#07 - Head Positions

How To Position a Wooden Flute Headjoint for Good Tone & Volume

In the past I've spoken about using your fingers, don't give up your embouchure, and breathe when you breathe. The one thing these all have in common is that your head is playing a very active roll in all of these techniques. One important thing to keep in mind is the position of your head in relation to the embouchure hole on your flute.

Many people notice that it is easier for them to play the flute with either the headjoint twisted slightly back towards them or their head bowed forward as if to look at the floor. What is actually happening is that you're raising the "profile" of the far side of the embouchure hole. The top edge of the far side of the embouchure hole acts like a knife, slicing off some of the air column that you're blowing across the hole and forcing it down into the flute. This is how we make our notes.

While it is easier for many people to play in this fashion, it has two other side effects. One is a lowering the notes' pitch and, secondly, it often creates much more embouchure "hiss." I favor leaving the embouchure hole and the tone holes in a straight line down the flute. When you twist the headjoint back towards you, you have severely limited your options regarding tone color and intonation. One thing inherent in simple system flutes is that the second octave A and B are often quite sharp, while notes at the lower end of the spectrum are often flat. If you leave your headjoint in line with the tone holes, subtle bowing or raising of your head will help you with these intonation problems. By subtle, I mean only varying this angle by a couple of degrees. If you find that you're having a hard time staying in tune with other musicians, it could well be that your head is in the wrong position in relation to the embouchure hole.

Here is an easy suggestion to help you assess what is going on while you're playing. Play in front of a mirror and move your head up and down slowly. Notice the effect this has on your flute's tone. If you think you have a muted sound and people tell you that you're playing flat, it could be that you're keeping your head in a bowed position. This stops the embouchure hole from performing its function. Remember that the embouchure hole is a tone hole, too. If you keep your fingers too low over an open tone hole the note will sound flat or muted. The same applies if your lips cover too much of the embouchure hole. Conversely, if you play with your nose angled up toward the ceiling, you will create a very thin, airy sound. This is because you're not getting any air into your flute.

I suggest keeping your head and the embouchure hole at roughly 90 degrees to start. Keeping the flute in the same position, angle your head very, very slightly towards the floor. This will enable you to deliver a powerful, yet controlled stream of air to the embouchure hole, while at the same time keeping your airway (throat) in a very open and supple position. From this position, you will still have a wide range of movement to either flatten or sharpen notes as needed.

Don't be afraid of experimenting with various head positions to see what works best for you.