I am teaching beginner flutes today, and had come to a point in the lesson where I wondered if what I was teaching them was correct:

1. Think and say “pooh.” (of course, this always gets giggles)
2. Make the aperture as small as possible.
3. Make the aperture round.
4. Keep everything centered in the cross-hairs (translation: the flute must be centered vertically and horizontally in the center of the lips, and it must be parallel to the ground).
5. Don’t “kiss and roll” to find where the embouchure is supposed to rest.
6. Stay natural. Don’t smile. (which always produces smiles)
7. Cover the tone hole about 1/3 with your bottom lip.

Well, I go back and check on a previous post to find Brad Garner’s advice, and actually read it (yes, I know: I posted it, you thought I’d read it, eh?). The biggest difference I saw was in how he described the air flow.

Theoretically, the air stream should be split in half by the strike edge of the embouchure hole. Many of today’s flutists, however, think that perhaps as much as sixty percent of the air stream should go down into the hole. This will create a sound with more edge and a certain fullness or core to it.

Then, I find a comment from Doug Butchy of Confessions of a Band Director, which mostly confirm what I’d been teaching them. And my friend Sesto also commented with similar things. So, I guess I’m not so far off, after all. I’ll try the 60-40 thing, and talk to them about the shape of the aperture being more flat tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.


The high school had afternoon sectionals today. Tuesdays are for brass. I decided it would be fun and probably smart to pull out a euphonium and noodle along as best I could. I’m not a low brass player by any means, but I can get a decent tone on euphonium when i need to. The instrument I was using was in pretty good condition, luckily. However, I found a passage where I alternate between 5th line Ab and third line Db. These notes aren’t in the same harmonic, so it took a bit of a stretch to get the Db to speak easily.

I was going to search for some online documents that spoke to the issue of keeping a consistent sound through multiple harmonic series, but I didn’t find much of one. I did, however, find a wonderful resource about how the harmonic series works in each brass instrument. Beyond this resource, the only thing I have to go on is my own experience, which states that keeping a strong, consistent air column and moving your lips to adjust to the different harmonics (Ab if 4th harmonic, Db is third harmonic and slightly sharp).

I did okay. I think I might have gotten that skip on more than one occasion. In any case, it was a good excuse to go look up some harmonics, because, being a saxophonist, harmonics escape me.

My cousin is in high school, plays on the drumline. He’s pretty good, considering he took drum set lessons since he was 8 and matched it with his natural talent. Granted, tennis is more his bag, but he likes marching band, so how bad can it all be? Anyway, he just started on the tenor line, so I thought I’d dig around and find some information on how to play it.

The big thing I’d always heard was that you want to reduce the amount of movement you make between drums. Bill Bachman over at Vic Firth mentions an X and Y axis across the drum. Essentially, if you focus on separating the up-down motion of the actual stroke, and the side-to-side motion of moving around the drums, you can remove a lot of the nasty sounds made from hitting rims.

My cousin and I discussed this for a bit, and he mentioned to me that he was told to hit the “gauk” drums right in the center, where it produces the most resonance and volume. On the main drums, you hit it close to the rims where it can produce the best pitch with overtones. The center of the drum can be dead, but I’ve seen times when it was beneficial to use the dead sounds to your advantage. I might dig something up on that too.



This boy comes into the band hall, he’s signed up for band, and we try him out a lot of different mouthpieces.

Saxophone: with little effort, he makes a good tone, not too far off pitch.
Clarinet: even less effort, good strong sound.
Flute: not bad. Definitely workable.
Trumpet: not bad, could be great with work.
Trombone: not a problem.
Tuba: like a pro.

He has also tried out for percussion, but he really didn’t have the coordination necessary. But the good news was that he was gonna be able to play whatever else he could possibly want to play! That made me pretty happy, really energized. The Percussion Director and I told him he could play whatever he wanted, and we’re excited to see what he’ll pick. Now I have two really good reasons to join band.

1) Because you want to be good at music.
2) Because you were born to play an instrument.

