Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Embouchure and Hand Position: A Very Important Partnership

By Dr. Naomi Seidman - Associate Professor of Flute, Penn State University

Naomi Seidman

In teaching college level students, I find they often resist hand position changes because the new position makes their hands feel awkward and their overall sound and flexibility on the instrument suffers. The same reaction occurs when I work with students to relax their embouchures. The change in embouchure does not always work with the way they are holding the instrument. I have discovered that students make the quickest adjustments to both hand position and embouchure when the relationships between the two are explained to them. The way a flutist aligns the embouchure hole with the flute body is directly related to the way the flutist holds and balances the instrument. If you notice that a student has a particularly pulled embouchure and is struggling with sound production and flexibility, most likely the student is holding the flute in a way that encourages that embouchure to function poorly. Any change in the embouchure will most likely result in changes in the holding position. For example, have you ever had students do embouchure work on the head joint and then when you tell them to put it back on the flute and try the same concept it does not work well? This is because hand position has a direct impact on the sound production on the flute. I have come across my fair share of tight embouchures, only to discover that the reason the student is playing with such an embouchure is because they have hand position problems that force them to pull their embouchures in order to create the sound they desire.

When addressing hand position, I like to begin by examining how the student balances the flute when playing. It is important to define hand position as how one places the hands on the instrument as well as how one balances the instrument. I have found the best system for balancing the flute uses only three points: chin, left index finger, and right thumb. If a student cannot balance the flute with those three points, adjustments in the basic hand position must be made to stabilize this position.  Note that chin pressure should be minimal. If balancing the flute in this way feels unstable the student can practice balancing the flute by standing in front of a mirror and watching what happens when they balance on the three points. When the students are practicing, their wrists, shoulders, and fingers should not look stressed. In fact, when the balance is steady they should feel completely relaxed, as if they could just walk around all day with the flute and they would not tire.

Another important observation is that while balancing the flute, the keys must be parallel to the ground. If a student struggles with achieving this alignment, thumb ports can be extremely useful in adapting to this new position. In order to make sure that the overall sound does not suffer, it is very important to adjust the head joint position so that the student is still able to feel the amount of lower lip coverage they are used to. Most students will have to roll in the head joint a little, depending on their lower lip size.

If the student is used to rolling the keys of the flute towards them, it is most likely that they are setting up the head joint more turned out from the central alignment with the first key on the body. If the keys are returned to parallel, the student will have to roll in the head joint slightly to get the same amount of lower lip coverage. A student’s pulled embouchure may result from balance issues; another possibility is that the head joint alignment is such that the student would cover too much of the embouchure hole if they relaxed their lips. Air direction will have to be adjusted slightly when the embouchure is relaxed, but do not do anything until the hand position is fixed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Professor Jean Ferrandis

Jean Ferrandis
We recently spoke with Jean Ferrandis, who is in his second year on faculty at California State University, Fullerton.  Jean has travelled across the globe and has given masterclasses at some of the top schools of music in the United States, including Juilliard, Eastman, Ithaca, Rice, and Indiana University-Blooomington.  He spent quite a bit of time performing in New York, but the West Coast was completely new territory for him.  For Jean, the West Coast was "exotic" and "new" but he assured us that he "likes what is new!"

There are a few differences in teaching in the U.S. versus Europe, but that is largely due to the our differing educational systems.  Jean recognizes the rigorous schedule of undergraduates, as he mentioned that they must study "everything from geography to politics -- in addition to flute."  Students must fit flute into this very busy schedule, but for Jean, he feels that the teacher must adapt even more so to work with the students' schedules.  The concept of private lessons that he is familiar with from Europe is a bit different than what we typically see here in the U.S.  Jean feels that it is important for students to listen to each other, so he has private lessons with students but "everyone else is invited to come!" 

We asked Jean for his thoughts on what a student must do to prepare for collegiate studies on flute.  Jean said, "What is most important is to come for the teacher.  With this teacher, you will improve and learn.  Know the teacher -- know how he plays and decide is you like how he plays."  He feels strongly that students and teachers are always sharing, and it is important for him to feel the artistic potential in a student.  Musicality is a  key element for Jean, who states that he must feel "passion and sensitivity in the student.  It's because you know the music you want to create, and this is what is important.  If you know which color you want, or what phrasing you want, you will find a way to achieve it technically,"  Fundamentals are important but should never be a hindrance or block to musical expression.  Jean emphasizes that "if your music is natural, the notes will come with it."  He remembered working with Leonard Bernstein, who was his greatest mentor.  Ferrandis said, "With Bernstein, it was only about music."  To this day, he recollects Bernstein's words and carries this legacy of music making each day in his teaching.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Warm Up: Daily Empowerment

By Lisa Nelsen

Lisa Nelsen
Before a singer actually begins to use the voice, the breath is engaged and activated so that the larynx and facial muscles can be used efficiently. Wind players could do the same thing, and get to the work of tone, articulation and fast digits MUCH QUICKER! Those quivering lips and jaw can mean that the breath isn’t being used effectively, and all the other muscles are kicking in to save the music. Try these exercises for a few weeks, gauge your progress, and let me know if it’s helped. It definitely can’t hurt! And you may feel great!

