Instructions on How to Use the Pneumo Pro to Teach the Basics of Great Tone

11/12/2009 by Kathy Blocki

 The use of the Pneumo Pro Wind Director greatly simplifies the teaching of tone production. The student begins blowing into the Pneumo Pro instead of the flute, and the teacher can immediately see whether the direction of the air column will produce a sound on the head joint.

 The Pneumo Pro is designed to simulate the flute head joint, but with the embouchure hole open so that the air can pass through the hole and spin the fans below. As students learn to isolate certain fans they learn to replicate the air direction and focus needed to produce a clear and resonant tone on the flute. The Pneumo Pro should be held like one would hold a flute head joint, with the student's head held erect as the Pneumo Pro is brought to the lips. Care should be taken to ensure that students do not begin the habit of leaning the head forward to meet the Pneumo Pro.

The flat surface on the fan holder should remain parallel to the floor. If students are working with partners, the person not using the Pneumo Pro should be instructed to help the other student to maintain a correct position. Students can check themselves for correct position by placing a penny of the top round flat surface of the fan holder. If the Pneumo pro is positioned correctly the penny will not fall, and a correct position is confirmed. This careful attention to position will ensure that the targeted fan will spin because the air is being directed properly, and not because the student has changed the angle of the Pneumo Pro. Beginning students often change the angle of the air stream improperly by rolling the flute towards them in order to make tone production easier. The resulting sound however is small and thin, and rapidly becomes a habit, which is difficult to correct.

When students first blow through the embouchure hole of the Pneumo pro they usually set the upper two or three fans spinning. If this were replicated on the flute head joint the result would be either no sound or a breathy tone quality. The tonal goal from the beginning should not be just producing a sound, but producing a full, focused, and resonant tone.

To learn to produce their first low note, students should be instructed to put as much of the lower lip as possible on the Pneumo Pro while covering no more than a fourth of the embouchure hole. Students should aim their air column slightly above the upper teeth and then use the upper lip to direct the air down to the lowest wheel; at a 90-degree angle. The air stream should create a long and flat opening in the lips. Once the student can consistently isolate the lowest fan with the low note embouchure, check the speed at which the fan is spinning and the length of time in which it spins. In order to simulate a full and resonant low note, the lowest fan must spin quickly so that it generates a spinning sound as long as possible.

When students can isolate the lowest fan with a long whirling sound at least five times in a row, they are ready to replicate the air column on the flute head joint. Of course, they should always be checking the embouchure in front of the mirror. It is possible to spin the lowest fan by incorrectly pushing the upper lip forward. Students must use the correct embouchure and spin the lowest fan. This is why using a mirror is so critical.

 If feasible, the instructor should place and hold the head joint for the student the initial time he/she blows into the head joint. When the size of the group makes this impractical, the use of mirrors will help students find the center of the embouchure hole accurately. Students should be encouraged to create a full and resonant "A" with the end of the head joint covered, and then produce a pitch a major seventh higher by uncovering the end of the head joint.

 Before attempting a series of repeated notes like those found on Head Joint Ex. 1, have the students practice the exercise on the Pneumo Pro. The air column will tend to be too high at the beginning of each note and will continue to rise as the student progresses through each line. The tempo should be about 60 m.m. per quarter note, with care taken to ensure that the quarter notes are given their full value.

When the students have mastered the first exercise on the Pneumo Pro, again have them replicate the air direction and speed on the head joint. They should play the exercises first with end of the head joint uncovered, and then with the end of the head joint left covered. The Head Joint Ex. no. 2 provides fun practicing low notes on the head joint without the added difficulties of correct hand position and fingerings, which are encountered when playing with the entire flute. This enables the students to continue to focus on embouchure and air direction, while still receiving the musical satisfaction of playing songs.

If students have difficulty with lower notes, recheck air direction and speed on the Pneumo Pro to help diagnose and correct the problem. To play high notes, the embouchure should be formed by putting the inside wet part of the lips firmly together and then blowing as if saying "pee". The air stream will part the lips slightly to create a small-elongated opening in the lips. Mirrors should be used to enable the students to check that multiple openings in the lips are not being formed when the air strikes the lips.

