Nose Flute Your Way to Better Saxophone Playing

You just read that correctly. I mean it. This top secret device fine-tunes your saxophone.

To play the nose flute place the mouthpiece (nosepiece) under your nostrils, and line up the aperture with your mouth. Blow air out from your nose to activate the whistle, and change the pitch by moving the inside of your mouth. It’s very similar to whistling minus the nose-blowing.

At first you will have difficulty even making a noise. It’s totally unnatural to play a wind instrument using air from your nose. No one has done that since fourth grade recorder class (come on, I know you did), but you’ll be hooked once you make those first dulcet tones on the nose flute. Here’s a video for some inspiration (sweet scoops and vibrato optional):

(Also, if you have a minute, “like” Nosefluter’s videos and subscribe to her channel! At the time of this article she has only 630 subscribers–a travesty in my opinion)

“Okay, great,” you say, “I bought my Nose Flute and I sound amazing. Now what?” Oh yeah, I’m supposed to tell you how this makes you a better saxophonist. But first, a little backstory…

CLAUDE DELANGLE’S SECRET WEAPON

When I was in my masters degree at Northwestern in 2008, the saxophone studio from the Paris Conservatory was on tour in the USA. We were lucky enough to host these amazing players, and shared some pretty incredible musical experiences (et beaucoup du vin). I couldn’t believe how much control these guys had over the saxophone. Their saxophone ensemble had the most intense, rich, homogeneous, and glorious sound imaginable.

They were all serious, professional-level saxophonists, and their demeanor matched their playing. These guys were all business during concerts and masterclasses, but finally at the afterparty they let down their hair and let out the nose flutes. The French were already quite adept nose flutist (flautists?), and encouraged us to try. Unfortunately, no one from the Northwestern studio could match the Frenchmen’s skill (“first with saxophone, and now with nose flute?!”), but we all had a laugh at our drunken attempts. It was all in good fun, but the experience stuck with me.

Of all the portable instruments available why would the saxophone students of the Conservatoire de Paris carry around a nose flute? Why not a harmonica? Jaw harp? Washboard? Spoons? Jug?

Claude Delangle taught that one’s native language impacts their saxophone playing. For example, all Spanish players have an easy time flutter tonguing (flatterzunge) because of the Spanish rolled r. Similarly, he said French players naturally sound nasal and played more forward in the mouth (think of the pronunciation of the word “précieux”), while Americans sound more guttural and play in the back of the mouth (to get an idea say the word “jocular” with your best Californian surfer accent). By the way, it was hilarious when Claude Delangle did his impersonation of an American accent, “Hi, hOW Are yOU.”

When you play the nose flute it’s clear why the French were so good. Everything on the nose flute happens with the nose (obviously), and in the front half of the oral cavity. Producing a good tone on nose flute is more “précieux” than “jocular.”

PAHUD’S WASABI

I’m not trying to make divisions here or claim that French playing is better than Americans. I’m just relating my experience. However, it turns that having control of the nose greatly assists in woodwind playing. Here’s one of the greatest flute players in the world, Emmanuel Pahud, explaining how he uses his nose and sinuses to his advantage:

Apparently, all European woodwind players think about their nose. There were lots of interesting points made in this video. I’ll definitely have to try the technique Pahud describes where he “finds a way to into the sound” by expelling air out of his nose before start a note. Pahud also states that singers and actors use the “wasabi” point as a way of centering and projecting their voice. Lastly, he claims that intonation is no longer an issue when you resonate in the head and sinuses. Here, of course, Pahud is talking specifically about flute, but I believe the nose flute is another route toward accessing the resonance of the head. I’ve listed below even more reasons I like the nose flute.

AUDIATION

Audiation is a fancy word for playing by ear. Edwin Gordon, famous music educator, coined the term and said it is the foundation to understanding music. There are no key holes on the nose flute, so to produce pitches and melodies you must first imagine them in your mind. The ear then guides you to produce them on the nose flute. Developing your audiation has obvious implications on your improvisation. The stronger the connection between your imagination and your instrument the easier it is to improvise. Watch me in the clip below as I butcher my way through “the lick” in twelve keys. I started off slow because my ear-to-instrument relationship was weak, but you can hear the connection strengthen (myelination, anyone?) as I keep going.

INTONATION
Closely related to audiation is intonation. Playing in tune on saxophone is difficult. My articles on intonation drills, and embouchure will help improve your tuning, but so does the nose flute! The stronger your audiation the easier it is to imagine the correct pitch and thus produce it on your sax. But there is also a physical component to tuning the saxophone.

The way you manipulate the inside of your mouth playing nose flute is closely related to how it’s done on saxophone. Most saxo-nerds minds will jump to the seminal text, Voicing: An Approach to the Saxophone’s Third Register. In it Donald Sinta describes how the manipulation of the tongue and throat helps intonation. He also states that voicing is instrumental in producing the altissimo register. I definitely agree that voicing is important, and I think the nose flute offers another way to unlock the physical skills needed to execute it.

Many Americans tend to over-voice in a “jocular” manner, which creates more problems than it solves. Resolve your embouchure issues first before you delve too deeply into voicing. Then say, “précieux,” and use a nose flute to remind yourself to keep all of the action toward the front of the oral cavity.

CONCLUSION

There you have it. I’ve described a myriad of saxo-maladies which are cured by becoming a skilled nose flutist. If you’re interested in giving the gift of nose fluting to you and your friends, get a set of ten nose flutes here. Feeling fancy? Try one made in Vietnamese rose wood. Lastly, couples that nose flute together stay together:

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