What do you recommend for a student who wants to play the flute and has a prominent teardrop in their top lip? Can a prominent teardrop limit the student’s ability to produce a characteristic tone or their future success on the flute?


A prominent teardrop in the top lip is not an obstacle in any way for a student who wants to play the flute. However, the student probably will not be able to play very well through an aperture shaped in the middle of the lips. This is because the extra flesh of the teardrop will split the air stream so it goes in two different directions on either side of the teardrop.

offset embouchureSo what can you teach the student instead? Instruct them to blow through an aperture shaped on one side or the other of the teardrop and seal the other side of the lips. It is generally more desirable to shape the blowing aperture to the left of the teardrop rather than the right, but I have seen it work either way successfully. It doesn’t really matter as long as the student has good control of the direction of the air stream. The primary reason to encourage blowing to the left side of the teardrop is because of how embouchure holes are cut on headjoints. They are not cut symmetrically because the flute is played transversely. Consequently, even someone with a symmetrical embouchure is actually blowing slightly to the left of center. Therefore, the sweet spot for maximum resonance and response on most headjoints is slightly off center to the left.

In evaluating a student’s potential embouchure, besides the obvious observation of having a prominent teardrop, the other thing you can check is the shape of the vapor trail on the outer edge of the lip plate when the student is blowing. If there is a neat triangle with the wide edge of the vapor trail at the outer edge of the embouchure hole, then the student can easily develop a characteristic sound. On the other hand, if there are two triangles side by side, it is vitally important to direct the student to play slightly off center (usually to the left, as mentioned). The split vapor trail indicates that the flesh of the teardrop is interfering with directing the air in a concentrated stream when it hits the blowing edge of the embouchure hole. Finally, you will also see kids with a prominent teardrop when their lips are relaxed which disappears when they shape a flute aperture. Encourage these students to blow through the center, since there won’t be any splitting of the air stream.

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Dr. Cate is a Jupiter /Azumi Performing Artist & Clinician