There are several schools of thought on this: One way would teach you to put your bottom lip over your bottom teeth ever so slightly, then wrapping the mouth around the saxophone much like a clarinet. The one I learned focuses on making the embouchure into a meaty cushion that keeps the bottom teeth completely away from the reed. The benefit of this is that it keeps the students from biting and allows for the darker, warmer tone that is so characteristic of good “classical” saxophone.

The fun part about testing kids for instruments is getting them to do the things you want them to do, which getting too technical. I want so badly to talk about deep breathing and cushioning the reed and where exactly to place teeth on the mouthpiece, but I can’t. I don’t even want to say the word “embouchure” for fear that the kid will glaze over and I’ll never get a good response out of them.

Not to mention, of course, that testing kids requires appropriate set ups. It’s very difficult to test kids for clarinet using a saxophone mouthpiece, which is, of course a rough cut beginning mouthpiece with a too hard, too dry reed.

All told though, I’ve seen some kids with great smooth chins that can make an “o” face that has lots of wrinkles in the lips. This is important to creating that cushion. The mouth has to seal around the mouthpiece like a drawstring, and having plenty of elasticity in the lips makes his much easier. Thin-lipped people need not apply.

The last three days, I’ve spent a good majority of the day getting our kids fitted for instruments. It’s something I’ve only done once, and I definitely need some practice for some of these instruments. I’m decent at gauging who can play what, but getting them to do the things they need to do to make a good sound on the first try is difficult, sure, but I don’t know if I’m doing it right.

Primarily, I have a hard time with flute because I didn’t have a very good time learning it. I have a teardrop in my upper lip, so it’s been a struggle. Anyway, when I ask a student to do make the embouchure, I don’t really know if I’m asking them the right thing. Suggestions are welcome.

These are comments from two students I tried out today:

“I really don’t care what instrument I play. I just want to be good at music.”
“It doesn’t bother me that I’ll be the only boy playing flute. I want to be really good, and have a good experience.”

Sixth graders! What better attitude about band can you ask for? Two students who genuinely want to learn something, and are conscious of the fact. One is built for clarinet, and will likely do well considering that he plays guitar. The other is only so-so on flute at first, but his determination my outlive my patience. I’m very excited for these students.

The following is a post from my other blog, …eats bugs:

band camp 2008 six: welcome to holland

Here at camp, there is a band composed completely of old camp alumni, band directors, and former students of the university. It’s a fun little ensemble. We play songs you normally don’t get to, and we have a pretty good time learning them. Used to be that the songs were quite difficult and far beyond my ability. This year, they are well within my means, and I only really need to work on a couple passages.

One of the songs is called “Welcome to Holland,” by Steven Barton. The statement in the program notes tells a story very similar to this one (I wasn’t able to secure the actual text, so bear with me):

Ever since you can remember, you’ve wanted to go to Italy. Everyone around you goes to Italy eventually. It’s a trip you plan for, and it’s one you expect to make. Well, finally, you come to the time in your life where you decide to make your trip, and you dream of all the things you’ll see. You board the plane to go, and as you land, the captain comes over the intercom and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

Naturally, you are confused, and maybe a little angry. You expected Italy, yet here you are in Holland. Granted, after wandering around, you find that Holland is beautiful in its own way.

Everyone you meet now tells you about their trip to Italy, and they talk about all the things you’d dreamed about. You didn’t get to go to Italy, you went to Holland. It’s maybe a little disappointing, all of this. However, as you make your way through Holland, you discover its own separate beauty, and learn to love it all the same.

“Welcome to Holland” is a song that tells the tale of a parents who never expected to have a child with Down’s Syndrome. A tale of love, chaos, and learned to love what you have. It’s a beautiful song, with some very fun and interesting moments. It’s not often that you get to play a song so personal and realistic.

Songs like “American Elegy,” “Elegy for a Young American,” “Heroes, Lost and Fallen,” and “Inchon,” that tell about veterans, survivors and targets of violence at home and at war are very haunting, and beautiful tunes. Sometimes, in this business of making music, you have to cut open your own flesh and reveal some nerve endings. If you’ve ever listen to a piece of music and gotten chills, for whatever reason, you know what I mean.