Jen Cluff ~ Posture & hand position

Canadian Flutist and Teacher






FLUTE POSTURE and FLUTE HOLDING SUGGESTIONS

also


Other articles on this topic:

Problems with the Right Pinky? Locking? Double-jointed?

Problems with arm, neck or hand pain?

Need help with your right thumb or headjoint line-up?
 
Peter Lloyd on Flutist's Stance 

Suggestion: Print this out, put it in your flute practice binder, and bring it to your lesson. Use the blank column at right to sketch pictures, and add your own notes. Jennifer Cluff c. 2002

Posture And Holding the flute.

To get the feeling of the correct posture, imagine that you are
being held up by a string, like a puppet, from the top most
vertebrae of your spine. This is the vertebrae that your skull rests
on and is located between your ears, and behind your nose, in the
center of your lower skull. To find it, just nod "YES" for a
second or two. Your skull is sliding back and forth over the top
vertebrae.

Now imagine that there is a helium filled air bubble right on
top of that vertebrae. It rises upwards so that both the front
and the back of your neck are equally relaxed by being pulled up.
This helium bubble is so powerful that your head keeps pulling up
even higher, and your neck is stretched gently, shoulders staying
down, allowing your whole spine to follow in the upward movement,
to gracefully fall in line under your head. The back is pliable
and pulled up to its strongest position, and your torso is lifted
up out of your hips. Your hips stay down in order to give support
to your upper body. Your knees are loose in their sockets, not
locked tight.

For maximum breathing freedom, feel as if you've stretched the
sides of your ribcage so that you're long and tall between hips
and shoulders. Then the ribs will move easily as you breath and
play.


BODY POSITION WHILE HOLDING THE FLUTE: STANDING AND SITTING

STANDING:
Stand to practice to increase ease of breathing; sitting is only
for rehearsals of ensembles.

Stand with feet slightly apart so that your weight is balanced
between them, and avoid putting all the weight on only one foot.
Your knees and hips should be at a 45 degree angle to the music stand, so that your lower body is slightly turned to the right. Turn your head to the left. Nod your head to say "yes" to make sure you're lifting from the top of your spine.

Bring the flute up to you, now that you're standing upright and feeling like a puppet held from the top vertebrae. Don't bend your face, head or chin down to the flute. Bring the flute up to you.

SITTING:
Turn the chair to the right in ensemble rehearsals so that it's at a 45 degree angle to the music stand, and let your knees point to the right, while your head is slightly turned to the left. Look over your left elbow at the music stand, and lift up the top vertebrae, first finding it by nodding "YES", to be sure that the spine is lifted and strengthened.

ARMS AND SHOULDERS: Your arms can hold the flute either parallel to the floor, or an inch or two down from actual parallel, it's up to you. Try to let the arms almost hang, so that they are not rigid. They should be suspended gracefully out from the ribcage. Avoid poking out your elbows. Let them hang as much as possible. Experiment with arm positions that feel natural and relaxed. If your arms ever become slightly tired rest and shake them out. Stretch and relax them fully.

If tiredness occurs during performances, try relaxing all the arm and hand muscles one tiny inch of muscle at a time, so that inch by inch the whole of the arm and hand gets to relax totally (like melting an inch at a time.) Do this while the flute is still in position to show your arms how to adjust themselves while you're still playing. It's very important to keep your flute still while you play, so avoid making larger movements with the arms once they have found a position that's relaxed and poised or else you'll use up too much energy and tire your body out. The most caloric waste in energy derives from waving the arms around, or swaying too much to the music, since any extra movement can jar the flute off your lips, and makes your hands hold on too tight. Let your arms float. Shoulders are to be down and relaxed back. The scapula (wings)can be flat against the back and almost melting downwards toward the floor. Your collar bones should be spreading apart, going in opposite directions. Shoulders should not rotate forward, nor should they be artificially lifted, or pulled back. A good shoulder release exercise is to rotate both shoulders slowly around in every direction, all the way up, all the way forward, all the way down, backward, up again, and finally drop them and leave them dropped.

NECK AND THROAT:
Be sure that the underside of your chin remains parallel to the floor so that the throat is free. Remember that your spine is being lifted up by an imaginary helium bubble at the top neck bone, so that the head will be in a straight line with the spine, and not pull forward. The back of your neck should not be tense at all, but straight and unkinked. Try the experiment of bending your head back and looking up at the ceiling while still continuing to play your flute. Your arms will follow upward too of course. Feel what a relaxed back of the neck feels like while you're playing.

If you tend to lean your head in toward the music stand, remind yourself to let your eyes do the work of looking downwards, instead of your neck muscles. Leave your head upright. (For some people it might even feel like they're leaning back while reading the music, but really it's just having your head upright, and inline with your back bone. You need the windpipe in your throat to be unbent, and your throat to be free.)

