Helping Your Students Adjust to Playing With Braces
Dr. Cate Hummel
Getting braces can be a pretty traumatic experience for a student who plays the flute. I have had kids come to their lessons in tears after getting braces, swearing they would never be able to play the flute again. It is always nice to be able to send them home happier, with an understanding of what they need to do to regain their tone and maybe even having recovered most of their tone within the span of a lesson.
What do you need to know to help your flute students adjust quickly and easily to playing the flute with braces? Like everything else that has to do with flute embouchure, it is about directing the air properly. When there are braces in your mouth, everything you thought you knew about how to direct the air has changed.
First, it is important to get your lips out and around the braces so the aperture can be shaped again. It is going to take some experimenting to discover how to do this. Most kids find they can’t bite, pull or pinch the corners with all the hardware in their mouth. This is a good thing, since they shouldn’t be doing that anyway! See “What do you do with your corners?” It can be helpful to go back to blowing through a coffee straw so they can understand how to shape the aperture again.
Students often find it helpful, at least initially, to use dental wax to keep new braces from cutting the inside of their lips. I also often recommend trying Morgan Bumpers. These aren’t for everyone because it adds a little more thickness, but some students like them, especially on the bottom brackets. It is economical to try and worth considering.
The next issue to be grappled with is the difference in blowing angle. Many kids can accomplish this through trial and error with some guidance. They need to be reminded that the object of the experiment is figure out how to direct the air at the blowing edge again. Have them work with the PneumoPro as well. Remember, the top and bottom lips need to move independently so you can change the direction of the air.
A mechanical solution that can help many kids, at least initially, is to layer either masking or blue painter’s tape on the edge of the lip plate that rests against the chin to adjust the blowing angle. Figure out how much tape is needed by adding one layer at a time, up to 5 or 6 layers. For some kids, this may be all the intervention that is needed initially. I would suggest helping them wean themselves off of using the tape over the course of a month or two and to experiment on their own with lip flexibility and blowing angle.
Finally, some slow and thoughtful practice on Octaves and scales go a long way to help students get their bearings again on the flute with their new embouchure. Here are some great comments by students from the website of another flute teacher that I thought were really helpful http://flutekeys.com/braces.html.
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