With summer holidays upon us, well at least in the southern hemisphere where I am based, many of us have a lovely long break to look forward to. This is a great chance to set up a regular, relaxed practice routine and give your playing a boost along. It’s a good opportunity to learn some new repertoire you’d like to focus on in the coming year but remember as I always say; every practice session should contain some work on tone, technique, articulation and repertoire in order for it to be a really worthwhile session.

Since the flute is based on the natural harmonic series, and the intervals of the harmonics series become wider as they ascend, the top register of the flute will push sharp if you do nothing about it.

Using your tuning machine, play the top register notes and notice how sharp they are if you don’t deliberately lower the pitch.

In order to lower the pitch of these upper notes there are a few things you can do. (Some of these ideas have been discussed in earlier posts. Look for the tag intonation)

  • Lower the flute slightly on the bottom lip, allowing the lips to cover more of the sound hole
  • Lengthen the neck and drop the chin slightly, which allows the lips to come over the sound hole.
  • Relax the jaw. Allow it to hang more freely, creating space between your upper and lower teeth, releasing excess tightness in the embouchure.
  • Think of a round ‘0’ vowel shape to create a bigger, rounder shape inside your mouth. This slows down the speed of the air a smidge and will lower the pitch.
  • Think of your airstream coming up from your body, around the palate and down into the flute; playing over the left foreman rather than aiming upwards towards the ceiling.

A combination of all these ideas should help to lower the top register pitch. Remember to check your intonation with a tuning machine as it is very easy to get used to being sharp and thinking it is ok.

And finally, check the tuning of the top Bb and B natural. Are they actually sharp or perhaps a tad flat? The right hand little finger is the way to get these in tune.

 

A good place to start improving your articulation is by increasing your awareness of your tongue and its position and action inside your mouth. With that in mind try the following activities, which aim to increase your kinaesthetic awareness of your tongue:

  • Go exploring with your tongue and count all your teeth. Upper and lower!
  • Put your tongue on the inside bottom edge of your upper front teeth. Now slowly travel up the inside of those teeth, onto the flat part behind your upper teeth (the alveolar ridge) and back as far as you can along where the palate curves up and away.
  • Say the syllable ‘tee’ repeatedly without voicing it. Which part of your mouth is your tongue touching? Which part of the tongue is doing the touching?
  • If you say ‘tee’ just once, where does your tongue finish? Up or down?
  • Repeat the previous step with the syllable ‘do’ and try a few different sounds as well. ‘duh’ ‘too’ ‘toot’ ‘ku’ etc
  • Try moving your tongue back as in swallowing and then bring the back of your tongue up and as far forward as you can, without poking your tongue out of your mouth.

Did you know that two thirds of your tongue is actually vertical? The horizontal part we call the tongue is only about one third of your entire tongue.

Having a wide variety of articulation can create so much interest in your playing. There is a myriad of ways you can articulate on the flute and each one has a unique sound and character. We need to make choices that bring life and clarity to our playing. String players have so many different options including up bows, down bows, spiccato, martele, tremolo, ricochet, pizzicato and hook stroke. As flautists we should aim to emulate the variety of string bowings and create as much interest, variety and clarity with our articulation as we can. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be adding some posts that begin to address the rather large topic of articulation.

Another effective method of adjusting pitch is to move the flute slightly up and down on your bottom lip. You can do this by pivoting the flute, where it rests on your left hand index finger, by using your right hand thumb; very much like a see-saw. If you apply some effort through your right hand thumb you can pivot the flute downwards on your bottom lip. This allows the bottom lip to come out a little more and as we’ve seen in previous posts, this will lower the pitch. By relaxing the pressure of your right hand thumb the flute can ride up your bottom lip allowing less lip to cover the tone hole; this will raise the pitch slightly.