Are These Flute Embouchure Mistakes Sabotaging Your Sound?

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.


help with flute embouchure

Why?

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.

Make sure you watch my video too.

I'll demonstrate the FATAL flute embouchure mistakes that are the reason why you've been struggling to make a sound.

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. 


flute embouchure sketch

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,

  • Embouchure 
  • 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?

Three major factors - the embouchure shape and size, its positioning on the flute’s lip plate as well as breath control all work together to make great sounding tone (or sound quality).

Shape and size

Positioning

Breath Control

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? 

Enter your details below and get instant access to my simple strategies to form your embouchure PLUS how to avoid the common mistakes that are SABOTAGING YOUR SOUND.

(This video has ALREADY helped thousands 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.

dynamics in music

As well as playing in tune

vibrato waves

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.   

example flute embouchure

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.

flute embouchure

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.)

03 Alignment

The aperture should be aligned approximately in the middle of the length of the embouchure hole of the flute

04 Coverage

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

I'll show you how I go about forming my flute embouchure in my video below...

Sounding Better Than Ever is Easier Than You Think...

CLICK HERE to access my TRIED AND TESTED METHOD for finding your flute embouchure  

flute embouchure

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

1.

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. 

2.

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.

3.

Not supporting the breath enough (air speed too slow). This makes you overcompensate by squeezing the aperture smaller, tensing the facial muscles

4.

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

5.

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

6.

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...

References:

http://woodwindintonation.weebly.com/flute.html

http://jennifercluff.blogspot.com/2009/05/smile-embouchure-why-it-doesnt-work.htm

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.

Comments

  1. Unknown

    Whenever i blow, my embouchure hole i always formed slightly off-center on the left side of my lips, whatever i do, my lip are always asymmetrical whenever i smile or make a sad face, it’s like, my left side of my lower lip is overlapping my upper lip, while my right side of my lower lip doesn’t overlap my upper lip, i don’t know how to fix this, this really stressed me out

  2. Christine

    Check and see if you have what’s known as a tear drop shaped lip you may actually have to play of to the side like that for a reason. If you Google there’s a few quick ways to see if your upper lip resembles a tear drop which would split the air stream column if you tried to blow directly center.
    Hope that helps!

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