How to line up you flute, how to hold it and whether to “press” or not!

There are different  schools of thought on how to align your flute…..  Especially  about how to line up your headjoint with the body of the instrument. Specifically….  somewhat like my last post on articulation ….there seems to  be an “American” and a “French” way to do this. And  again there  seems to be  no consensus on how to do this  and perhaps BOTH ways are right….maybe for different players?… and  I think that it is   interesting to  describe them both   so that  you can decide which i works best for you.

Also….. I think that to some degree these diferences have to do with the diferrent ways that every flute maker makes their lip plate shapes and embouchure cuts. Bodies also differ in the best and easiest way for players to hold them….. so these elements can also affect the optimum way to align your instrument up…… (just a cautionary word to begin with!)

1. So what I perceive is the “American” way…. is to line the center of your headjoint embouchure hole with the center of the first key on the body of the flute. The footjoint should also be put together with the rods on the footjoint dissecting the middle of the D key on the body of the flute. This is the classic way I was taught many years ago.

2. The other way is what I call the “French” way. The Suzuki Method has an illustration in the beginning of the Flute Book 1 of this method. Essentially it aligns the middle of the embouchure hole on the headjoint with the far edge of the first key on the body of the flute. This effectively turns the headjoint in more than the “American” manner of aligning  the body and the headjoint does.

Interesting,I think that  these two different methods actually end up producing different kinds of sounds.

The American way ends up with a more “open” sound, usually with less harmonic overtones….. think …if  any of you out there remember William Kincaid’s or Julius Baker’s sound and you will have the classic American tone color from this alignment. On the other hand, think Moyse and (WIBB) Bennett and you will get the basic sound of the French School of playing….. more overtones and a “sweeter” tone quality rather than  what I describe as the more “masculine” American school of sound.

Amother difference which helps produce these two different tone quality results (I believe )from  a  difference in the  location  of the headjoint on your lip/chin: i.e. where  you  place the flute on your face. The French tend to put the lip plate up rather high on the lower lip while the Americans tend to advocate placing the lip plate in the indentation below the bottom lip….i.e. quite a bit lower.

Now…. how to hold the flute also affects the resulting sound. The French School emphasizes “balance”. That is the flute is  supported in three place: the right hand thunb, the left hand pointer finger knuckle and the little pinkie of the right hand. This balance is practiced so that when the flute is held up on your face, the lips are free to vibrate even if the placement is rather high on the lips/chin compared to the  ideal American placement ….for  as Moyse states the lips should be like an oboe reed…. and according to him, they need to be free to vibrate in the same manner as this double reed does on an oboe. 

Amercians on the other hand tend to talk about “balance” in another way…. they speak of using the left hand to push in on the chin and the right hand to push out so that there is a sort of leveraging between the hands which in turn creates a stable position. However, this can cause the player to actually “press” the flute rather hard against the chin…. sometimes unfortunately resulting in too much  tension,  especially if the player is not careful to remember not to allow themselves to get tense.

This issue also can affect the resulting tone the player gets from his/her instrument. Again the American manner of holding the flute usually results in an open type of sound and the French manner a much more … perhaps almost “reedy” quality of sound.

Now there are caveats for these two methods of positioning the flute. Flutes made by different makers  not only sound different, (duh!) ,  but they also play differently, and most importantly for this discussion, seem to  have to  be held differently in order to get the most optimal results from them.

Having grown up on an old scale American Haynes flute( which  were  copies  of the Louis Lots by the way) I personally have had to radically change the way I align my newer flutes and hold them. Nowadays if I align either of my  two new instruments the way I did when I played my old Haynes they simply do not sound good.  So I have found that I now have to use the “French” Method of alignment or otherwise risk not being able to play with a very desirable tone. Yet when I get a chance to play some of my students’ old Hayneses(sp?) I can immediately revert to  my old   American style of alignment.

This makes an interesting stew of thought…. so to speak…… have I changed so much…. or have flutes changed so much …that this is the case?

No matter what the answer is….. I urge all of you to experiement with these two different alignment methods…. to see which works best for your flute, your headjoint, and your body( i.e. mouth, teeth ,lips etc) Truly…. in the end  whichever produces not only the  best sound  but the sounds that you  WANT … the way to decide the issue….not withstanding  not the  two methods/styles which I have  described here.

And btw…. to quote my favorite musician again…. Quantz…. he advocates what I have descibed as the “French” way!(But then again….. Traversi have to be played this way!!!!)




Posted on April 12, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I totally agree with your positioning comments, though I might take it a step further and say that individual experimentation should go beyond the two relatively strict methods. I have been experimenting with positioning and alignment for years, and I have personally come to the conclusion that it seems virtually impossible to me that one (or two) approaches could create the best possible outcome for all players based on individual anatomy alone (you mentioned individual instrument anatomy, which I thought was great).

    I have relatively long fingers and thicker lips than most players, so I think if I were to use the exact same alignment system as someone with short fingers and thin lips, how could we possibly be approaching tonal production from the same place? I would naturally be rolling out, while someone with thinner lips and shorter fingers would have the tendency to roll in. I think our individual physical anatomy determines a great deal more than we would like to recognize in the flute community, and I wish more people would take this into consideration.

    After “breaking the rules” I found an extremely comfortable alignment system that freed my tone and dramatically improved my technique. The rules might work wonderfully for some, but others might not be so fortunate. Luckily it seems like flautists are more open-minded now than ever before!

    Also, it is really interesting to me how different people interpret tone quality! To me Julius Baker’s sound emits warmth, color, and sweetness, and is basically just an aural form of liquid sunshine : ) The same goes for Kincaid, though his tone seems to have a captivating complexity, as though his sound communicates using an added secretive extra dimension.

    On the other hand, William Bennett’s tone strikes me as being very masculine, robust, and generally on the darker side, though he does have some extremely sensitive glowing moments. A kind of honest, “in the moment” emotional approach is what I associate with “Wibb.”

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article! Cheers and happy fluting!
    : )

    • Hi Jessica,
      Thank you for your lenghtly, well thought out and well written reply… you say….there can be many different ways to align a flute. I am delighted that you brought up the additional issue that each individual player’s antonomy can affect how they might need to align the flute……but of course that would be an important issue to consider. Thank you fo bringing up that important point.
      Please do check in on my Blog again. I will be posting again soon and would enjoy seeing more of your astute comments. Best regards, Judy

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