August 2011 Convention
Charlotte, NC

Essential Elements for Expressive Tone

John Bailey, Teri Sundberg, Tadeu Coelho

photo by Leonard Garrison

This well-attended session, presented by John Bailey, Tadeu Coelho, and Terri Sundberg, focused on the physical aspects of tone production (the muscular activity of our face, lips and hands), and on vibrato production. Bailey stated that while one’s tone is subjective and personal, there are several factors that affect its overall quality. Three main factors are stability and control of the flute against the chin; size and shape of the aperture hole; and speed and direction of the airstream. Coelho provided many historical commentaries on how to form an embouchure, and pointed out that many of these overlooked the important factors of flute placement on the chin, where the left hand supports the flute, the aperture size, and the open square angle of the top lip. He stressed that lip flexibility implies mind flexibility, or lip memory. Terri Sundberg provided the audience with many suggestions on how to start and develop a student’s vibrato. This session could have easily gone on for another 30 minutes; the presenters seemed rushed, and there were many questions from the audience.

—Holly Clemans


An overflow audience attended this event featuring three leading pedagogues. John Bailey, professor of flute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, stated that tone is subjective but that there are elements basic to any good sound. A common sin is rolling the flute for a single note. The player must control the size and shape of opening and the direction of the air.  Some view “support” as an outdated and unhelpful word, but Bailey uses it to refer to “muscular activity that keeps the air speed steady.” He described an exercise for muscles used at the end of a breath; one must practice being uncomfortable.  He reviewed the fundamentals of making a crescendo or diminuendo, stressing that the size of the lip opening must be adjusted to control the air speed and subsequent pitch and volume. Bailey discussed how to ascend to the upper register by shortening the air column or the distance between lips and wall. Bailey’s mantra is “Lips forward/smaller hole.” He demonstrated an exercise taught by Donald Peck and introduced an exercise to strengthen the lip muscles.

Tadeu Coelho, flute professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, spoke on embouchure, flexibility, and projection and had very detailed concepts that often reinforced those of Bailey. The embouchure purpose is to shape, direct, and control the air column. Each individual has different physical traits. Citing Quantz, Tromlitz, and Kincaid, Coelho noted that ideally, the lower lip covers one-third to one-half of the embouchure hole, dependent upon register being played, projection, and intonation. A main obstacle in correct embouchure formation (or posture), he noted, is the left hand’s angle of pressure. The distance between teeth and jaw position were cited as other important factors in controlling color and depth of sound, and he noted that the shape of the aperture determines intonation and tone color. Coelho quoted Marcel Moyse’s statement that the jaw should be relaxed in forte playing. He also introduced a new embuchure concept, which he called the “open square.” This is the relationship of the upper and lower lips when placed on the lip-plate.

Terri Sundberg, flute professor at the University of North Texas, focused on vibrato. Her teaching starts with the question: “What is vibrato?”—the answer being that it involves both dynamic and pitch. Explaining her position in an age-old debate, she stated that the center of the pitch is in the middle of the wave. She noted that successful vibrato rarely happens naturally, so one should teach vibrato when needed. The pitch needs to change for richness, with an appropriate speed about six waves per second, and allowance needs to be made for amplitude changes with changes of speed. She stated that one should exaggerate depth/amplitude in the various vibrato exercises, especially in the high register (“be willing to sound like a seasick whale at the slower speeds”). Sundberg suggested that for most students it is advisable to focus not on the throat but on imagining the vibrato as rising naturally from lower in the body.  Avoid pulsing with the body, head, or lips, and avoid a jagged vibrato. Put the beat at the top of the wave. Sundberg conveyed Jeanne Baxtresser’s “shimmering exercise” for the ability to turn vibrato on or off on a dime. Sundburg provided methods of applying vibrato to real music after working on the exercises she discussed. She noted several vibrato “traps” and closed with the advise to “be able to do anything with the vibrato in order that you can be intentional and creative with your music making.”

—Leonard Garrison