The following guidelines will help you decide if the flute is a good choice for you.
- Arms are long enough to hold flute to the mouth and still cover keys correctly.
- Closed teeth meet evenly.
- Upper lip characteristics are conducive to proper embouchure; a short upper lip or bead of skin in the center of the upper lip tends to make it difficult to form a good embouchure.
- A clear tone is easily produced on the head joint.
- Eye-hand coordination is good.
- Reading skills are above average.
- Work habits are strong and achievement is high.
Listen to Examples
Assembly & Care
Avoid costly repairs!
If you can hear it clanking around as you put it together and pack it up, then you need to be more careful.
Assembling the Flute
- Hold the head joint in your left hand and the middle joint in your right hand.
- Gently twist and insert the head joint into the middle joint.
- Make sure that the embouchure hole is directly in line with the middle joint's row of keys.
- Hold the assembled middle joint in your left hand and the foot joint in your right hand.
- Gently twist and insert the middle joint into the foot joint.
- The embouchure hole, keys of the middle joint, and the long rod on the foot joint should all line up.
Packing Up Carefully
Before putting your instrument back in its case after playing, do the following:
- Put a clean, soft cloth on the end of your cleaning rod.
- Draw the cleaning rod and cloth through the middle joint and foot joint.
- Carefully shake the water out of the head joint.
- Wipe the outside of each section with a separate polishing cloth to keep the finish clean.
- You should have no other materials in your case, except for those it was designed to hold. Do not use force when closing your case or you could damage the instrument.
- Improper assembly may damage your instrument
- Damaged equipment will cause problems
To get the best sound or tone quality you should:
- Hold your instrument with good posture
- Play with good breath support, focused airstream, and strong embouchure formation
To control pitch you should:
- Develop good listening skills
- Practice different notes (positions and combinations)
Learn the Notes
One at a time...
Before you learn new songs, you need to learn the notes. Every flute player should understand how to read the fingering chart below. Practice holding the flute and placing your fingers in all the different combinations for the notes. You will be able to switch faster as your coordination and dexterity improves.
Flute players have many articulations available. These include double-tonguing, triple-tonguing, and flutter-tonguing. However, articulation is more than just tonguing and slurring. Articulation is the process of attacking and releasing a sequence of notes. Ending the sound is just as important as beginning the pitch. Use the "tip of your tongue at the top of your teeth."
Dexterity is a mental skill or quickness, as well as the readiness and grace in physical activity. In relation to playing an instrument, dexterity is the skill and ease of using your hands and fingers.
Watch out for the right little finger. Don't get in the habit of curling it under the flute for support. If you raise your fingers far above the keys while playing longer notes, you may have trouble breaking the habit for shorter notes. Remember that evenness is much more desirable than speed. Playing fast, furious, and fumbling is simply not impressive.
How do you sound?
Embouchure (ahm'-bah-shure) is your mouth's position on the mouthpiece of your instrument. A good embouchure takes time and effort, so carefully follow these steps for success:
- Hold the closed end of the head joint in your left hand. Cover the open end with the palm of your right hand.
- Rest the embouchure plate on your bottom lip. Center the embouchure hole on the center of your lips. Check by touching the embouchure hole with the tip of your tongue.
- Gently roll the head joint forward so that approximately 1/4 of the embouchure hole is covered by the lower lip.
- Keep upper and lower teeth spaced slightly apart.
- Draw the corners of your mouth straight back and relax your lower lip.
- Make a small opening in the center of your lips. Blow air partly into and partly across the embouchure hole.
- Practice regularly in front of a mirror. Roll the head joint in or out to find the embouchure position that produces your best clear and full tone.
The size and shape of the embouchure opening should change depending on the register. The correct embouchure changes will result in a responsive flute. As the flute player develops, intonation will improve as well.
- The flute player's mouth should almost match the size of the embouchure hole for the lower register. An opening that is too wide causes a coarse, breathy, and inflexible tone.
- The mouth becomes more oval in shape for the middle register.
