This second part of Quick Tone Fixes deals with how to develop a more flexible and consistent tone. It also addresses how to find your own voice by listening and being aware of your tone.
To find the sweet spot in your tone:
On #1, 2 & 3 go to both extremes of pitch bending, and find the middle point where the tone sounds its best with the least effort.
- Bending pitch exercise by rolling in and out
- Bending pitch exercise by changing the angle of your lips
- Lips squeeze & expand
- Find the correct spot on your lower lip
1. Start by playing a note in the usual position, then roll the flute in, bending the pitch down. Then roll out as far as possible, bending the pitch up. Go back to the starting position. All of these movements should be done seamlessly and very gradually.
Do this exercise several times on the same note, seeking the spot where the tone and color pleases you. Try to find a spot that is not too far rolled in or out, since that decreases the degree of flexibility in your playing.
Practice this exercise on different notes and in different registers.
2. Practice this exercise in the same manner as exercise #1, bending the pitch down and up by moving only your lips. Avoid rolling the flute in and out.
This exercise provides more flexibility to fine-tune notes over time .
3. Start the exercise below by playing with your regular embouchure, then squeeze the center of your lips gradually until you lose your tone, release gradually to go back to your regular embouchure, then expand the center of your lips. Finish the exercise by going back to your regular embouchure.
Listen carefully to the changes that occur to your tone while doing this exercise, and choose the embouchure that sounds the most resonant and pleasing to you.
This exercise can be played on different notes and in different registers.
As a variation of the above exercise and to gain further awareness of your tone and lips, play it by stretching and releasing the corners of your lips. This puts an emphasis on your lower lip, while the original exercise puts an emphasis on the upper lip.
4. This is not an exercise, but rather a checkup of where to place your flute on your lower lip.
In front of a mirror, check for horizontal alignment by moving the headjoint slightly to either side of the lower lip and listening carefully to where you sound your best.
Check for vertical alignment by making sure that the edge of the lip plate rests where your lower lip meets your skin. Different players might need to move the flute slightly up or down, depending on the thickness of the lower lip, but this is a good starting point. Generally speaking, if your flute rests too high on your lower lip, your tone will tend to be thin, particularly in the low register. If it rests too low, it will be too airy.
General Tone Advice
- It’s easier to get a consistent tone when we align our flutes properly and consistently every day. General points of alignment: a. The embouchure hole lines up with the first key of the body of the flute. Depending on your lips and your headjoint, turn in or out slightly until you find the best alignment to get your best tone and easy finger action for both hands. b. The foot joint axle lines up with the middle of the last key of the flute body (D key). Depending on the length of your pinky, you might need to turn the foot joint slightly in.
- Use warm air; drop your jaw to feel that your mouth is open inside as if you were yawning. That will produce a more resonant tone. I think of opening not only the back of my mouth, but also the front of my mouth towards my front teeth.
- Use the inner part of your lips. When we focus on using the inner part of our lips we tend to squeeze our lips less, getting a fuller more resonant tone.
Some of the above exercises might improve your tone on the spot, but constant mindful practice and dedication yield more permanent results!
The following are just a small sample of flute books that are dedicated to tone development on the flute, or that contain tone exercises:
On Sonority, Art & Technique by Marcel Moyse - Leduc
Tone Development Through Extended Techniques by Robert Dick - Robertdick.net
The Simple Flute by Michel Debost - Oxford University Press
Check-up by Peter-Lukas Graf - Schott
Tone Development Through Interpretation for the Flute by Marcel Moyse - McGinnis & Mars
Practice Book for the Flute - Omnibus Edition Books 1-6 by Trevor Wye - Novello Publishing Limited