The Beaker Face

In Fluteby AngelaLeave a Comment

Any child who was priveledged enough to grow up in the age of Hannah-Barbara, otherwise known as the 1980’s, when the cartoons on Saturday morning were worth watching ( a la: GI Joe, She-Ra, He-Man, Rainbow Bright, My Little Pony and Thunder Cats), kids were expected to go outside and play after school and The Muppets reigned supreme, can identify with this post. 
If you don’t know who the Muppets are, well, Google it, I don’t have time to explain it to you.  To those of you who DO know, the name “Beaker” might ring a bell.  Beaker was one half of the Science duo of Dr. Bunson and his assistant Beaker.   Beaker’s remarkable traits were his his face (a perpetual frown) and voice (something akin to the Road Runner). When explaining a “correct” embochure to my students, I tell them several things, but I usually end up referring to Beaker.  So now, if I see them getting a little too tight, (this works great with the little ones) I tell them to “make your Beaker face!” and when they quit laughing from feeling so silly, the sound improves.
There are probably as many opinions on what a correct flute embouchure is as there are people on the planet.  I have two philosophies:

  1. If you sound great in all registers and you have no complaint with your tone quality or lip flexibility, I don’t care what it looks like.  If you sound great and like it, rock on with your bad self.
  2. If #1 does not apply to you, I will teach you the way that works for me and makes the most sense to me.  Every student that has mastered this to some degree has come away with a MUCH better tone quality, lip flexibility and ability to control the air than otherwise.  This embouchure is to pout and frown….more correctly, make the Beaker face!

I’ve convey this by saying several things.  See which works for you:

  1. Pout: your bottom lip comes out.  Now keep it there by
  2. Frowning.   Pretend you’re a 4 year old about to throw a fit.  What do you look like?

These two things of course, tend to overexaggerate the correct embouchure but it’s a start.  From there….

  • Stick your fingers in the corner of your lips and pull down.  Now grab your fingers with your lips (corners).  That is how you hold your lips down.
  • Put your hands on the side of your face and pull down.  What happens to your lower lip? It comes down and goes out.  When you stop laughing see if you can hold it there.
  • Think of your bottom lip as an aircraft carrier.  The planes have to have enough runway to fly, right? Well, if you pull your corners back what happens to your lip? It gets sucked in and then your run way is too short and what happens to the planes?  We don’t want to kill pilots, so let’s keep the runway nice and long, ok?d
  • Now that you have your run way set, let’s talk about your top lip, what does it do?  Think of it as being like a garage door, it goes up and down.  Put your hand i front of your face and blow a stream of air from the bottom of your hand to the top (without moving your jaw).  How did you do it?  Your top lip moved the air stream.

So, now that you’ve got your Beaker face set up, now what?  This would be the finished product:This guy actually does it pretty well!

  1. Corners are down, pulling the lip out.
  2. The top lip is from where all the control originates.
  3. Keep your lips together and then let the air create a hole.  Blow steadily – this is your new embouchure.

So how do you work on keeping this new embouchure?  USE A MIRROR! So many times we think we are doing one thing when we are actually doing another.  Get set up and look in the mirror.  Is it what you thought? Can you do more?  Play and watch, does it change? Can you hold it there?
 
The guy at left is doing it pretty well actually!
Now, if you find yourself with your embouchure starting to tighten back up and your corners pulling back, try this little trick: inflate your cheeks, yup, just like Dizzy Gillespie.  Ok, so you don’t have to LOOK like him, but you get the idea, right? You can’t pull your corners back and puff out your cheeks at the same time, it can’t be done, you have to pick one or the other!
Why would you want to inflate your cheeks?  It FORCES you to learn to use your upper lip to direct the air, instead of the corners, where you probably learned.  I’ve seen that you can only go so far with your tone and lip flexibility with tight lips on a flute.  If you don’t relearn how to use your top lip to direct the air, you will be very limited in what you can do to play.
RELAAAAAXXXX……..
This is something I tell all flute players: we work too hard to play.  We make it so much harder than it actually is!  Playing the flute should be easy.  And that’s relatively easy, mind you.  What I mean is that if your jaw hurts or neck hurts or lip hurts after playing…you’re doing it wrong.  We have the most relaxed embouchure in the band/orchestra.  Don’t copy anyone else’s embouchure because it just won’t work. You’re not a clarinetist, oboist or trumpet player, so your embouchure shouldn’t look like there’s either!
If you would like more detailed help with your playing, I’m available for lessons via Skype and in person in Nashville come August 2012.  Please send me an email at angela@musicstrong.com or check out the “lessons” tab at the top under Music Services.
 
In the meantime, let Beaker be your guide – and make your Beaker face when you play!

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