Greetings and welcome to a belated Flute Friday/Saturday.
I was blessed with relatively straight teeth. With the exception of one tooth in the back that grew in wonky from the beginning (requiring a crown later in my teenage years), my teeth have been low drama. I know that I am not the norm. I watched many of my friends and family members struggle with braces in my youth and have seen my own students struggle with them in my adulthood. I received an inquiry on my blog several years ago to discuss how best to approach the flute with braces. Wishing that I had a better frame of reference from the player’s perspective, today I would like to share a few tips that I have gathered from the teacher’s perspective. Braces are not easy but keep in mind that in most cases they are not forever. And the best part is that your embouchure will be even better by the end which often makes your sound even better than it was pre-braces.
What Happens When the Braces Go On.
Your lips will have some serious gymnastics to perform as they must now extend beyond your braces. You may immediately notice a loss in lip strength and flexibility which, in turn, may make your sound a bit more difficult to produce. Your mouth needs time to adjust and your lips need practice moving slightly more forward. If you have a naturally “smiley” embouchure, you may have an even more difficult time fighting against the tendency to pull the corners of your mouth back which, with braces, can be very painful. The bottom braces also make it difficult to place the headjoint in the ideal spot.
What You Can Do to Make Playing with Braces Less of an Obstacle.
- A good place to start is by practicing getting your lips around the braces to shape the aperture. Practice blowing through a narrow coffee straw to form the aperture. When this becomes more comfortable, move to practicing just on the headjoint.
- Be patient with your sound. Your sound will be airy while your embouchure builds back strength. Spend some time playing through long tones and octaves to slowly re-build these muscles. Octaves in particular will help build embouchure flexibility.
- Do smaller, more frequent amounts of practice. You do not want to tax your developing lip muscles too much with longer practice sessions.
- Practice in front of a mirror or record videos of yourself playing. This will help you see how you are positioning your lips. You may be holding yourself or the flute in ways that cause more harm than good.
- Make sure your embouchure is relaxed. A tight embouchure may lead to the metal digging into your mouth (ouch!).
- Practice in short sessions with and without the topical wax on your braces. You may find that the wax helps your lips and vice versa. Find what works for you.
- Experiment with your blowing angle. Try aiming your air toward the ceiling and then toward the floor. Again, find what works for you. Remember that in general the lips should cover the tone hole approximately 25-30%.
- Try placing the flute lower on the lip. This is just a good tip in general (with or without braces). We all have a tendency to play too high on the lip. Bringing the flute down will help with both sound production and intonation.
- If you have a “smiley” embouchure, practicing harmonics will help as they require the lips to move out and forward.
- Use this time to focus less on your sound and more on technique. This is a great time to focus on your scales and etudes. Your fingers are not connected to your braces (that’s the good news!). Practice all of those technical bits that don’t necessarily need a great sound to execute.
Other Things to Keep in Mind.
- Make sure your teacher knows that you will be getting braces. They can help you come up with a game plan. Teachers – work with your students on that game plan using some of the tips from above.
- Schedule putting on your braces at a time that doesn’t conflict with any major performances or auditions. Summer break is great for this. Can you schedule during the summer break?
- Having braces often improves your sound after they are taken off because your embouchure is stronger and the extra space in your mouth creates more resonance.
Did you ever play the flute with braces? Do you have students struggling to play with braces? What does your braces game plan look like? What are the biggest challenges? What are the best changes that occur when the braces come off? Please comment below!