Graduate student struggling with embouchure

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Graduate student struggling with embouchure

Post by mrichardson84 »

There. I said it. It may shock some of you, but I've been playing the flute for over 15 years and am trying to get my Master's degree this spring. I had a shaky first 7 years in middle and high school due to a poor music program, and when I started college, I was told that I needed to lose my "smile," as my upper lip was very tight. My teacher told me to practice frowning. It took me months just to figure out that she meant I needed to open up. 8 years later, I've gone through various embouchure overhauls, and still I struggle with achieving a flexible, relaxed embouchure.

My aperture is generally large, because I can't get a decent sound without pulling my jaw back. Therefore, I tend to play sharp often and sometimes my extreme registers suffer. My friend (who's a far better player and also getting her Master's this spring) told me that I need to utilize my upper lip muscles and not pull back my jaw so much. Well, it's easy enough to learn not to pull back the jaw, but I have no idea how to direct the air with my top lip, when I have a protrusive lower lip that dominates everything my lips do, both my speech and my playing. When I asked her if there was a specific thing I needed to do, all she would/could tell me was, "Practice." Well of course. But [i]how?[/i] I can't do something until I know how to do it.

I am desperate. I got so frustrated after last spring that I took the fall semester off, and I got a little rusty. I figured maybe that would help my muscles lose their bad habits, but I've been very disapointed thus far. Is there anybody out there that knows a specific way to pull the upper lip down [i]without[/i] the bottom lip dominating? Any vowels, consonants, mouth shapes? This has been extremely frustrating and tearful for me. I enjoy playing the flute and want a career in performance, but my embouchure has held me back for years, and I can't get over the hump. Help!!

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Post by Arianna »

I know what you are going though...however, I don't know anything to say about that upper lip stuff! That is one I never heard. But, I thought I would let you know you are not alone. When I went through college it was that I smiled/pulled corners too much. Then I was supposed to frown with one teacher (I hated that). Then, completely relaxed with air in cheeks for high notes. What I ended up doing was finding the happy medium between all that worked for me. I have read articles about people who are great players with a slightly odd embouchure. Everyone always tried to fix them, even though they sounded fine. Now, if you don't like your sound and are having intonation problems, that is different. With the larger hole, you may want to try buzzing. I have worked with this some and it tends to help focus the air and relax the lips. If you are bad at buzzing, get a handy brass player to help. It will be good for them to teach too. I forget who it is who recommends buzzing, I could find it again if need be. Just something to try.
Also, know that there are many out there who have gone/are going through what you are :)

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Post by Tarandros »

One thing I've found that helps me loosen up the embouchure is to do the opposite of the Moyse Sonority exercises which generally start around second octave B and work down. That way, your embouchure is already tightish to get the B. You then have to loosen it as you work down the semitones blowing long notes. I've found that doing the opposite of that and using as relaxed an embouchure as possible and blowing lots of long notes on the low register, low G down to C and then back up to G and making them as loud as possible and then from there working up the way, tightening the embouchure as little as possible to get the notes out as you ascend, seems to work - for me, that is: everyone's different of course, but I had the self same problem as you as a returning flautist (I never had anything like this trouble when I used to play as a teenager). Another thing I find helpful is to practise playing over the breaks with as loose an embouchure as possible, mainly from first octave A to second octave E and first octave B to seconc octave F sharp and keep the embouchure as loose as possible without splitting down when you hit E and F sharp. Obviously, 'Rome wasn't built in a day' and it has taken me months of doing this every day for about 15 minutes before I'm feeling confident again in my embouchure. Also, often during practice, particularly if I've been practising high passages where the embouchure tends to tighten up, I break off and again work on playing the lowest register really loud and with as loose an embouchure as possible. A great piece for practising keeping as loose an embouchure as possible to facilitate big register shifts is the third movement of the Alwyn Divertimento for solo flute ('Variations on a Ground'), as in this movement you're having to play as if two flutes are playing in counterpoint, one playing the ground bass on the low register while the other plays the variations in the higher registers.

