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A Description and Application of Robert Aitken's

Concept  of the Physical Flute.

A Description and Application of Robert Aitken's

Concept of the Physical Flute.

A Doctoral Essay by Robert David Billington.

©2000 - Robert D. Billington

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As students of the flute, we have too often encountered the teaching styles of the "laissez faire" and the "imitato" method of teachers who do not understand the acoustic underpinnings of flute playing.

Left to ourselves we can become highly skilled, but isn't there a better way?

Is there a way to play the flute based upon solid acoustic principles?

Yes, there is!

My doctoral essay "A Description and Application of Robert Aitken's Concept of the Physical Flute" describes a means of playing the flute based upon acoustic principles.

Here are some useful bits of information found in "A Description and Application of Robert Aitken's Concept of the Physical Flute."

To play with a homogenous tone and with facility in all registers, the flutist should set the resonance cavities of the vocal tract for the lowest notes and use only miniscule movements of the lips to produce the upper partials.

According to Aitken and as supported by Gartner (see Bibliography), the flutist uses two methods of support - the upper or "singer's support " and the lower or "thoraco-abdominal support."

The means of playing with an "open-throat" is by keeping the base of the tongue down, in the inhalation position, while exhaling. This is akin to the act of "covering" or "copertura" in bel canto singing.

The placement of the tip of the tongue for the tongue stroke should be high on the upper palate, well behind the alveolar ridge. The motion of the tongue should be down and forward so that the tongue rests on the floor of the mouth behind the bottom teeth after the tongue stroke - in the vocally neutral position.

These are just some of the many bits of wisdom found in "A Description and Application of Robert Aitken's Concept of the Physical Flute."

I am currently revising the paper to distribute on Until then, it can be found at

I hope you find the book enlightening.

BILLINGTON, ROBERT DAVID (DMA, Instrumental Performance)

A Description and Application of Robert Aitken’s Concept of the Physical Flute (June 2000)

Abstract of a doctoral essay at the University of Miami.

Doctoral Essay supervised by Professor Richard K.Fiese. 180 pages.

     The physical flute is the phrase that Canadian flute virtuoso Robert Aitken uses to describe the style of flute playing that he uses for performance and teaching.

     The defining characteristics of the physical flute combine the sometimes vague concepts of proper support and resonance with the use of a very facile embouchure to achieve the goals of flexibility, homogeneity of sound, and ease of playing.

     Chapter 1 introduces Robert Aitken and the concepts of the physical flute.

     Chapter 2 provides a survey of supporting documentation with emphasis on breathing and support, placement of the vocal tract, and lip movements for generating register changes.

     Chapter 3 uses photographs and Cool Edit screen shots to illustrate the physical aspects of the physical flute, including the resultant acoustic effects of certain changes of the embouchure and of the vocal tract.

     Chapter 4 provides a series of exercises that the flutist can integrate into the daily exercise routine to help internalize the mechanisms of the physical flute.

     Chapter 5 provides additional exercises, based on orchestral excerpts, for incorporating the techniques of the physical flute into actual musical examples.


     I would like to acknowledge Robert Aitken for his help with this project and for developing such an interesting and effective means of playing the flute. I would like to thank Professor Richard Fiese for his help with the generation of the dissertation proposal and with the final draft of the paper. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Dr. David Boyle, Dean of Graduate Studies of the UM School of Music, who patiently helped me through the writing and organizational stages of the paper. I must also thank the members of my doctoral committee whose suggestions helped make the paper better.

     Several others helped greatly with certain aspects of the paper and deserve acknowledgment. They are Thomas and Edna Billington, John Billington, Mark Billington, Joseph Ruesing, Patti Schwartz, Patrick Fleury-Charles, Renaldo Guadalupe, Kathy Behl, Pamela Sherwood, Dr. Elda Tate, and Hannah Weil.

     Finally, I would like to acknowledge the debt that I owe my many flute teachers and my many flute students through the years.

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