increase the air speed and modify the direction of air into the flute.
Instead of just ‘blowing harder’ you can modify the aperture size to become smaller.
It forces the air through a smaller hole, naturally causing an increase in speed without the side effect of playing loudly and sharp.
(Check out an example of a small aperture in the pic below).
You also need to angle the air higher by moving the centre of the bottom lip and jaw ever so slightly forward, covering more of the embouchure hole.
In another example below, to increase the volume in measure 26 you need to use more air.
But if you simply blow harder and faster, you'll raise the pitch and eventually over blow into harmonics. Instead you compensate by increasing the size of the aperture (kinda like this pic below) and allow more air to flow without the overall speed increasing.
My Easy Guide to Forming your Embouchure
The embouchure is so polarising.
Some people seem to be naturals. They have no issues producing sound relatively quickly.
For others, the struggle for sound takes longer.
That's OK. I've got some pointers that will strategically help you zero in on that sweet spot.
01 Work in front of a mirror
You'll begin to recognise the subtle changes in embouchure shape much faster
02 Head Joint Only
Ditch the body and foot joint and keep it simple. This way you can isolate true embouchure shape issues (as opposed to positioning errors when you hold the entire flute.)
The aperture should be aligned approximately in the middle of the length of the embouchure hole of the flute
About one third to one quarter of the area of the embouchure hole should be covered by your bottom lip
05 The Lip Position
The bottom lip should be slightly flattened and the upper lip overhanging above your bottom lip slightly to direct the flow of air diagonally down. Picture the stream of air hitting your left elbow.
06 Corners of the Mouth
Should be turned down slightly in a relaxed pout, rather than pulled back and up as if smiling.
07 Aperture Shape
The hole in your lips should be a squashed oval and should not be longer than the embouchure hole on the flute. The inner wet part of your lips should be touching
08 Breath and Sounding the Note
Use a steady stream of air (equivalent to playing moderately loudly). Sound the syllable ‘mmmm’ and then release a ‘p’ sound to create the correct mouth shape. Once you have found this shape, use the ‘t’ sound while breathing out to mimic tonguing notes
If you've tried these and are still struggling, I'll show you how I go about forming my flute embouchure, step-by-step, in my series below...
The Flute Embouchure Mistakes That Sabotage Sound
So I realise I've given you a general guide to embouchure formation, but the problem's obvious isn't it?
We're all unique.
Our lip thickness, the straightness of our teeth, wearing braces, the shape of our chins and jaw bite will mean each embouchure shape will be a little different to the next.
And that means it’s really a case of trial and error to find that sweet spot, so get in front of that mirror and start experimenting.
There's been a lot of talk in this article about what the embouchure 'is', but what can be just as helpful in this search for sound, is understanding what the embouchure definitely ISN'T.
So to wrap up, here's SIX of the most common embouchure mistakes many beginners make, and why they matter.
Rolling the flute inward or pressing the flute into your chin too hard. Too much of the embouchure hole is covered by your lips, meaning not enough air is directed into the flute.
The smiling embouchure. This pulls the lips away from the flute’s lip plate, increasing the length and angle of the air stream, causing pitch and tone problems. It also tends to lock the lips and cheeks in place, and also makes it more difficult to anchor the flute under the bottom lip and against the chin.
Not supporting the breath enough (air speed too slow). This makes you overcompensate by squeezing the aperture smaller, tensing the facial muscles
Placing the flute too high on the lip or too low on the chin. This means that not enough of the air jet is directed into the flute
Blowing air directly across the embouchure hole, rather than diagonally down at your left elbow. Again, this means that not enough of the air jet is directed into the flute
Holding the assembled flute at the wrong angle. Too far forward, backward or downward means too much air is dispersed as the embouchure hole is misaligned, resulting in an airy, weak tone
Click to Access My Super Simple Strategies For Great Sound...
Blocki, K., Performance: Flute Tone – Beautiful Tone for the New Flutist. School Band & Orchestra, 2013. 16(5): p. 36-40.
Criswell, C., Creating and Maintaining a Good Flute Embouchure. Teaching Music, 2009. 16(5): p. 49.
Solis, J., et al., Development of an anthropomorphic musical performance robot capable of playing the flute and saxophone: Embedding pressure sensors into the artificial lips as well as the re-designing of the artificial lips and lung mechanisms. Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 2016. 86: p. 174-183.