Tonguing and Embouchure Flexibility for Beginning Flute

In the previous article, “Flute Embouchure- Simple Steps to Great Success,” we discussed how to make the first flute sound by saying “pooh.”  Now that your students are making beautiful tones, you are ready to introduce tonguing.


Without Headjoint:

  • Students should be looking straight ahead into the mirror on their music stand.  Adjust the height of the stand so that they are not looking down.  The mirror is used so the student can copy their director. 
  • Tell them to put one taste bud from the tip of their tongue behind the front teeth (where the teeth and roof of the mouth meet) and say “TOO.” 
  • Students should practice saying the word “TOO” a few times, imitating their director. 
  • Next, instead of actually saying the word, have them form their lips as if they were saying “TOO,” and say it as a whisper (like real tonguing)  This is an important step because the students need to understand that they are not actually vocalizing the word “TOO”  into their flutes. 

With Headjoint:

  • Holding the headjoint with both hands, have them blow “TOO” into the headjoint.   
  • Model for the students and listen to every child individually (I play, you play). Additionally, have the entire class echo the director as a group. 
  • Check each student, walking around the room frequently.  Make sure that students still have proper lip placement and have no smiling lips, etc. as discussed in this article.   It is important that the embouchure remains consistent even when adding in articulation!
  • Make sure that students are not tonguing THROUGH the teeth.  This is not common, but occasionally you will find young players doing this.  Tonguing this way will produce an unfocused tone and you will actually hear the motion of the tongue as the air begins.  If this problem is not remedied, the student will have trouble playing staccato styles.


When students can tongue properly, it is time to introduce two new headjoint sounds. 

New Sound #1: Produces an “A”

  • Hold the headjoint with the left hand on the cork end of the headjoint and the right palm stopping the open end of the headjoint.
  • Blow into the headjoint tonguing with “TOO” like we just practiced, covering the open end with the right hand.  The note produced should be an “A.” 
  • To achieve this sound, you have to blow the air more downward into the hole because it is a lower tone. 
  • Practice making the “A” sound for one class or so.  Most students can get this sound right away. Once they have mastered tonguing the “A,” then add the next sound, “E.”

New Sound #2: Produces a higher “E”

  • Play the low “A” for students (sound #1), covering the open end of the headjoint with the right hand and demonstrate how you can make the note sound higher by changing the direction of the air.  The new “higher” note produced will be an “E.”  The “E” will actually sound a bit flat, but that is ok.  You are concentrating on lip flexibility, not intonation at this point.
  • When helping students play an “E,” tell them to push their lips forward/up a bit and to blow faster, laser beam air.  Telling them to think “ooo” (rhymes with boo) may also help. 


Headjoint “Octave Slurs” – a definite must do!

  • Now that students can play both the “A” and “E” sounds, they need to practice slurring between the two pitches.  You can start teaching this right after they have learned how to produce the “E” sound.  Think of it as practicing headjoint “octave slurs” (ok, technically they aren’t octave slurs because the notes are only a 5th apart, but it is still the same concept as regular flute octave slurs!) 
  • Thinking “aah” for the lower “A” and “ooo” for the higher “E” often helps.  I also tell students to pooch their bottom lip out a bit to create a smaller aperture for the higher sounding “E.”
  • Students should be checking their mirrors for tiny jaw movement from the lower to higher sound.  Some students will try to blow WAY harder to achieve the high sound and this is a no-no.  Also, make sure the students are SLURRING from one note to the next and not tonguing the notes individually. 
  • By teaching embouchure flexibility with the headjoint only, you are preparing your students to play beautifully in the low and high registers.  Everyone wants flute players who can play gorgeous, soft, and controlled tones in the high register and headjoint slurs will help you achieve these results.  Here is a short video example of a “headjoint slur”:

By following these recommendations, you will be successful teaching your beginners how to properly tongue and develop good embouchure flexibility.   If you are consistent, detail oriented, and have an established routine, you will see great success with your beginning flutists.Band director Resources

A former teacher, Emily Moran directed JHS band in Odessa, TX and taught elementary music in Rockwall, TX.  She has educated hundreds of students, grades 6-12, in master classes, sectionals and individual private lessons. Mrs. Moran has presented clinics at the Texas Bandmasters Association convention and the “Art of Teaching Band Symposium” in El Paso, TX.  She graduated from West Texas A&M University with a Master of Arts in Music in 2004 and studied flute with Sally Turk, Dr. Gary Garner and Helen Blackburn.


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