Monday, June 08, 2015

Flute Playing and Natural Selection

I have always believed that making a good sound on the flute has much to do with the ability to fold the tongue in order to direct the air. There are people who can fold their tongues, and there are people who cannot. It is a genetic trait. I imagine that those who cannot control the shape of their tongues (folding the tongue into a shape like a hot dog roll, or into the shape of the kind of leaf that can hold water) are people who might, after a little experience with the instrument, seek out musical paths that do not involve playing the flute.

A google search on the matter took me to an explanation of the genetics that provided a wonderful surprise:
In humans, the ability to flute (roll) one's tongue is a dominant allele F to the inability to flute the tongue, f. A student who cannot flute his tongue has a nephew who cannot flute his tongue; however, the nephew's mother(the student's sister) can flute her tongue. etc. . .
How odd that the ability to control the folding of the tongue, which I believe is necessary for making a good sound on the flute, is called fluting!

My experience with fluting the tongue is highly personal and certainly not scientific. I have never had a flute student who couldn't flute his or her tougue, and I haven't found any studies that address the matter, but would love to know if anyone reading this who cannot flute his or her tongue has had trouble trying to make a good sound on the flute.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Elaine, I find your observation about fluting one's tongue curious. I cannot roll, twist or otherwise flute my tongue in any way. However, I can flutter tongue or pronounce a rolled R easily. I've been playing flute for over 40 years and teaching for more than 30. It seems to me that keeping the tongue out of the air stream except to tongue enables the player to pay attention to how the air is aimed at the blowing edge, the size shape of the aperture formed by the lips and moving the air sufficiently all contribute to good tone.