May 14, 2014

The Perfect Embouchure Myth

"I wanted to play flute but my band director told me I couldn't. There's a dip in my top lip that would get in the way so I gave up on music."
I wanted to cry when I heard this from a someone in my audience. Then track down that fool-in-band-director-clothing and make him promise never to try to teach music again. Because while yes, some people have a bit of extra flesh in the middle of the upper lip and yes, it can create a challenge for flute playing if it is large enough, it in no way makes it impossible to play. All that you have to do is play with the flute off-center. And many talented flute players have an embouchure that is off-center. AND not everyone who has a droplet in their upper lip will have any trouble at all. I know a flute player who has a large droplet that flattens out all on its own to a "picture perfect" embouchure when she plays. She didn't even realize she had a droplet for the first year she played. (For the curious, I have a very small droplet and play slightly off-center but you have to look close to tell.)
What's more, everyone has a slightly different embouchure. We have to. We aren't all built the same so a shape and placement that creates a clear tone for one player, will create a fuzzy sound for another. It is well worth trying out different ideas, shapes and placements for embouchures to find out what works for you but the real test is if you like your tone. It is quite common to try to develop a more relaxed embouchure because most folks play with too much tension at first. We feel like it takes strength and muscle to improve tone and that makes us tighten up. Of course, it does take muscles and strength but not tension. Learning how to balance that is tricky but well worth it if only so you don't get too tired while playing. The extra advantage of working with different embouchures is that you learn how to use different tones at will. Looking at the embouchure of someone whose tone you like is a good start but never forget that you may not sound the same as them. Listen to your sound, be aware of how your embouchure feels and then change something to see what happens.
This link has a series of pictures of flute embouchures and there is a wide range there! It is a great place to go if you like visual cues.