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Flute Tips: Three tips for improving tone and breathing

Guest post by Jennifer Rodriguez,

Adjunct Instructor of Flute at Tarleton State University

One of the most common questions I receive from band directors is “How do I help my flute players play with a full tone?” The quick answer is to ensure they are blowing out without holding or pushing, both of which are caused by tension. Releasing this unnecessary tension can be as simple as slightly changing your flutist’s positioning. Here are three tips for improving your section’s breath capacity, tone, and intonation.

1) Aligning the Flute

Begin by inserting the head joint into the body of the flute, leaving a quarter of an inch out. The head joint should never be pushed in entirely. Next, align the head joint with the first key of the flute. I have my students line up the far side of the embouchure hole with the far edge of this key. Rolling the head joint out farther will cause balancing and hand position problems.

The head joint is rolled out too far causing the hands to roll in and creating tension.

The head joint is rolled out too far causing the hands to roll in and creating tension.

With some students, aligning the head joint as stated above creates tension in their hands. For a natural hand placement, roll in their head joint, and align the far side of the embouchure hole between the middle and far edge of the first key. Ensure that these students are not covering too much of the embouchure hole; they may need to roll the flute out with their hands. I use the positioning pictured below to play.

My head joint placement is slightly rolled in and my hands are rolled out.

This releases any tension caused by locked wrists.

2) Aligning the Shoulders with the Hips

Posture and positioning are crucial for flutists to play with their best sound. One common alignment issue for flutists is the shoulders and hips are not in line. This causes twisting in the torso which restricts breathing, but keeping the shoulders and hips aligned prevents this. To avoid twisting, I instruct my students to place all parts of their back on their chair back or against a wall. If the student is twisting, their left side will not touch the chair back and/or their right elbow touches the chair or wall. One of my commonly repeated phrases is “Elbow beside you, not behind you.”

My elbow is behind my body causing twisting in the torso and

the left shoulder to be out of alignment.

This position inhibits breathing.

My elbow is beside my body, and my torso is aligned.

This position is optimal for maximum breath capacity.

I find that students having trouble playing in the higher octave benefit from sitting back in their chair. They use the chair as a body support which encourages air movement through the flute without squeezing.

3) Embouchure Flexibility

Lastly, the embouchure of a flutist is flexible. Tightness in the embouchure makes the upper octave extremely difficult to play with a full tone. Practicing lip flexibility begins without the flute. Have your flutists place their index finger on their chin (simulating a flute) and moving their lips forward across the finger. I also have my students perform this exercise with their head joint only.

Begin embouchure flexibility exercises without the flute.

Students can use their finger to simulate head joint placement.

Have students practice bringing their lips forward in a pout,

across their finger, for lip flexibility.

The playing exercise I use for lip flexibility is called harmonics (also referred to as overtones). I limit the range of this exercise to the third partial in the beginning. This sound requires fast air speed and control of the air’s direction. I instruct my students to bring the corners of their lips closer together when playing the higher partials and for notes in the upper register. This movement closes the aperture without unnecessary tension as opposed to pulling the corners back or away from each other. Pulling creates tension in the embouchure, throat, and tongue which causes holding of the breath.

Tension greatly affects tone by causing flutists to hold their breath and take shallow breaths. By implementing these three tips, your flute players will have a natural body position which contributes to a full tone. I look forward to reading your comments below on your experiences with these tips and wish you a wonderful season!


In addition to teaching at Tarleton State University, Jennifer Rodriguez performs with the Richardson Symphony Orchestra and is co-director of Flute! In Granbury, a class for flutists with a focus on musical performance and audition preparation.

For more tips, follow Jennifer Rodriguez on social media.

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