Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flute Moves on Chin

Question: My teacher says that I move my flute on my mouth too much when I play the flute. For me, this results in losing the tone suddenly, especially in the low register.For some reason I cannot figure out how to fix this.
Can you help?

Dear Student,
There are several ways that flute students move the flute on their mouth too much, so you might want to discover what the actual problem is.

If you set a video camera to film yourself up close when you play you may instantly see exactly how the flute is moving at the lip.

Then check this list and see which seems most likely.

From the most common to the less common, some of the possibilities include:

1. The flutist rolls the flute inward as they play, especially for the very low or high register.
This can be caused by:

a) The flute is rolling inwards by itself due to the misalignment of the headjoint causing the heavier rods to be pulled inward by the downward pull of gravity (also see How to Line Up Your Headjoint for photos and explanations on how to correct this.)

b) The student unconsciously turns the flute inward with their hands, in order to create a shorter distance (shorter air-reed) in order to try and get low or high register notes to sound "better"
This is a common but flawed technique, and can be corrected by working on making the lips more mobile so that the lips flexibly travel across the blow hole, rather than rolling the blow hole inward.

(Note - Click on jpeg to enlarge; use back button to return.)
The above diagram uses a simple drinking straw experiment to demonstrate that moving closer to the splitting edge, with the lips, results in sounding the higher octaves. It is taken from pgs. 71-77 of Robert Billington's excellent flute technique dissertation about Robert Aitken's teaching, entitled "The Physical Flute", which is a Phd. paper available at: http://www.rdbflute.com/RDBDE.html)

2. The Flute is unstable because of the right thumb not having enough friction on the body of the flute, or the left thumb being curved on the thumb key.

For the first: Right thumb unstable, reposition the thumb to have more friction contact on the body of the flute. You may wish to turn the thumb so it points up the tube (see photos of class being taught by Joanna G'Froerer here.) Or, if you have very long or very short fingers/thumbs, it's very inexpensive to try the $20 removeable Thumbport and test all kinds of positions of the right thumb, where the shank of the thumb is supported by the shelf of the Thumbport.

For the second possibility, the left thumb and its position on the thumb keys, and especially for flutists with long fingers, Alexa Still gave some advice to one of the flute groups about she allows the Left Thumb to cradle the edge of the thumbkey at the knuckle, which helps keep the flute at the correct angle for easy fingering, rather than having the thumb slide around on the smooth surface of the flute's thumb key.
It's especially difficult to steady the flute using the thumb key if the thumb is crooked (bent like a "7"). If your left thumb is straight or "J" shaped, it can keep the flute's keyboard parallel to the ceiling, by its ability to balance the edge of the thumb keys.

Like the thumbport for the right thumb,the flute's stability in the hands through using the knuckle bone on the shank of the left thumb,to tip the flute forward consistently and without unecessary tension,offers an extra point of stability for turning the flute's keys either fully upright or tilted slightly forward.

3. The flutist is trapping the lower lip under the flute's lip-plate, and because the lower lip is moveable and loose, is unknowingly pushing their lower lip around with the lip-plate when they play.

This can be caused by:

a) The pressure of the flute's lip-plate is too high on the lower lip, which distorts the lower lip or shifts it from side to side, disturbing the tone quality

b) The pressure of the flute's lip-plate is too high on the lower lip and the flutist has added more pressure to force the lower lip to conform to a certain embouchure position. Because the hand pressure now control the contours of the lower lip, the embouchure is not flexible, and the hands and arms become more and more tense trying to control the lower lip at a distance.

c) the flutist is using too much finger pressure or hand and arm pressure when playing, perhaps due to undiagnosed pad leaks which they are overcoming by forcing the pads to close.

See James Galway's Embouchure Teaching Exercise where he places the finger then the headjoint on the chin and flexibly moves lower lip up and over the upper lip to show how "untrapped" it is.


