Many children in their early teens require orthodontic braces to help correct or alter the alignment of the teeth. This is not just cosmetically essential, but also necessary to ensure the bite and jaw is in the best position. Unfortunately, braces are painful. They protrude from the teeth and rub across the insides of the lips and soft mouth tissue. No wonder they are so problematic for the young flautist!
The embouchure is the most important element of flute playing. This is produced by minute and subtle changes to the position of the lips in coordination with minor adjustments to airflow and tongue articulation. When the instrumentalist is trying to navigate braces, the embouchure is the very first thing to suffer. In fact, no sound might be heard at first when the braces are fitted. This can be terribly upsetting.
The first thing to remember is that you mastered the art of embouchure once. You will again. Spend the first week or so after the braces have been applied with silent fingering practice. The mouth will be tender, and the new sensations will prove distracting enough. Do, however, practise singing or vocalising your score. This keeps your breath practice going, and provides you with at least some musical activity during the week.
It’s important to make good use of the wax recommended by your orthodontist. This will reduce the risk of abrasion, sores, and cuts to the inside of your mouth. Should your mouth become ulcerated or inflamed, ask your doctor or orthodontist if a product like Bonjela would be suitable for you. It’s important to note that this type of medicated solution can cause numbness that will impair your flute playing further.
Playing The Flute
Once you have adjusted to life with braces, spend time with your head joint trying to find your embouchure. You may need to manually adjust your lips over the braces. Some muscle weakness may occur if you restrict your movement due to discomfort. This can be problematic for flute players. Watch your embouchure form in a mirror. You want to avoid open corners of the lips. Make sure you are using plenty of wax applied to the braces to avoid discomfort.
Flute Exercises For Improved Embouchure
Eventually, you will find using your hand to move your lips over the braces is required less often. Your skin will toughen up and be less sensitive to them. You’ll also notice your clarity of tone is improving. One of the best exercises to ensure you lips are moving well is ‘slurred octaves’. Slur through the notes to force your lips to do all the work with embouchure. After a couple of pitchy attempts, you will soon be back to good tone and an effective embouchure.
Some teachers complain that braces result in a slightly woolly quality of tone from the young flute player. This can be true at first, but with attention to detail in the lip movement or embouchure, the sound can become more focused, sweet and true. It’s important to let the mouth heal if there is soreness rather than pursue further practice. Take the opportunity on these ‘sore’ days to work on finger exercises and aural training! Just don’t give up your flute!