I am a tenor saxophone player who wants to branch out into playing a transverse flute to expand on their fingering techniques and embouchure.

For the past 2 weeks, I have been practising with a Pneumo Pro (a device for learners that emulates a headjoint and has 4 fans for different airflow angles). I can rotate the fans reasonably easily with it, but I have trouble with an actual headjoint. My teacher says I keep the mouth opening way too wide, and he suggested I practise with a pen as well, claiming the mouth should not be open any wider than the width of a pen (and, apparently, trumpet players use that exercise too). I've tried that, and I've done the silly exercise with beer bottles too, but I just cannot find the right spot to produce the sound and am getting to the point where I just want to give up on the idea altogether.

I am wondering if there is any way of training one's muscles or any tricks that would allow for some consistency while playing. I am obviously having trouble with the transfer from saxophone, where the mouth opening is a lot wider and most of the pressure is put on the reed and the mouthpiece as opposed to the lips and diaphragm.

I am maintaining a perfect posture when practising and frequently look in the mirror to check my head and lip positioning, but still no luck.

I think I might also be affected by the fact that the instrument barely has any weight to it (compared to my 3.5kg tenor, at least). It's very difficult to maintain proper positioning when it weighs like a feather. When my tenor is out of alignment, I can instantly feel it through the change in weight distribution. With the flute, I often change the angle without noticing it (hence the necessity to use a mirror).

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    It's fairly obvious that the embouchure for any sax is very different from that used when playing flute. There is no comparison at all - except both use a mouth to blow air producing sound! A couple of weeks is nowhere near enough experience on flute. I found that rotating the flute slightly until sound was produced worked well. Eventually, that and a smiley face did the job, as well as the mirror idea. But like so many things, just getting on with the job works best. Loads of practice - but ten mins at a time is enough.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 8:50
  • @Tim, some people recommend against "smiling". I realise that a couple of weeks is not enough. I just had such an easier time with the saxophone when I started that it's difficult for me to even comprehend the difficulty behind the flute. And I really struggle understanding what I'm doing wrong and what exercises I can do to improve on my performance.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 12:10
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    If you have a teacher and you still can't produce a sound then either your teacher is bad or you're not following their advice.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 15:25
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    Give it at least 6 months' worth of long tones before you give up on learning a different embouchure and a different breath control. Maybe also spend a little time with a blockflote (recorder) to learn to exhale much less air and relax your jaw& lips. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


It's a slog. I did the same thing a year or two back. Although I didn't carry on with flute, I did get to the point where I could get a reasonably decent tone.

The exercise I found most helpful was one that you can find on YouTube, described by James Galway. He recommends simply playing octaves on the headjoint. The idea is to do it without blowing harder - everything happens simply by a very slight adjustment of the angle of the airstream.

It's not easy - it took me maybe 2 months of frustration before I could do it reliably. But once I had it, I was able to play across the range with quite a clear tone. It also helped with the lower register.

(Mr Galway also takes issue with the advice often given to use a "smiling" embouchure. It seems there are many schools of thought on this ...)

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    Thank you! That, coupled with some of the comments, is very helpful. I must add that another useful (in my opinion) piece of advice to develop a good flute embouchure is to imagine you're "spitting rice" (this obviously won't work for piccolo or bass).
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 0:43

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