The sound originates between the lips.” That was a remark from Jacques Zoon during a masterclass when I was still studying. A remark that made me think. Nobody had ever put it that way before, and it made a world of difference. Teachers will surely recognize the phenomenon that sometimes you have a breakthrough with a student and you immediately want to share the “new” insight with all your students. Often, it’s something that had slipped into the background. So, Jacques Zoon’s remark has been buzzing in my thoughts a lot these past weeks. I was searching for the optimal sound with a student. I noticed that some students pull their lower lip inward. That caught my attention. I had worked on it with them before, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result and my instructions. My theory is that the flute rests on the chin and is in contact with the lower lip, which might cause us to (unconsciously) curl the lower lip inward. It is important for the lips to work together, and for the lower lip to have the flexibility to curl outward as well.
The piccolo book by Peter Verhoyen, ‘Peter’s Piccolo World’, inspired me. He names four lines on the embouchure and gave them fun names. It’s the inside of the upper lip, outside of the upper lip, inside of the lower lip, and outside of the lower lip. This was the key I was looking for to clarify this topic with my students. Looking at the embouchure in such detail in a visual way was exactly what I needed. I often tell students about the four lines and then I have them experiment more consciously with the inside of their lips touching. When the lower lip is pulled inward, the flexibility is lost, and the upper lip basically just blows over the lower lip without the lower lip having an active role. By making the inside of the lips work together more, it becomes easier to involve the lower lip in the process.
An exercise from the Flute Colors book that fits well with this is exercise 3.1 from the chapter on wind tones. The purpose of this exercise is to increase the flexibility of the embouchure, and the lower lip plays a big role in this exercise. The exercise starts with playing a random note (when the exercise is new, I usually choose B from the first octave), then you slowly push the flute away from you with your lower lip until there’s only noise left. It’s a challenge to do this as slowly as possible so you can follow the process as well as possible. It becomes really fun when you succeed in gradually filtering out the sound.
I was surprised by the quick result just by reactivating the lower lip. Very inspiring. Why the long face? Flexibility and control are everything. If you can let your lip hang, you can also choose not to do it.