This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

May 21, 2012

Getting serious about nose flute playing - Part I is very glad and lucky to welcome Miss Birdy K. today as an essayist. This text of thoughts about nose flute playing is the first of what we hope to be a long series. Thanks to her!

Getting serious about nose flute playing - Part I
Principles of nose flute playing and practising

Ever since I discovered the nose flute some years ago I have been fascinated by the opportunities this instrument has to offer.
It is very intuitive in its playing techniques, it is funny and makes people laugh a lot (surely not a bad thing) and besides – the nose flute is one of the few instruments that allows a single player to play another instrument like ukulele, violin, piano etc. at the same time (I could only think of the voice and the kazoo that are played hands-free*). Oh, and it is rather cheap. Requires no knowledge of musical notation.
I surely forgot some of the many advantages of the instrument, but the ones listed would be enough to get people interested in it.

So why are there relatively few nose flute players?
I mean players that really get into it and practice and play « serious » music with it.
The attentive reader of this blog certainly knows about the few people I am talking about.
There are many brillant violin players, guitar, ukulele, pan flute, ocarina – amazing stuff on Youtube! Nose flute, well.... you have to endure a lot of stupidities if you search for nose flute on Youtube – if you are lucky you end up on the channel of Master Mosurin, if not, well, I will not mention names...
I thought about this quite a bit already.

Some possible reasons:
- The nose flute is – compared to other instruments - a rather new instrument (the first industrially produced nose flutes date back to about 1900).
- To play the nose flute well is not an easy task. One of the greatest challenges is reaching a good intonation. Since the pitch of the note is changed by very subtle changes of the oral cavity it is very difficult to hit the notes exactly. Still, the singing saw, which I tried as well, is also very tricky about intonation. But there are quite a lot of brillant players to find on Youtube.

To my mind the main and actual reason for the lack of ambitious instrumentalists – correct me if I am wrong – is the fact it looks so incredibly stupid and even if you play like a god – you look stupid whatever you do.

You have to accept the fact that nose flute playing is not very decorative and people tend to be put off by the looks of it (Hannibal Lecter was not helpful for us in this respect).
Well, another reason might really be the difficulty of the instrument and, yes, also, the lack of nose flute teachers. There are quite few. So you need to find out mostly by yourself.
As for my personal nose fluting biography I have to say that I searched for external help and got some very helpful ideas from a friend of mine who is a flute player and Alexander Technik teacher.

This leads us to the next part:

Little essay on playing techniques

This may sound funny but the first thing you have to take into consideration is that the nose flute is a wind instrument! (No matter where the wind comes from ;-)
Whether you play tuba, clarinet or nose flute the sound needs air to be produced. When you find out how to breathe well and deeply your playing will surely improve.
Since I do not know much about this and it is difficult to write in a foreign language (besides the theory is not very helpful anyway) I will not bother you with theories on breathing. Just as an idea: if you want to work in that direction it can be a good idea to take a lesson with an open-minded wind instrument player or a singer.
I have not worked a lot on that yet but I found out how amazingly my playing changed after a lesson with my flute teacher who worked with me on the breathing. After the lesson I played a bit, just for fun, and I was thrilled how much easier it was. Not only could I play longer phrases, it also had a good effect on my speed, here is the proof:

I practised this piece for quite a while already but I had never played it so fast before. And, I must admit, I cannot do it any more in this tempo without a very good warm-up...

Apart from good breathing techniques it can be helpful to follow some basic principles of musical training which are :
1 - practise very slowly
2 - learn to hear the tone you want to produce inside you before you actually play it

1: in my long musical experience I have learned that the best way to learn quickly is to slow down. Play as slow as you can and then play half as fast as that. Playing extremely slowly requires a very good concentration and is a great exercise no matter what instrument or music you play. You do not need to repeat that very often, try to avoid mechanical repetitions but listen very well and attentively – leading to

2: pre-hearing: also, no matter what you play, your playing will benefit from development of imagination for the sounds you produce. Practically speaking: try to « hear » the note you want to play before you play it. This is one of the most important principles for reaching good intonation. If you want reliable results you can practise imagining a tone and then play it and compare the result. If you find it difficult to imagine a note of a certain pitch you can sing (or play on a keyboard) and try to imitate the tone with the nose flute. I do not say this is easy! Nor do I say that I always succeed with that!
However, when you manage to get the intonation you want another step is to work on imagining not just the pitch of the notes but also the kind of sound you want to reach. If you have a good noseflute you will find out that you can produce a very sweet and beautiful sound and you can even modify the colour of sound.