Check as you play that your under-throat (under your chin)remains parallel to the floor. Step back from the music stand and practice reading the music with your eyes only, not with your head bent in to it. Allow yourself the freedom to pout your flute away from you, or raise your chin slightly to get different angles on the airstream. Allowing your jaw to hang open becomes way easier if your chin is level, instead of tucked down.

JAW AND MOUTH:
Drop the jaw open like a big yawn, and relax it open. The back teeth can be apart and jaw open, even when the lips are pursed to play. For relaxing throat muscles, open the throat into a large relaxed cylinder shape like a yawn. When you play a flute you do not use the throat to control the air stream, as you do when you speak or sing. It is just an open pipeline in flute playing. The air is controlled first by the lung muscles, and secondly by the shape of the opening in the lips.

The face is relaxed completely except for those muscles that position the lips. Once the lip position is in place, even the lips themselves relax as much as possible so that the center of the lips are free to vibrate as the air hits them. Relax your forehead and eyes.

In brief, let the head relax. Hold the flute still without any extra arm tension, and allow the back muscles to give strength to your body.

HAND POSITION ON THE FLUTE:

If your flute headjoint is lined up properly your hand position will be quite easy, so it is important to check when you put your flute together that the embouchure hole is lined up with the center of the keys. The consensus for 75% of professional players is to lineup the FAR SIDE of the embouchure hole with the center of the first C/C# key:
See article on this here.

The first time a student changes to the "Rockstro" or "Modified Rockstro" alignment of the headjoint they may feel that the embouchure hole is too turned in.

The solution is to turn the body of the flute outward, and leave it turned outward so that the lip hole feels like it's either in it's previous position, or even one or two millimeters more rolled out than usual. Keys that tilt slightly forward made the flute balance better in the hands for some players.

Check that when your flute headjoint is set up in this way, that when you put it up to your face to play that your left arm doesn't have to cross your chest so dramatically, and instead, by swinging your right arm forward in an arc, that you can allow the left shoulder to rotate back, and down in its socket.

Once you've experimented with the rotation of the left shoulder so that it can freely hang down in its socket, proceed to mark your flute using the marking idea below:

Clever marking idea
Once you have determined a comfortable headjoint placement with regards to assembling your flute, clean off a little area on the barrel and headjoint with a Q-tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol (from drugstore) and affix a tiny set of stickers (cut out little rectangles from a cassette label, or use cuter stickers for children if they prefer.) You can also mark the "set-up" position with coloured nail polish if you'd like a little coloured blob to line up to.

HAND POSITION SPECIFICS:

The left hand should act as a "shelf-bracket" to hold the flute's weight just above the lowest knuckle of the index finger, curling it underneath enough to hold the flute up. If this feels odd, shimmy your left hand down the barrel of the flute a few millimeters, getting closer to the Ab key. If your left hand fingers look curved over the keys, instead of straight, then they will be twice as fast at repeated movements, so get used to this new position gradually, and check often in the mirror to see that those fingers remain curled over the keys at all times.

The right hand should balance the flute ON THE TIP OF THE THUMB, somewhere comfortable underneath or slightly behind the flute , between the F key and the E key. If the flute rolls inwards too often, and you feel you have to clench your hands to keep it stable, a small square of a wine-cork glued on the back of the flute, above the thumb with contact cement, will act as a terrific "roll-bar" and make your whole body more relaxed, while stabilizing the flute in your hands. (ask for more info. if necessary on the thumb "roll-bar".)

The right hand's baby finger should land naturally on its key.
Start with the standard footjoint alignment, and then readjust It to suit your own finger length. The standard alignment is if the foot joint of the flute is lined up so that the beginning of the rod of the foot joint (where the spherical ball is) is in the center of the lowest key on the middle joint of the flute. Check that the fingers of your right hand make a 90 degree angle to the body of the flute. All the fingers should be placed gently on the center of each key to be closed. Check in a mirror that you are neat about landing in the middle of each key and that your fingers aren't dancing around when they are lifted up. The main thing to remember is that your fingers have only one job: opening and closing one key each. Except for a few exceptional cases, each finger almost never leaves the key it belongs to, so why raise them high and make them hunt for their key every time they have to close it? Leave the fingers hovering about a half inch or less above their own key when it is open. Then there is no side to side finger movement, only up or down.

For more articles on flutist's hands and arms see these articles:

Problems with the Right Pinky? Locking? Double-jointed?

Problems with arm, neck or hand pain?

Need help with your right thumb?

Curvy lifting exercise for keeping fingers low
Place your hands, cup-shaped, and palm down, one at a time, on a table top, letting the wrist rest on the table too. Curve the fingers naturally, just as the hand naturally falls when placed down on a surface like this.

