3 Key Things to Remember About Air
If you are a student of either of the Sara(h)s then you probably have heard a LOT about how to use your air when playing the flute. More air, less air, sculpt your air, aim your air etc etc etc! The purpose of this post is to remind us of the 3 simple things you need to keep in mind when trying to find your best sound. Every note, in every register, at every dynamic can be played with ease if you can find the magic combination of these three “air” elements, and I would argue that pretty much every sound problem or issue that arises in our playing can be attributed to a misunderstanding of these simple ideas.
- Amount of air.
The amount of air we use on the flute is generally determined by the dynamic we are striving for. The flute requires quite a bit of air to produce any sound (similar to the amount of air used in Tuba playing), largely because of the amount of air that is blown over the flute and wasted. This, however, doesn’t mean that we should always use as much air as possible. Though many factors can be involved in shaping and expressing a phrase, the simple truth is that louder dynamics require more air, and softer dynamics require less air. If you want to produce a beautiful pp, use less air. An intense and exciting ff? Use much more air. Easy to understand – not always easy to apply as we often get this confused with #2 which is:
- Speed of air.
When first learning to play the flute this is quite a tricky concept to apply – but again a simple truth. Different registers on the flute require different speeds of air. The higher you go, the faster the air stream. The lower you go, the slower. This can be confusing as we often consider high notes something that require MORE air – but the truth is that the air just needs to move at a faster speed. The main ways of controlling the air speed (among others) is through:
- the shape of your embouchure
- the shape within your mouth and throat
- control of your air support
It takes years to develop physical control of these shapes and core support, but the sooner you start to analyze and experiment with them, the sooner you will have full control in all the registers.
3. Direction of air.
The direction of the air controls the pitch. If we have the correct speed and amount of air, but are aiming our air stream too high, the note we are playing is likely to be sharp or even crack. Same scenario with an air stream that is too low with notes going flat or falling the octave. General rule of thumb – if you want the note higher (in either register or pitch) aim the air stream higher up with your embouchure. If you want it lower – aim it lower.
Obviously if playing the flute was this simple we would all sound amazing all the time. There are an infinite combination of these three elements that can be used to make all the lovely colours, sounds and dynamics when playing the instrument. Even with a full understanding of how to combine the three elements properly for any given note, tension almost anywhere in the body, or poor posture can interfere by constricting air flow or resonance etc etc etc. The purpose of this post is to remind us to that if we keep these concepts in mind that we can often solve frustrating sound issues without hours and hours of practicing. Next time an issue arises, ask yourself if addressing any or all of these 3 key ideas could easily solve it!