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When starting with the flute, I was told "there's no easy way to teach how to make the flute make a noise, I can show you and explain the theory but you just have to practise." And it seemed to be the case, slowly I became able to make a noise, then to reliably do so.

Now I face the same situation with notes at the top of the 2nd octave - same exact fingering but very subtle differences in blowing. Again I'm told "I can tell you what I'm doing but it's about feel, not knowledge".

Is this really the case, that the difference between getting the note and not is down to such tiny nuances that you have to let your brain train itself? Learn the fingering and then just do it until it 'clicks' and you can't remember why you couldn't do it?

  • Yes, practice lets you refine and improve your technique based off of biofeedback, in this case to your ears and muscles. It's the same with any other skill, like learning to write, or throwing a ball. – Karen Jan 8 '15 at 15:45
  • So once you know the fingerings and have checked you're not making an obvious mistake, it's all down to you and your flute and no tutor or online videos can really speed up the "I can't make the damn note" phase of learning? – Mr. Boy Jan 8 '15 at 16:40
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Trevor Wye, in Practice Books for the Flute, Tone, p. 5, explains why long tone practice is good: "... provided he [the student] can hear the undesirable aspects of his tone, his self-correcting mechanism will ensure that it improves." I take it, that mechanism is biofeedback.

However, I think I've identified an aspect of embouchure that this doesn't work for. Sometimes, for the best pitch or timbre, you need to get the lower lip more behind the upper lip, so the airstream from your lips is angled down more steeply into the embouchure hole. Of the following three ways to achieve that, A and B are most natural and what biofeedback will lead you toward, but C actually works best:

A - retract your lower jaw, which carries the lower lip backwards with it; B - use the lip plate of the flute to push the lower lip inwards; C - use muscles that control the lip to pull the top of the lower lip back more toward the lower teeth.

C becomes more possible when the flute is held low on the chin, so that the lower lip is not pinned by the flute against the lower teeth. Yet, C requires more effort, practice and training. If you just listen to your tone, doing long tones or whatever, you naturally fall into the practice of directing the airstream downward by method A (which Nina Perlove calls playing like a cow chewing its cud), or B, which prevents you from "lipping" the pitch or tone to where you need it to be. Holding the flute too high against the lower teeth or too tightly against the chin are two beginners' mistakes that Jennifer Cluff warns against on her web site.

  • I can't picture C at all. Assuming no typo, surely pulling the top lip backwards will angle your airsteam up? – Mr. Boy Jan 19 '15 at 17:20
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    You're right -- it's a typo. I meant to say for C that you pull your bottom lip backwards. (I'll try correcting it.) – Greg Lee Jan 22 '15 at 1:43

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