Erin Spencer - flute expert

The Kiss of Death

The Weird Habit Ruining Your Flute Sound

In this video, Erin gives you some tips to avoid the popular "kiss of death" among flutists. What is it?

Released on March 3, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi guys, it's Erin back for another video here on Virtual Sheet Music. Today, we're going to talk about a weird habit that could completely be ruining your flute sound. The habit I'm talking about is doing this to put your flute on your face. I call this the kiss of death because it truly is a curse for your flute sound. I do not know who started this or why band directors still teach this, but it is the bane of my existence. I have so many students who come to me. If they've started in band in sixth grade and they're enjoying it and they want to have a private teacher, they'll come to me in seventh or eighth grade having this habit, the kiss of death, so deeply ingrained in them.

It puts the flute in the wrong spot on your face in a couple different ways and makes their sound hollow and lifeless. I get why band directors are teaching this at the very beginning, because this is a really abstract concept at first, like where you put your flute on your face and it helps kids put it in a consistent place every time, which then can help them make a more consistent sound at the very beginning. But it's not a good sound. It's consistently bad. It's a habit I try to break with my students as soon as I can, once they start with me. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes students have a okay time stopping this habit. Sometimes they have a really hard time. It depends on how long they've been doing it.

I have seen people as old as college music majors majoring in flute performance doing this kiss of death. Frankly, it's kind of embarrassing for them, in my opinion. So if you want your kids to be serious about music, not even necessarily pursuing it as a career, but let's just stop teaching the kiss of death, okay? So let's go over what it messes up about your sound and how to change this habit. The way they're taught to do this kiss of death is to put their face down to the flute and basically kiss the tone hole, right? So the tone hole is completely on your lips, and then to roll your chin out.

So if I do this, what it does, you can hear that my sound is really hollow and not very good. So that's because the flute ends up too high on my face. It's actually sitting above the bottom of my lip. So my lower lip is being completely flattened. I cannot use my lower lip at all to help change the angle and direction of the air because it's cutting off my ability to do that by putting the flute flat on my lower lip. Now, some individuals that have larger lips may need to put the flute physically onto their lower lip, but for most people, it's going to need to rest more on your chin, where like your chin starts to go out, that's where your flute should be resting. Then my lower lip is free to be really nice and pouty and relaxed and then I can use my lower lip to help control the direction of the air.

The other thing that comes from the kiss of death is ending up too far rolled out. In an ideal world, you cover about a third to a quarter of the lip plate with your actual lip. If I put my flute on my face in my normal spot and then took my head down, you can see that's about how much of the hole I'm covering, about a quarter to a third. But if I do the kiss of death, it ends up that I'm basically covering none of it at all. This does two things. One, you can't feel the hole on your face so if you slipped off to the side, you wouldn't even know. I don't find people do that too often, but every once in a while, it's an issue if they also have hand position problems. You wouldn't even know if you were playing way off to the side like this. Also, the air has to travel a longer distance to reach the striking edge of the tone wall. This is one of the things that leads to having a really fuzzy tone. The air is spread before it reaches that striking wall.

Now we know why it's bad, the flute's too high and we're rolled too far out. So how do we fix that? Patricia George has written a fabulous series of flute method books called Flute 101, Flute 102, Flute 103. She has a bunch now and they are so fabulous. This is one way that she advises putting up your flute. In my experience with helping kids stop doing the kiss of death, just telling them to not do it doesn't help. They have to have something to do instead. This is a ridiculously long way of putting up your flute. It's not a long-term solution, but it's a good way to get them used to how it should feel on their face and then you can start taking the steps away of all these steps of how to put the flute up.

So, first thing you should know is that my feet are aimed about 45 degrees to my right. So that's towards the foot joint of the flute. That's a really useful thing for flute in general. I won't go into it a lot right now. But my feet are aimed to the right. Then I'm aiming my nose towards you guys. Or you would aim your nose towards your music stamp. G-sharp key goes right in front of your nose. Move your flute out about six inches or about that far then move it to the right. Then just turn the flute to your face. This does two things. It pushes the end of the flute forward so then we're aiming more toward the corner, which is going to give you a more rich resonant sound.

Now, my keys are flat just by virtue of starting with my G-sharp key here, moving my flute out to the side rotating in, my G-sharp, my keys are flat. My tone hole is in the correct relationship to my face and boom, boom, boom. So this is so much healthier than "rhhh". Plus then sometimes kids do weird things with their neck and get neck tension problems. Because if you're starting down low, sometimes they can end up too high. Sometimes they can stay too low. It's so much better to bring the flute to you. That's the other thing I tell my students a lot, bring the flute to you. You're the boss of the flute. That's what I tell them. Make the flute come to you. You're the boss.

If you're putting your flute on your face correctly, you should be able to feel the tone hall with your lip. Just a little bit. You should be able to feel it right here. That helps you know that your flute is centered on your face or to your aperture. If you play off to the side, that's totally fine. You just need to make sure that the tone hole is centered to wherever your aperture is. So if I put my food on my face correctly, it's supported here on my chin and I can feel the tone hole on my lip. Versus, I'm really trying to make it sound good with the flute there on my face. The middle register kind of works. The low register is such a mess.

So I hope that this helps you give your students a way to stop doing the kiss of death. I hope that if you teach the kiss of death, you never teach it again and you find other ways to help your students get their flute in the right spot on their face. You will see such a big difference in their sound once they consistently put their flute on their face in a healthy way. Thank you guys so much for watching. I hope this video was helpful to you. Check out some of my other flute videos here on Virtual Sheet Music or in my personal YouTube channel and I'll see you next. Bye.
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