In my "ABC's of Wind Playing" this topic belongs in Category C: Physical Orientation to the Instrument.
Many tonal and fingering difficulties experienced on the flute can be attributed to less than ideal alignment of the instrument and/or inefficient physical orientation to the instrument. Improving alignment of the instrument can eliminate many of these problems which can distract us from what is important, the enjoyment and satisfaction of playing beautifully.
I often say, “One of my missions in life is to declaw flutists.” The meaning of this statement is twofold; flutists tend to squeeze their flutes with their thumb and index finger combos on both hands (their “claws”) causing unnecessary tension and wasted air, and, also, I don’t well tolerate “catty” comments or thoughts about other flutists, especially among my students—we’re all in this together!
It is useful to think of balancing, rather than holding the flute; to avoid squeezing the flute, be sure that the instrument is properly balanced on the inside of the top joint of the right thumb and the area just above the lower knuckle of the left index finger while also lightly touching the chin area below the lower lip. (for good placement on lip, please see my “Lip Line and Lippies” video:
If the flute is properly balanced, it will not roll backwards toward the face. Squeezing with the “claws” is usually caused by expending energy to prevent the flute from rolling backwards. If the keys are slightly turned forward (rods almost pointing to the ceiling) the flute can balance with stability, improving finger dexterity and musical performance. In order for the head, neck and jaw to be comfortable and for the embouchure to function properly while the keys are somewhat forward, the headjoint will need to be turned in some. I often suggest aligning the inside edge of the embouchure hole between the rods, though this varies some depending on the physical height and finger lengths of the individual flutist.
While searching for online resources on this topic to share with you, I came across an excellent article by Canadian flutist Jennifer Cluff, complete with historical background, diagrams and photos:
For those of you with right pinky issues, this is her footjoint alignment discussion:
I welcome your questions and comments.
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