4. The flute's lip-plate is not making complete contact with the skin of the chin area, but is almost hanging in mid-air with only a tiny amount of friction contact with the skin.
This is caused by:

a) trying to balance the flute's lip-plate on only a 1/4 inch of skin on the chin or just below the lower lip edge, rather than placing the entire lip plate in the dip of the chin, and then forming the embouchure to suit the new placement.

b) having the headjoint lined up wrongly so that the flutist must bend their head forward in order to create the right angle to blow at, and perching their chin on the flute inconsistently.

See Jen's video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tjbd2P5-Kpg


5. The flutist is either mistakenly jutting their jaw forward and backward to create octave changes, (see jaw jutting on this blog.)
or is moving the jaw up and down as they play, in such a way that the lower lip and flute's lip plate are being constantly moved around.
This causes inconsistent tone especially when changing from low to high registers.

See Jen's jaw motion video: http://jennifercluff.blogspot.com/2009/05/jaw-motion-for-flute-is-your-jaw.html

Also to see up and down motion:

In this Robert Dick teaching video, you can see that the inconsistency in tone control of the student is caused by the flute moving up and down on the chin caused by the pressure of the lip-plate being too high on the lower lip: http://vimeo.com/19124030

6. The flutist is unconsciously moving their lips when they tongue (single or double) which causes their lip aperture to become large and then small between notes.

In the teaching video at this link:
http://www.myspace.com/video/dong/manhattan-school-of-music-faculty-linda-chesis-39-s-flute-lesson/27333025 flute teacher Linda Chesis demonstrates what it sounds like when students "nibble" or minutely move their lips open and closed while tonguing.
The correction is to play the tongued passage all-slurred at first, then sense the exact position of the lips when the all-slurred version has perfect tone, and then maintain that sense of the lip position when tonguing.

I highly recommend the exercise called "Lowering the lip-plate's pressure on the chin" by Roger Mather in Vol. 2 of "The Art of Playing the Flute."

It may also help not only to video record yourself to see for yourself what it is that's causing the flute's instability on your chin, but also to video record your teacher's observations during a lesson.
If you cannot borrow or locate a video camera, then using a mirror when practicing, and in your lessons can really help you see what you're actually doing.

Good luck, and let us know what it turned out to be.
Best, Jen
Comments (4)
Blogger jen said...

A comment from a flute teacher today:
Another great one, Jen...and timely, too:

I have a 12 year old student who has/had this problems...and also refused to place the flute below her lip on the chin despite lots of instruction and prodding. I sent her your blog posting this morning and and we discussed it at her lesson this afternoon.

After experimenting a bit...and getting her to get the flute lower, angle the air down into it more, and realizing she didn't have to blow so hard to make a sound and could play twice as long, and even louder and more focused when she made a smaller aperture and found the most efficient way to play, she was just overjoyed and was jumping up and down with excitement. She had been struggling so hard and doing it the Hard Way, and she finally felt she was getting somewhere.

Your clear instructions and pictures helped her over the hurdle, way better than my word. (...after all, YOU are on the Internet and were the "expert.")

So, I award you the Medal of Honor for the day, and the "Certified Public Hero Award. (See attached: Certificate of AWESOMENESS award!)
Thankyou so so SO much.
I'm thrilled! Thanks.
Best, Jen

Thursday, January 26, 2012 12:57:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jen, Just love your willingness to share all things flute with the world. Though I have nothing original of my own to share with you, I did find a repository of legitimate public domain flute related material that may be useful to you and to other readers.

Here's the link:



Monday, April 16, 2012 9:05:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks so much for the link.
Interesting that there's so much listed for flute at imslp free sheetmusic library.
Thanks for your kind words too!
Best, Jen

Monday, April 16, 2012 12:52:00 PM

Blogger Hilary3 said...

All these are important issues. I have one more, which is perspiration. In searching your archives, you suggest a postage stamp on or paper tape on the mouthpiece. I've also used a post-it cut to size, but be careful of paper cuts on your chin :-)!

Monday, June 10, 2013 2:03:00 PM


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