Lift each finger lightly and easily one at a time, so that the fingertip only rises less than 1/4 inch or so. Tap the finger extremely lightly and silently while thinking only of the LIFTING action.

LIFT ~ LIFT ~ LIFT ~ LIFT.................

Continue with each finger in turn, allowing more latitude with the pinky and ring fingers who do not function with the same ease as the index and second fingers. If it's easier to raise and lower the ring finger with the pinky staying down, or staying up, find out by trying both. Note how relaxed the back of the hand must be in order to allow the less agile fingers to tap.

Be sure an experiment with raising and lowering two fingers at a time too, and observing the ease of this motion when the fingers stay low and curved, never rising more than a 1/2 inch at most.

Relate what you've learned to your flute playing.

Look in the mirror during flute playing (trills, longtones, scales) to see that the hands stay in very similar positions to the exercises above.

-------------------------------
LIP CENTERING:
The hole in the center of your lips should always be lined up with the center of the embouchure hole in the flute unless you have a "tear drop" hanging down in the center of your upper lip.
Check it in a mirror, and try to sensitize the lips to feel when they are in the right position by waking them up and feeling with them. The edge of the embouchure hole can be felt at the line of red that is the start of your bottom lip.

WHERE ON THE CHIN DOES THE FLUTE ACTUALLY GO?
When correctly placed you will feel the pressure of the flute's lip plate on the gums covering the roots of your lower teeth. It's a gentle pressure, and the gentler the better since you'll need some freedom to pout your lips while your flute is still in place.
Experiment by placing the pressure of the flute as low on your chin as possible being sure that the near side of the embouchure hole is still right at the red line of your bottom lip.
See picture.Without blowing yet, pout, and push your lips softly forward and then back. Then try pushing your bottom lip forward slightly by thinking that the flesh of it is travelling diagonally up and forward. Then drawing it back again.

Experiment by beaking out your upper lip (you can arch it in the center slightly, and then direct the air downward, having moved the lower lip inward again.
See picture.) Tone will always improve with a
slight air-space between the upper lip and teeth, with it beaked out in this manner. This beak also allows you to avoid rolling the flute IN to get a great tone.

A very light hold on the flute, with your hands, allows longer and more enjoyable practice sessions. Allow your hands to lighten until you can let the flute follow the natural flow of your body. Does the flute stay in good contact with your chin while you move your body to relax it? Good. Don't lose that contact.

The jaw only needs to move a maximum of 2 millimeters forward or back when changing from the lowest to the highest notes, so use the flesh of the lips instead of making huge muscle alterations in your face and head. If you had been taught to play by making jaw movements, look out of the corner of your left eye at the very crown of the flute, to be sure it almost never, or only barely moves when you're playing, to teach your body how to play with an open and relaxed jaw position.
___________

FOCUSING ON POSTURE AND FLUTE HOLDING:

The best time to focus on your physical holding of the instrument and on your easy-breathing posture is when you're not also thinking about all the other things that reading printed music demands (such as tonguing, fingering, or complex rhythms.)

So use your Longtone practice time to zoom your mind back and forth between the sound of your longtones and the sensations of a relaxed and balanced flute holding position.

Start with a very light touch on the flute's keys: Pretend they are butterfly wings or rice paper.

Pull up on the sides of your ribcage, elongating your torso, so that each time you breathe you can feel the "floating ribs" expand. As you blow a long note, leave these ribs expanded as much as possible.

Shake out your hands and arms if you feel any tension, so that you restart with a tingley or numb sensation to counteract any clenching or stiffening.

Allow your right arm to swing the flute around in an arc, so that your left shoulder can relax downward in its socket instead of being pulled across your chest.

Listen to your tone, and relax your face, lips and jaw to find a way of playing that has the best tone quality, but the least amount of muscular effort.

Let your tone become more and more beautiful. Each time you take a deep relaxing breath, re-create the best tone quality you just heard, or can imagine, jumping back in to keep the room ringing with sound.

Allow each of your body's muscles to readjust many many times while holding a longtone, so that you do not feel stiff, or frozen. The idea is that you'll constantly readjust everytime you even feel the slightest tension in any muscle.

Use the "Inner Game of Tennis" book ideas that your body WILL find its own most relaxed and natural posture if you ask it to.

Slur the sets of two notes in your longtones using low, easy fingers, and allow them to nearly touch the keys even when they are up.

Take frequent breaks so that your body never feels like it's being "held".

Once you've achieved a good posture for easy breathing, and relaxed balancing of the flute, proceed to practicing your daily exercises and scales with this same easy posture.
Good luck, and ask questions of your teacher for special needs.
Also see my Flutenet file on: "Hand and Arm Pain, what you can do
about it" if you feel any pain from imbalance of the hands, or
clenching.
__________________Jennifer Cluff. April 2001 update

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Copyright 2005 Jennifer Cluff