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.

If you had to choose just one word to describe successfully learning an instrument, what would it be? I suspect many people would choose  practice. 

I would in fact choose consistency. I believe you need to be consistent in every area of learning an instrument to be really successful. 

Consistent  with your practice. 

Consistent with turning up to lessons.  

Consistent with having the right books and your flute. 

Consistent with your tone exercises. 

Consistent with your technical development. 

Consistent with your articulation development. 

Consistent with your musical growth. 

Just be consistent in all areas and you’ll make headway. 

I tell my students that you can’t call a practice session practice unless it includes some work on tone, articulation, technique (including studies) and then repertoire. Have you genuinely practised today or just spent some time in a room with your flute?

After you’ve tuned your flute successfully, you’ll need to learn some of the quick options for changing the pitch of a note so you can make tuning adjustments while playing.

One good principle to comprehend is that as you cover more of the tone hole on the flute the pitch goes down and conversely as you uncover the tone hole the pitch rises.

With this is mind while playing a B (middle line of the staff) lower your chin, allowing your bottom lip to come across the tone hole more; you’ll notice the pitch goes down. Lifting you chin and uncovering the tone hole will raise the pitch. Basically you are allowing your bottom lip to cover more or less of the tone hole.

Have some fun on different notes bending the pitch up and down. See how quickly you can do this and how far you can alter the pitch. You’ll notice there is more scope to lower the pitch than raise it using this method so it is better to be tuned a smidge sharp, needing to bring the pitch down, than to be a bit flat and constantly needing to lift the pitch.

It is better to make these adjustments with subtle head movements rather than turning your flute in and out with your hands. Ideally the flute will stay quite still while your head does the adjusting.