Niall O'Riordan

Flute Soloist  


Flutes: To Cover or Uncover.....THAT is the Question

Posted on June 6, 2012 at 7:10 AM




How set your flute up and how much of the embouchure hole you cover is a very personal thing and I most definitely don't want to preach to you in this post about the right or wrong way. I simply don't believe there is a right way, we are all different and it is individual in the end of the day. But I will, if I may, share my experiences and my observations.


When I was learning I was told to line up the centre of the embouchure hole with the centre of the C# key. Over time I found comfort in having the flute ever so slightly turned in a bit more than this. This is something for a long time I believed I ‘shouldn't’ be doing. Here in England there seems to be a fashion among some players of having the headjoint turned out, covering less of the embouchure hole and pulling out the headjoint to flatten the sharpening effect of turning out so much. My understanding is that it is believed you get a bigger and more projected sound this way. It is something I've never understood and from experience does not work for me. I always blew right down into the flute.


I was in England almost 5 years before I met somebody who actually confirmed my ideas about blowing into the flute and how much to cover. I experienced such a sense of relief that I wasn't alone! Ironically the person in question although an English man lived in Germany! My lessons with Prof Robert Winn continued for many years when he visited and we had many discussions about this. Often in our lessons he was able to confirm my natural instincts.


Years later I discovered by reading different articles and posts by Sir James Galway that he too blows down into the flute and covers a fair amount of the embouchure hole. At is masterclass in Weggis, Switzerland last year he spoke about this quite a bit, especially concerning getting a good low register. He often commented to students ‘blow into the flute’. From my close observations I believe William Bennett also approaches the flute this way. All three players Sir James, WIBB and Mr Winn all make a bloody good sound as far as I'm concerned, so I'm happy to stick with what I know.


It's important to note however that a balance has to be found. If you cover or turn in too much, the results will be a small, flat tone with no projection. However, uncovering too much results in a diffuse, unfocused and a colourless sound.


In my next post we will examine some historic flute methods by Altes, Tulou, Dorus and Soussman and see what they might have done. 


*The above illustration is from the first English translation of Henry Altes’s flute Method published in Paris by Millerau in 1906.


Concerning setting the flute up Altes writes:


‘Draw a straight line from the outer edge of the mouth-hole through the middle of the keys (see Fig: 1) and bring the pillar which supports the mechanism of the middle joint in a line with this the C# key of the footjoint’


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1 Comment

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