One of the most important tools for expression and interpretation of a classical musical piece are the use of dynamics. But with no obstacle to verify our air speed, it is also one of the hardest as a flutist. Having no external feeling for the air resistance, we need to create it in our own body and by adapting our embouchure. Here are some flute embouchure tips for playing different dynamics on the flute and get to the next level of flute playing!
Flute embouchure tips for dynamics
Most flute players do not use the full dynamical range that the flute offers. Generally, they say that the flute has a limited range. But this is true only if you don’t use its full potential! So to stand out as a flutist, other than good intonation and sound quality, controlling your dynamics is key!
How do we play loudly or softly?
The volume measured in decibel depends on the air speed with which we direct our air stream towards the border of the lip hole. They say that the flute can produce over 100 db to the player easily, but doesn’t have such a wide range. Just for a comparison, human speech usually doesn’t exceed 40db. Depending on the culture….
How do we control air speed?
The velocity of our air flow depends on the pressure that we apply and the volume of the air that needs to pass. Moreover, we can control the diameter in various checkpoints on the way out. The last is known as the embouchure, which is the way we place our lips on the lip plate and control the opening between them.
How involved is the embouchure in playing different dynamics?
Following Geoffrey Gilbert’s teachings, the embouchure should change mostly for dynamic reasons and not so much when playing in different octaves. The more smooth the transition between the registers on the flute and the less the embouchure is involved with that, the better we can than use it to control dynamics.
So the following flute embouchure tips for dynamics should not be abused for other purposes. They cannot and should not replace good and adequate support. To train and stabilize your support, you can read our other article HERE.
A good breathing technique is fundamental to be able to control your air flow.
That being said, we can say that the embouchure needs to adapt to the volume we wish to play.
Having a good support it is generally considered to be easier to play loud than soft on the flute. That is because in the first years to produce any sound we use the air speed that is needed to play anywhere between mf and f. But we are not yet controlling it.
To play loud on the flute we need higher speed. As said in the beginning we can augment the speed by increasing the pressure and volume while slightly decreasing the diameter of the air flow.
In other words we need to fill our lungs with a lot of air, down to the bottom and in the back as well.
Do not forget the space below your arm pits, as your sides can contain a lot of air as well and the ribs are quite flexible.
This way the air pressure that wishes to leave our body augments considerably and we can control it by hindering it. So the actual way to direct the air out is by an inner downward motion. Imagine the air going down, side wards and backwards.
Do not keep the air inside by closing your throat. Imagine to fog up a window!
This is the kind of air we need, warm air. Try it against the palm of your hand, you will be surprised!
Have a look at this young lady expaining how to play loud:
This needs a lot of practice and muscle memory of the limits when it cracks.
As we use less air at lower speed we need to direct it much more efficiently.
Moreover, it shouldn’t encounter tensions or obstacles as you can easily hear the “bumps” in the sound. So it will be a smaller diameter as well, but with less air in continuous flow. The slower air will be colder, as it has more time to adapt to the surroundings. Those are usually less than our body temperature.
To some flutists it helps imagining the air as warm for forte and cold for piano.
Embouchure tips to enhance dynamics
and play in tune
When studying to enlarge our dynamical range the first risk is not that the sound cracks. We can push those limits with exercises. But the highest risk is playing out of tune.
Forte – flute embouchure tips for dynamics
When you leave your embouchure in the position of mf and push through more air at higher pressure and speed you will be sharp.
To contrast this right from the start we can use a number of measures. One important tool is the inner space of our mouth and the position of the tongue. We can control this delicate balance of volume and pitch by lowering our jaw (as in imagining dark vowels like “o”or “u”) and lowering our tongue with it. This enhances also the range of harmonics produced as it functions as a resonator. Furthermore, those rounder sounds are perceived as more in pitch, as long as they are sustained well.
Forte is not the opposite of playing piano!
Rather, it is an expression that you achieve when you think of your whole body. Expand your abdomen and torso when playing loud, creating an opening feeling, big and strong. Like an Opera singer! Use your whole body and head and get a lot of energy and momentum going to your flute. The biggest part of your instrument is not the flute but your body!
But the most effective tool is your embouchure. Change the angle of your air stream by blowing more air into the flute. This way your upper lip becomes more prominent and more in control of the direction and the lower lip relaxes a bit. However, keep the hole between the lips focused to not waste any air and keep the sound in timbre.
The hole you form with your lips is the last check point you possess to control your air stream and dynamics, also your pitch. When all the other check points, diaphragm, lungs, chest, throat and mouth have done their work correctly, the embouchure is the most powerful tool to fine tune and freely express the musical phrase.
In short: lower your jaw, like for a yawning feeling. Relax your lower lip with it, without losing focus. Use your upper lip to direct more air inside the flute (angle goes down).
Piano – flute embouchure tips for dynamics
Provided all the good practice of support and air stream control through the various checkpoints we can now enhance and tune piano playing on the flute with our embouchure.
If we don’t, we will be low in pitch. So we need to raise the air stream by pushing our jaw gently forward. The lower lip is now in control and the upper lip follows its movement. Keep the lip hole focused and small to control the slow and cold air stream.
