“How does it feel?”
I ask this question a lot. “How does the tone on this note sound and feel compared to the note you played before?” I think my students are probably tired of me asking this and at least 50% of them don’t know how to answer. The most common answer I get is a weird look and an “I… don’t know?” It makes sense, how often do you think about how something feels on a daily basis? You don’t sit there and imagine how every word you say feels, right? It feels almost impossible to pick out the various elements at play inside of your mouth where you can’t see it! It feels stupid to try to pinpoint different muscle groups and how they’re working while you’re playing. But it’s so important for flute playing to be able to do that.
How to get in touch with how your body feels:
Practice with something you already know! Try this:
Say your vowels: A, E, I, O, U. Now say them again slower. How does A feel in your mouth? Think about where your tongue is - is it lower in your mouth or higher? Skinny or fat? Where does the tip of your tongue lie? Think about how your lips feel - are they pulled tight and to the sides or are they making more of an oval shape? What is the roof of your mouth doing - does it feel like it’s stretching upwards or like it’s relaxing down? Do this with every vowel and try to note the differences between how the vowels feel. Now see if you can recognize any of these feelings while you’re playing! (You might even try mouthing some of the vowels while playing long tones and seeing what difference it makes!)
Practice yoga. We’re so lucky to have thousands of fitness classes at our fingertips. Go on Youtube and find a yoga class. (I recommend Yoga with Adrienne.) Yoga is all about being in tune with your body and being able to relax and use certain muscle groups. Relax those face muscles and focus on your breath!
Long tones. Lots of long tones. Really think about how your long tones feel. Go through the same checklist as we did with the vowels but now add a new checklist for your breathing. Where is the breath coming from - your chest or your stomach? Are you supporting your breath - where is the support coming from? How fast is your air going?
Practice in front of a mirror. Even though you can’t see inside your body, you can still see how your movements and mouth shape are affecting your playing on the outside. When I first started practicing in front of mirror, I noticed that even if I thought I wasn’t moving my lips, they were moving a TON.
Once you’ve done one of these (or all!) try implementing it in your playing. Just because you can feel how everything’s working when you say your vowels or do your long tones, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to immediately feel how your body is working when you’re playing music that’s technically difficult.
Your practice doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you do it, you just have to start! Like anything, you need time to be able to do it well. Happy practicing!