Should you hold your flute level?Nov 17, 2020
A lovely flute player in the US emailed me recently and asked:
Should you hold your flute level?
"Jane, I have trouble holding the flute level because of an injury - how important is it really that I hold it level?"
Such a great question!
With an equally great answer (if I do say so!)
In a nutshell: Yes, it's important to hold the flute level, but there are exceptions around when you don't need to, or quite simply you can't...
See you in the short mini-lesson right here!
How holding your flute level improves your ability to play with a clear sound
So do you have to hold the flute level when you play parallel to the ground? So it's a very good question. And it's actually got a very good answer.
I'm going to show you how holding your flute level improves your ability to play with a clear sound and also reduces pain. But there's also a whole lot of exceptions about when you wouldn't need to hold it level or can't hold it level.
Faster flute progress through learning proper technique
My name is Jane. I live in Sydney, in Australia. I'm a flute teacher and I show flute players how to get faster progress on the flute by learning the proper technique.
And a great example of that is at the end of this video, I'm going to show you how you can join me for free to learn the proper technique behind getting a really good sound, improving your sound straight away.
Two parts to whether you should hold your flute level
The answer to whether you should hold your flute exactly level when you play is in two parts. The first part is about getting a good sound, which is about your air stream. The second part is about preventing long-term injury. So that's about your physical body.
Setting your airstream up in the best position when flute is level
So the first part about getting a good sound, your airstream. The quick short answer to this is if you have the airstream from your mouth going directly across the hole.
In other words, your flute is level. You're setting yourself up to be in the best position to be able to get yourself a really good, clear sound, but there are exceptions to this. I'll tell you more about the exceptions in just a sec.
Prevents long-term injury from flute playing
Now the second part of this answer is about long-term injury and preventing that long-term injury. So it's your body.
If you're doing anything on repeat for hours and hours, cumulative hours and hours like practising the flute, if you are tense or crooked, you're going to end up with a long-term injury.
Set yourself up for flute playing long-term without pains and without injury
So the short answer to this is the more you can keep your body relaxed and kink-free - I'll show you what I mean in a sec, the better you're going to set yourself up for playing long-term without pains and without injury. So this is what I mean by kink-free.
Your flute level to the ground, parallel to the ground and your head straight onto the flute like this. As opposed to this or this- that keeps your head and your neck kink-free.
Spine and neck straight when playing the flute
Another example is your body. So you can have your flute down like this and your back is out. So my back has gone. It's got like an angle in it now. And here it's straight.
Doing that for hours on end will give you pain and possibly injury long-term. So the best way to avoid long-term injury or short-term pain is to keep your spine straight and your neck straight.
Exceptions to level flute playing
However, there are exceptions to this as well, and the exceptions are coming up. The way I just described to you with flute level and head level and back straight is exactly the way that I teach every single beginner that I teach.
And the reason for this is it sets them up in a good form, a good posture with the best chance of playing pain-free and injury-free for the rest of their life. But there's going to be situations, especially as an adult where you can't do this.
Flute playing with a teardrop lip
So here are the exceptions and how to make them work for you. One exception with the airstream is if you have a teardrop lip.
If you have a teardrop lip, you'll end up playing out to one side of your embouchure hole, which is fine because you need to do it.
Another example is you might have missing teeth or particularly crooked teeth, which means that you can't keep the flute level then it's naturally going to be sort of offset like this.
The guiding principle, if this is you, is to use your sound as a guide it's totally possible and totally acceptable to fine-tune your sight sound, get it clearer and clearer just as anyone would, off centre. This is totally normal and it's just something that you work around and you can make it work.
There's plenty of good players in the world, great players in the world that play with an off centre hole.
Injury or physically unable to hold flute level
Another example, which can affect all of us at times is if you have an injury and you physically can't hold your flute up straight. You may have a disability which prevents you from holding your flute up straight. And this is also workaroundable. I think I just made that word up.
The guiding principle for you, in this case, is to keep everything as relaxed as possible and kink-free as possible.
Stay relaxed as possible when playing the flute
So if it hurts to hold your flute up like this, that is not going to be good for you. So your guiding principle is to stay as relaxed as possible, which means as comfortable as possible. If you can stay as comfortable as possible, that means that you're not going to be causing yourself pain, which means you're highly likely not going to be causing yourself injury long-term.
Flute doesn't need to be level 100% of the time
And the third exception, and this applies to everybody. You don't need to be 100% perfectly aligned at all times to become a great flute player. If your concentration is all about keeping your flute exactly parallel and never dropping down a little bit.
You're going to be taking up so much brain space trying to do this, and you won't leave room for brain space to learn other important things like improving your tone, improving your high notes, or connecting to the music that you're playing.
Moving around whilst playing flute to the music
If you look at any great player in an orchestra, for example, chances are that their flute is not going to be like this the whole time. They're going to be free to move. They'll be free to move around, to express themselves, connect to the music and be relaxed.
In a nutshell, having your flute parallel and having a straight head is a really great place to start from there. Give you a spot, self space to move so that you have the freedom and the flexibility to relax and connect with the music. And you also have the brain space to learn other important things about your playing, for example, how to improve your tone.
Instantly improve your flute tone
If you'd like to come and join me for a free three-day mini-course to instantly improve your tone by working on some teensy little embouchure techniques that get you an instant change in how you sound, then come and join me at www.flute.school/free.
I'd really love to show you the little tweaks to make to your embouchure that clears up your sound straight away. This is an example of real technique, a proper technique that gets you faster improvement, faster progress. I'd love to see you there.