For singers it is only natural to pay attention to the mouth cavity. What happens when a vowel is sung with the emphasis at the front of the mouth and what happens when it is sung with the emphasis in the throat? Not many flutists seem to be paying much attention to this, which is a shame as the mouth cavity has a considerable impact on your sound.
Vocals, what are they?
Vocals are vowels or syllabic speech sounds. In English these are: A, E, I, O, U, and variations of these sounds.
A little test
Let’s do a little test.
- Say clearly ‘àh’ as in ‘law’.
- Repeat this a few times.
- After you said ‘`ah’, leave your mouth in this position.
- Pay attention to your mouth cavity:
- Where is the tongue?
- What shape is the tongue in?
- Is the jaw in a high or low position? Pointed forward or backward?
- How much space is there in the mouth?
- Now repeat these steps with the vowel ‘ee’ as in ‘sweet’.
- Once you’ve finished all the steps, slowly alternate ‘ah’ and ‘ee’.
- What differences do you notice?
You can try these exercises with all of the vowels. Have a little explore.
Vocalising on the flute
Our embouchure naturally needs a certain focus as ours isn’t as flexible as that of singers when it comes to the use of the lips in order to form certain vowels. However, it doesn’t need to be. To us it proves effective to just pay attention to what happens behind the lips, in the mouth cavity. You can explore this by doing the above mentioned exercises with a flute embouchure.
Now you can start to experiment on the flute.
- Alternate saying ‘`ah’ as in ‘law’ and ‘ee’ as in ‘sweet’.
- Notice the difference.
- Now play a B1 alternating the mouth space of `ah’ and ‘ee’.
- Experience the difference. Adjust the air pressure on the vowel. Listen carefully to what the flute tone requires.
- Also experiment with vocals in etudes and musical scores.
Vocals in modern playing techniques
Vocals come in handy when practising modern playing techniques, expecially multiphonics. Practising multiphonics we play two or more tones at once. Since every flute tone has its own air speed, multiphonics are (nearly) impossible to adjust with air speed; When playing a low and a high tone at the same time, the low tone requires a lower air speed than the high tone. This problem can be solved using vocals. The low tones tend to respond well to deep vowels like ‘à’, whereas high tones respond well to vowels pronounced using the front of the mouth. (By the way, you can also use this technique in traditional flute pieces!) By mixing these two sounds playing a multiphonic usually becomes easier.
Other techniques that benefit from the use of vocals are harmonics, whistle tones, singing & playing and pizzicato.
Would you like more tips and exercises? Have a look in the Flute Colors book.
Translation: Elise Bikker