I have heard talk about something called ‘throat tuning’ and am not sure what it is exactly or how it might be useful to my playing. I am an adult student and wonder is this something I should be aware of?
Dear Diane, Thank you for this question, and yes, ‘throat tuning’ is definitely something of which you should be aware as a player since working with this concept is very helpful in developing richness and resonance in your flute tone.
I first came across the idea from witnessing the teaching of the American flutist/composer Robert Dick, whose book “Tone Development through Extended Techniques” explains it in detail with examples of putting it into practice. (This book, by the way, is very useful for understanding how contemporary or extended techniques on the flute can benefit our regular playing, and it can be found through the Multiple Breath Company, New York).
In essence, the idea behind throat tuning is that the flute combines with the resonances of our bodies to create our own particular sound – and this seems to work best when we are inwardly setting our vocal chords in tune with the notes we are playing. Obviously the vocal range is much narrower than that of the flute, but it is the pitch that one sings, not the register, that has a positive impact on the resonance of the tone.
So where do you begin? The first steps are to learn to sing and play at the same time, which is a technique commonly used in contemporary music, and also jazz/rock – listen to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull! Choose a pitch you are comfortable singing, ideally an octave lower as this seems to create a wider throat space, and begin by singing the note (an A or G perhaps) . Whilst singing, bring the flute up to your lips and close to form an embouchure. The air from quietly singing the note should continue to form the flute sound, so both are combined. This is a ‘knack’ which takes a little practice but is not difficult to learn. Once you can sing and play together, then take out the voice, leaving the vocal chords set as if you were going to sing that pitch . This setting of the vocal chords or ‘silent singing’ is what gives the extra richness to the tone.
I believe that many people may do this naturally, as inwardly singing, or anticipating the pitch and tone of a phrase is part of producing a fine tone. However I am often surprised by the number of players, not just on flute, who are reluctant to sing at all, or claim they cannot sing. I have found that these simple steps, of singing and playing together, have been very helpful for my students, and also for my own playing at the time when I first encountered Robert Dick. So… give it a go, and enjoy experimenting!