Once this lip formation is mastered, have the students blow into the Pneumo Pro in the same manner. As much of the lower lip as possible should rest on the Pneumo Pro. The lips should be brought forward so that they cover about one third of the embouchure hole. The upper lip should be used to bring the air column down to at least the second to the lowest fan. (The louder a student plays these high notes the lower the air needs to be directed in order to compensate for the sharpness of the forte.) To simulate a full sound, the air speed should be fast and the fan should produce a whirling sound for at least three seconds.

When students can consistently spin either the second to the lowest fan or lowest fan while forming the high embouchure, they are ready to duplicate this on the flute head joint with their hand covering the end of the head joint. The resulting note will be an "E"- a fifth higher than the low pitch produced with the end of the head joint covered. Next have the students produce a high note with the end of the flute uncovered. This will produce a pitch an octave higher than the corresponding low note made with the end of the head joint open. This high "A" requires a very small lip opening. Emphasize the importance of creating a full and beautiful sound right from the beginning.

 The next step is to apply this high note embouchure to Head Joint ex. no. 3. First have the students practice the exercises on the Pneumo Pro. The instructor should check for following:
 1) A consistent high note embouchure, with only one small elongated opening resulting from the air striking the lips.
 2) That the position of the Pneumo Pro remains parallel to the floor.
3) As much of the lower lip as possible is resting on the Pneumo Pro.
4) Each note begins with the second to the lowest or the lowest fan.

The tendency will be to start off the exercise correctly and then gradually lose control of the air direction and air speed as the exercise progresses. Have the students practice the exercises on the Pneumo Pro until they can play it while maintaining a good embouchure, air direction, and air speed throughout the line. Each note should begin with the lips closed. The air should create the opening wwith a "pooh" sound for each note. ("pee" for higher notes.)

When the students have accomplished this, they are ready to play the exercise on the flute head joint; first with the end covered and then uncovered. The next step is to teach students to change between the low and high note embouchures with ease and accuracy. This flexibility is usually neglected during the beginning months of flute playing, often resulting in a rigid embouchure that makes octave changes difficult. Students who learn early embouchure flexibility benefit not only form the ability to play multiple octaves with ease, but also form the ability to project a more resonant tone and the ability to more readily correct intonation problems. Students should begin practice for embouchure flexibility on the Pneumo Pro, alternating between the low and high note embouchures while blowing half notes within the constraints of a slow steady beat.

When transferring this practice to the flute head joint, students should practice until they can consistently play the desired pitch. Have the students first work with the end of the head joint covered. Most students will find playing this perfect fifth easy to achieve.

The octave produced by the high and low notes when the end of the flute head joint is left open will be much more challenging. This octave exercise will prove extremely effective in helping to develop embouchure flexibility. The Head Joint Ex. 4 are designed to provide further practice in embouchure flexibility on the head joint. Students should practice one line slowly on the Pneumo Pro to check for air speed and air direction during the embouchure changes. When the students can accurately change embouchures within the confines of the written rhythmic values and a steady beat, they are ready to play the exercise on the flute head joint.

These exercises should also be used as daily warm-ups during the student's first year of flute playing or for any student who has difficulty playing in the third octave on the flute.

Teaching Tonguing Using the Pneumo Pro

Even though students can produce a beautiful sound while playing a long tone, when they begin to learn tonguing, the tone quality often digresses to a less focused sound. When a passage is played with repeated articulations, the air column naturally moves higher, causing the tone to become airy and unfocused. Have the student practice tonguing on the Pneumo Pro. The student should simulate playing a held note while spinning the correct fan. Then the student should again blow as if sustaining a long note, but interrupt the air stream with repeated tonguing. This style of tonguing in which the tongue interrupts a sustained tone will be referred to as slur tonguing. The same fan that spun on the held note without articulation should spin while the student tongues.

Help for Students with Braces

Students who have new braces often feel frustrated while playing the flute. This difficulties they experience stems from the braces pushing the lips slightly forward, causing problems in focusing the air downward. Using the Pneumo Pro to again focus the air in the correct direction will quickly facilitate the adjustment needed to refocus the air stream and minimize the frustration of temporarily losing good tone quality. Students rarely experience difficulty adjusting to playing after their braces are are removed. Most often their tone quality only improves with the absence of the braces. If a flute student will be getting braces, have the parents discuss with their child's orthodontist which options would interfere the least with flute playing. If the child needs to use a bite plate, a removable one would be more desirable for the flute player in place of a permanent plate. The permanent bite plate can cause much discouragement when trying to produce a good sound and clean tonguing.