Blog – Student words

This is the place where my students answer questions.

I recently asked my student, Naomi, to write an article on the best position to hold your flute, and why – Thank you Naomi, here is your article.

What is the best position to hold your flute and why?

By Naomi Bruhn

When I first began playing the flute (many moons ago!), I always wondered why it mattered how I held my flute. I’d think to myself ‘I’m playing the notes perfectly fine like this, so why does it matter?’ Of course after you’ve learnt the basics your teacher tells you to ‘hold your flute up!’ (And they even threaten to stick a pencil in the end to make you keep it there!) Sometimes I’d be watching the pros playing and they’d be tilted to the side and I’d wonder ‘how come they can do it, but I’m not allowed?’ Surely if James Galway can play with his flute at an angle then I should be allowed do the same. This is not the case however. Now that I’ve been playing the flute for a few years I understand why we have to hold our flutes this way.

Firstly, the professionals (who’ve been practising for longer than imaginable) have a way to use the correct position whilst still tilting to the side (I will explain this later).

The correct way to hold a flute is so that the mouthpiece and your embouchure (the way you hold your mouth when you play) remain straight next to each other. The easiest way to achieve this is to hold the flute up straight out to the side next to your mouth.

There are many advantages to doing this. Some of you may say ‘but my arms get sore!’ and believe me I felt the same way. If you practise with your arms up higher, you’ll eventually find that they stop hurting as they build up strength (remember when you thought ‘I’ll never be able to play this song’, but then suddenly you find yourself performing it and you are perfectly capable. You built up the strength to play that song, just like your arms will!)

Now here are the advantages; tuning, clarity and cleanness of notes, improvement in the ease of tonguing, and most of all a happy flute teacher.

Let’s discuss these in more detail. Tuning is definitely one of the hardest things to overcome on the flute (I still struggle with it today!), but if the flute is not aligned with the embouchure then it becomes increasingly difficult. The smallest movement of the mouth from the mouthpiece on the flute can actually change the tuning completely (you can’t rely on moving the head joint for tuning!). If we keep the mouthpiece straight on our bottom lip, pointing directly to the side we can ensure that the movement of our mouth is not the cause of variation in tuning.

Another thing I distinctly remember from when I was first learning the flute was the difficulty of playing in different octaves. You’d try to play a note in the second octave and it would sound like the note from the octave below. This is always extremely annoying, and one big playing factor in this is the angle of the flute. The reason the note may not be coming out cleanly may simply be because your air is moving over the mouthpiece at an angle instead of directly moving over the hole in the head joint. If we lift our flutes and allow that direct contact to occur then not only will we be able to confidently play octaves, the sound quality and cleanness of tone will also improve greatly.

A big challenge of any woodwind instrument is speed and clarity of articulation. I found when I began to hold my flute up and maintain that connection between my embouchure and the mouthpiece that my ability to cleanly tongue not only improved but felt much easier too. This is also because of airflow and directness of air.

I understand that this is much easier to say than it is to do! It will take time; so don’t expect yourself to be holding your flute perfectly overnight (if only!). The professionals have learnt this alignment between embouchure and mouthpiece so well that they can maintain the alignment whilst tilting the flute, by moving their head with it. Before you yourself can do this, you need to learn the alignment of embouchure and mouthpiece like the back of your hand (this isn’t very memorable, so perhaps learn it more like your favourite song) so that you can be accurate. This means you’ll probably just have to hold your flute up straight for a few years (until you’re a pro!) and suffer the pain of sore arms!

Lastly, just think about how happy your flute teacher will be (once you’ve got this down yourself, you can show your knowledge of the flute by checking that they themselves are using the correct alignment!)

 This is Sir James Galway showing you how you should play your flute!

Sir James Galway has been given a lifetime achievement award

Sir James Galway has been given a lifetime achievement award

This is Sir James Galway using the pro flute player head tilt, whilst maintaining alignment between the embouchure and mouthpiece!

james side

I have many more flute related questions for my students to research.

Wearing Lipstick or lip gloss when playing the flute – does it matter?

How should you play into a microphone – which is the best microphone to use for flute playing.

Alto flutes – curved or straight head?

 

 

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