If you develop a good intonation and musicality and ever get to play for an audience and have them listen to you and forget – for a moment – how stupid it looks and funny and how the hell does it work, you will realize what a great instrument you put your nose on!!

I hope, dear reader, I did not bore you too much with these rather specific and sometimes a bit abstract ideas about getting serious on nose flute playing. I had the intention of showing that the nose flute is not just a stupid gadget for entertaining people and make them laugh but also an instrument that gives you many opportunities to learn and train your abilities – as well as any other instrument. No matter to what practice you commit yourself to you will find out that working musically is something that can make you extremely happy. And if you get a nose flute, beware of getting addicted – but at least this is one of the cheapest drugs you can get, n'est-ce pas?

                                                                                                      Birdy K.

*Publisher note : equiped with some holding devices, other instruments may be played hands-free : Harmonicas, for instance, or pan flutes...

>> Access Part II


  1. I aggree with the Nosy Diva, but I would like to add that playing the nose flute is very easy but playing it perfectly is very difficult. The average novice can learn to play songs recognisably with in a matter of minutes, and with a bit of practice make very fast progress, because the basic playing technique is aquired almost on an intuitive level.

    1. Thank you for your important and very right remarks, dear Bocarina! Maybe I was getting too serious about getting serious?? Generally, learning to play the nose flute, especially the bocarina, is amazingly easy and this is one of the many reasons why I like this instrument so much. Still, having spent some time with the nose flute I found out that it is - like any other instrument when you get into it more deeply - quite a challenge to play it really well. So my wish was to share my experiences on the way, though they are quite personal and I have no idea if this is of interest to anybody. However, I would like to encourage any interested and ambitious player to find out how to improve, to be open-minded and follow their nose....there is a lot to discover with this little instrument!
      Had no intention to give the impression that nose flute playing is extremely difficult. It is not and it is - at the same time, like any other instrument. But it is a "real" instrument and not a stupid gadget as treated by many people.
      Thanks for your interest,
      the Nosy Diva

  2. My opinion is that the nose flute is just like the voice: anyone can open up his mouth, but how many people can actually sing? Moreover, to apply the right timing, diction, dynamics, colour, style and sound makes up a whole different ballgame...!

    There are several other difficulties to overcome here: the standard noseflute is made of cheap plastic, which doesn't really make it look serious or profesional. The basic sound of the standard nose flute usually is as cheap as the material, which doesn't help in making it sound a 'real instrument'... As the standard nose flute doesn't have a resonating body, in fact not much of a body at all, its sound isn't projected much, if at all.

    What many instruments and particularly flutes have to offer, is their fingerplay. The keyholes of fingerplayed flutes allow for a fixed intonation, and also hold many advantages soundwise. The buccal cavity driven nose flute lacks any keyholes and therefore fingerplay: although the nose flute is put into the same category, it actually is a different instrument. Technically speaking the nose flute should be called a nose whistle.

    Of course, there also is no such thing --at least here-- as a tradition of playing the nose flute. It is usually only ever mentioned as a gizmo, novelty or fun item.

    Not having played for several years now, the nose flute offers many challenges to me, whilst it once was a direct extension of my personality. It certainly must be one of the hardest instruments to master, possibly even harder than the voice.

    I remember what Luciano Pavarotti once said: "you need to very carefully build and maintain your singing voice." How about this for being serious?

  3. Your comment about "pre hearing" the note was brilliant, and precisely what I needed to "get" how to play the flute. I imagine I'm whistling (through my mouth :-) and, amazingly, it makes exactly the right tone! A little more practice, and I'll be ready to play it in public!

  4. Hello unknown noseflute player, I am happy to have been able to help you a bit in mastering this great instrument. I wish you lots of fun and good luck also, you need that when you play noseflute!