Be prepared to feel awkward and maybe self-conscious doing these exercises.  If you want to find success with them then they have to be done regularly. They can help centre you and as you know from yoga, meditation and Pilates routines, just breathing can help your body recover from stress. SO JUST DO IT!

1) Find a balanced stance, feet under your hips, arms by your sides

2) Breathe in for 4 beats and out 4 beats. For one breath keep your knees slightly bent, and for the next, lock them. Do this several times to get used to the feeling of how your lower back releases. Be aware of your knees throughout your warmup and playing sessions.

3) “Trombone Stretch-breath” -  Breathe in actively, breathe out and raise both arms to shoulder height, breathe in and raise arms over your head. Stretch to one side, keep breathing in and keep hips level, facing forward. Knees soft. After a few seconds breathe out, lower arms. Repeat on other side. And then repeat again on both sides because it feels good!

4) Stretch arms out at shoulder height, palms facing away with fingers up (like pushing against pillars) and slowly make small circles from shoulders, keeping arms straight. Bend fingers toward the floor, continue circles. Switch circles in opposite direction, fingers down. Then change back to fingers up, same direction.

5) Cross right arm in front to hold left shoulder. Look over right shoulder for stretch. Change to left arm on right shoulder, look over left shoulder. Then switch back to right because we need to compensate for our left-side ‘flute stance’ in practising and performing. This is a good stretch if you become tense in ensemble playing.

6) Now, bend your knees, lean over a shallow squat (think of a rugby scrum). Breathe in, feeling the cold air on the back of the throat. Breathe out like you’re fogging up a window. Start slowly, like a diesel train engine, and gradually speed up the in and out breath. After doing this for 15-30 seconds, roll up slowly with your head coming up last.

7) Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms by your side. Use your thumb to guide one arm to shoulder height in front of you, move arm to side still shoulder height, face palm to floor, lower arm slowly to side. Repeat on other side.

8) With your flute, cover all the keys, turn headjoint in, covering hole with lips, make either constant fff sound or shsh sound, creating a resistance.  Breathe in for 4 beats (roughly mm=60), out for 4. Then in for 4, out for 6, in for 4, out for 8 and continue for as many as you can. Try to increase the length of breaths out.

Tweet any questions to me @latheduck
Happy Breathing!! 

Visit Lisa Nelsen's website at



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Interview with Raffaele Trevisani - Part 3

Raffaele Trevisani
September: How would you advise placing the head joint?

Raffaele: Put the bottom lip over the top; let the bottom lip droop over, especially if you have thin lips. Keep the cut of the embouchure hole under the red-“vermillion line’-down on the lip. Not too high on the lip. Personally, I prefer slightly left side, too.

September: You have a sizzling fast, light tongue technique. Where do you place the tongue?

Raffaele: I say French-tu and du on the palette on the teeth but not touching the lip.  If you have a stretched smiling embouchure, the tightness will create a false syllable like “twah-twah”. Rampal was a master for speed and lightness. You must tongue lightly and connected (more legato) to play fast. Try the syllables le-le-le-le, de-de-de, ge-ge-ge, in an almost unpronounced, legato way. No accents. You must single tongue all rhythms for hours, months, and years, then do double and triple tongue. Unfortunately there is no short cut. Moyse wrote another great book: 50 Articulations on the Allemande of J.S. Bach.  It’s a real workout but not to be done all at once! Study a few rhythms at a time.

Double tongue uses the back of the tongue where the tongue connects to the throat.  The key is the back part of throat, used as light as possible and only the little part of the tongue!  One other thing, to get a really good detaché you have to have a very clean focused sound-so here we are again at the importance of Sonorité. Detaché is sound production. If the sound is good then the articulation will sound clear and strong. The better the sound the better everything is. Don’t reinforce the tongue in detaché; not strong but incredibly light strokes- no hard syllables. Try leh-geh, leh-geh, then geh-geh, geh-geh, then go back and forth -leh-geh-leh-geh until you can’t decipher between the two sounds. Blow and play leh-geh in a flute position by putting your finger under lip to emulate a flute embouchure.  Emphasis the “L” not the “E”.

So, to recap-play scales and Sonorité all day long because it’s the basics to the to understanding and controlling the complexities of the flute

September: Anything about vibrato?

Raffaele: No diaphragm in vibrato. Use the throat.

September: You get unusual colors in your playing. Do you change vowels?

Raffaele: For color I use different vowels but not in the mouth.  I change the direction of air in the embouchure hole--I play over and under, and a tiny bit more open without losing focus. I don’t use the chin for color although it’s possible, it depends. Blow more in to the head or up. Jimmy’s (Sir James) school is to blow more into the flute keeping about 1/3 to half open hole in head piece.