Soft playing is slowing down air speed, but if you do just do that, you lose control of the sound. Furthermore, the ending will not
be very well controlled. So we need to adapt the embouchure to raise the
air stream and close the lips slightly. Increase your support. Don’t allow it to collapse.
Moreover, don’t get too tight in your embouchure. It is about having control, airspeed reducing and support following it.
In your mouth you can imagine the air flowing through an ideal straw, concentrated and steady. Place the imaginary straw in the upper part of your mouth and accompany it with your tongue. Remember to keep the air flow through your throat open. Your lower lip comes forward.
Watch this lady explain how she does it:
A little lip theater – flute embouchure tips for dynamics
For mf you can imagine sending a kiss or blowing out a candle. To play piano you can imagine blowing the air into your nose!
Sometimes, to not cover too much of the lip hole in the lip plate and have the right angle we need to turn the flute a little outside. Especially, when the sounds end. This helps keeping the pitch when the air is finishing. But it is just that, a help if nothing else works! Don’t move your flute inwards and outwards all the time and make those movements subtle and gentle.
Try to not be tight around the lips, but have control of the reducing air speed. Let the embouchure follow it!
The trick is to use your support first and let the embouchure follow the air stream.
This is the hardest thing on the flute, especially in the higher octave. It takes a lot of practice, but it can be done!
Once you master your dynamics and play in tune you will rise above the crowd of the mp – mf flutists. Actually there is one more difficult thing and that is the following:
Transitioning between dynamics
Better known as crescendo and decrescendo.
The best way to practice and gain muscle memory of the transitioning between the two is with long notes. You can vary your exercise from pp to ff, or just pp to mf. And back of course. Also, on one breath. Try to stay with your natural vibrato and go to the limits in both directions.
Be sure to practice transitioning slower and faster and to start and end the sounds in the desired dynamic!
I usually put my metronome to 60MM or slower, play the C”’ on the flute for four from ppp to mf. Then, still on one breath I connect in legato the C’ (two octaves down) and reach still in crescendo the fff. In the four beats on the lower C I start to go back to mf and switch still one breath, still legato to C” (middle C) where I go back to finish in ppp.
Something on C sharp and going up the chromatic scale to C””.
This combines multiple exercises and you can chunk it down to smaller parts. I created it to tackle my weaknesses. You should find out yours and practice to overcome them. Some of my students were able to start ppp and finish ppp very well but couldn’t start clear and clean in fff. So they need to adapt this exercise to their needs. Which I obviously did for them.
In the following video you can see another version of this exercise:
Don’t hesitate to write your actual limitations in the comment section as I will be more than happy to design an exercise that fits you and helps you overcome those. Don’t forget to mention your strengths as well!
This will also be of incredible help to stay motivated. We tend to remember our limits and feel bad about them. But we’d rather not address them. Overcoming them is such a motivational boost! Don’t deprive yourself of the free possibility.
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Really, the most important thing to stay motivated is to reach out and ask. Surround yourself with a study group, virtual or personal and ask, discuss and share your victories!
It feels so good when you overcome your obstacles and makes it easier every time you encounter a new one.
This is the best way to stay motivated: To improve! The longer you stick with it, the more it becomes a natural part of your life. Furthermore, you know now what it takes and working on yourself gives you strength. However, it is true that this is only possible when you admit to flaws, but as soon as you learn how to turn them into strengths you will look for more of them for yet another motivational boost!
Exercises flute embouchure tips for dynamics
- Other than the above mentioned exercise you can practice dynamic changes on harmonics. That is very helpful as it makes it harder in the beginning (less freedom of the embouchure when playing a certain harmonic), but easier on the basic sounds.
- Try to start and finish the sounds tapering, with a little whisper as a natural transition from silence to ppp. This is also very useful for your muscle memory. Every note has a specific version of your inner cavities and your muscle memory can recreate it if it has repeated it often enough.
- Do note bending series, work on moving in between the extremes and don’t get stuck in them. Especially effective are note bending exercises up.
You might want to check in with your tuner. But only to get a feeling for the right pitch and develop your inner ear!
- Practice attacks and endings as well and check out your limits. Don’t be afraid of cracking! You need to know where those limits are.
- Imagination helps a lot, but the best thing is to develop an inner muscular understanding so that you can focus on the music.
To link your exercises to your actual pieces that you study, watch this young lady explain how she does it
To make an impression, use flute embouchure tips for dynamics!
Using all your colors is one of the most difficult things to do in practice and therefor we can stand out if we work on it and develop a wide range. With exercise we will not only control dynamics but control the tone and its consistency in doing it regularly. To enrich your view on the subject of sound quality, have a look at our newest findings at topflute.
Don’t get discouraged in the beginning.
Transition between the two extremes and use note bending exercises. Don’t forget about phrasing and sound quality, use your natural vibrato and don’t exaggerate. Dynamic range on the flute is not very great, so we need to work on it and develop it. One of the most expressive tools we have along with vibrato and general phrasing.
However, consider upgrading your flute if you have reached the limits or your study flute.
So that in the end you can focus on the music and your muscle will find the right movement on their own.
Wishing you all the success that you deserve,
Stay safe and sound,