Another thing that works for me is to think of the aperture as being controlled by pursing the lips or 'pouting' rather than either smiling or frowning, both of which I believe cause tightness at the corners of the lips and also involve additional facial muscles around the cheeks. It seems to work to control the entire apreture with just the central muscles of the lips, just keeping the outer corners of the lips compressed enough to close them and no more. Because fewer muscle groups are involved, the embouchure is more flexible. You've heard of the expression about 'wiping the smile off someone's face'. The expression only has currency because wiping the smile off someone's face is actually quite difficult. I've often seen people smiling and when they suddenly hear something sad or shocking the eyes register the change in emotion quite a while before the lips do, and this is because of the large number of muscles that need to be relaxed before a smile disappears (and I believe the same applies to a frown, which is after all just a downturned smile).
Kind regards, T.

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This is why I feel is a difficult topic because there may be different "school" of embouchure by different flautists. Some emphasizes the "smiley" embouchure while some prefers vice-versa. Personally I feel that the upper lip should be focused, "frowning", emphasis on large aparture and "jawboning" or using a lot of jaw movements is not advisable because you do not necessary need loads of air to blow lower registers especially. At the same time, certain muscles especially the neck should not feel any tension at all.

My advice is to get tips from best known flute principals or professors, try ask as many of them as possible. I am sure you will get views which are commonly shared by them. Also try reading Michel Debost's book "The Simple Flute". It may be a great help.

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Post by Flute2 »

Debost's book is fantastic, as is "Kinkaidiana" by John Krell.

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Post by MissyHPhoenix »

I read not long ago about the "beak" technique to help bring the higher notes back into tune. To do this, you simply imagine the upper lip as a "beak" like a bird and use that to direct the air into the flute. I like this technique very much and have introduced it to my students as well. Perhaps this would help. Good luck!

Why Be Normal????

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Post by virginiak »

You might want to sample a few respected teachers in your area. One of them might say something that makes it simply CLICK for you. In fact, the teacher I study with regularly here (I'm an adult amateur, although I do some paid gigs with professionals every now and then) advises me often to do a lesson here or there with other teachers in the area, since one person is a picc specialist, another performs early repertoire frequently, etc. Each of them approach lessons in a different way, and I've had aha moments from each of them, whether it be through a different way to think about tone, a mental focus to keep me feeling confident in an audition, a way to relax my posture, or an alternate fingering trick I didn't know about.

Another thought... have you checked your equipment setup recently? I recently switched to a new headjoint, after playing on Brannen heads for years (first a classic cut, then a modern cut), and after switching out to a different maker of headjoint, things fell into place much more comfortably for me. Many of my embouchure problems just fixed themselves, and I'm far more relaxed when I play than I had been.
Forewarned is forearmed, and four-armed is half an octopus.

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Post by wkzh »

A few things that might help:

1) Make sure your airstream angle is correct. Although yes, pouting, frowning, whatever, they all are needed, but I often find myself having problems when I do not adjust the angle properly. Practice this until it's second nature. Low notes have a generally low angle, high notes a higher angle, altissimo, well, off the charts. Experimentation required.

2) Keep the air going! Often notes don't pop out because they aren't given enough air, or at least at the wrong intensity. A flexible embouchure still requires ample support, so keep this in mind. Trivial, yes, but worth the reminder.

3) Ensure proper resonance. Sometimes a squeezed embouchure is a futile attempt to focus the tone. Yeah, works sometimes, but in most cases, no. Tried utilising your oral cavity and vocal tract? Experiment!

4) If all that fails, then you might want to try adjusting your "pout." Pouting is an effective way of directing the airstream, rather than smiling. (Smiling can work, but it hurts.) Imagine you're whistling or something. (I would have drawn technical diagrams if I could.) "Frowning" is the byproduct of pouting, because the lower lip is pressed by the lip plate which gives the appearance of frowning. It really just is a mutant pout.

5) Enjoy the music! V V IMPT KTHXBYE

(P.S. btw once you get it right, it's very interesting to observe your embouchure in the mirror, the tiny little changes you make to your lips that make a huge change in the sound.)

(P.P.S. this is not the final word, just a few useful tips I found most helpful over the years.)
The flute family: probing the lower limit of human hearing and the upper limit of human tolerance.

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