- The upper register requires an even smaller oval shape in the mouth. An opening that is too small causes a small or thin tone.
Start with the Mouthpiece Only
Using the head joint only, form your embouchure and take a deep breath without raising your shoulders. Whisper "too" across the embouchure hole and gradually exhale your full airstream. Strive for an even tone. You will get different pitches depending on whether or not the open end of the head joint is covered with your palm.
Cover the open end of the head joint and try for the note A. Uncover the end and try for the note A-flat, almost an octave higher. Blow faster air to reach high E when covered or a screeching high A-flat when open.
Posture & Poise
Sit on the edge of your chair, and always keep your:
- Spine straight and tall
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Feet flat on the floor
- Music stand height-adjusted to read the music and watch the conductor
Holding the Flute
Hold the flute nearly parallel to the floor and keep your head/neck facing forward.
- Allow the embouchure plate to press lightly against your lower lip.
- Rest your left thumb on the underside's long, straight key.
- Keep your wrist straight. Your fingers should arch naturally.
- Rest your fingertips on the center of the keys.
- Place the tip of your right thumb on the flute's underside between your first and second fingers.
- Arch your fingers and rest them lightly on the keys.
- Put your little finger on the E-flat key (balance key).
Tuning & Pitch Control
Take control of your pitch.
Tuning is the process of matching pitch, which requires two sources: your instrument and another instrumentalist or electronic tuner. Experienced players tune to a "remembered" pitch.
How to Tune
- Warm up thoroughly before tuning.
- Tune to a reliable frequency using "Concert Bb" or "Concert A" at a medium dynamic level without vibrato.
- Play the tuning note straight and make adjustments from the head joint.
- Pull out the head joint to lower the pitch.
- Push in the head joint to raise the pitch.
- Tune the flute to A, not B-flat. Be sure the head joint is NOT pulled out excessively (generally no more than 1/4").
How to Control Pitch
With practice, you will learn the techniques of controlling pitch while playing. As the flute player becomes more familiar with the instrument, alternate fingerings may be learned to adjust pitches while playing. This technique may be used in combination with the two basic rules explained below. While performing, flute players can:
- Lower the pitch by covering the embouchure hole or directing more air into the instrument
- Raise the pitch by uncovering the embouchure hole or blowing more air across and out of the flute
Heads up! These two rules are explained to flute students in a variety of ways. The most common instruction is "rolling in the tone hole" and rolling out the tone hole. I believe this instruction causes poor hand position so I prefer to have students think of directing the air through the floor or through the wall.
Intonation & Technique
The Flute's Natural Flaws
The causes of poor intonation may be inadequate breath support, a poorly formed embouchure, or poor listening habits. However, every instrument has inherent intonation flaws. They are listed below for the flute.
Inherent Intonation Flaws
- In general, the low register is flat (too low)
- In general, the middle register is in tune (just right)
- In general, the high register is sharp (too high)
Intonation is the process of moving from one pitch to another pitch at a specific interval (vertically). Intonation is controlled by one person because it relies on a trained ear and acquired listening skills while playing.
Specific Pitch Tendencies
Memorize this information
Sharp tendencies (too high):
- The flute will tend to play sharp when dynamics get louder.
- Notes in the upper register also have a tendency towards sharpness.
- At times, flute pitch may go sharp if too much air moves across the blow hole.
Pitch may be lowered through a variety of techniques including:
- Head joint adjustments, pull out
- Rolling the flute in slightly (towards your face)
- Slight shift of the head to help direct air downward
- Slight shift of the embouchure to help direct air downward
- Adding keys: Alternate fingering may be available to adjust the pitch.
Flat tendencies (too low):
- The flute will tend to play flat when dynamics get softer.
- Notes in the lower range also have a tendency towards flatness.
- Unsupported air and slower air speed will also cause the pitch to go flat.
- At times, flute pitch may go flat if too much of the blow hole is covered.
Pitch may be raised through a variety of techniques including:
- Head joint adjustments, push in
- Rolling the flute out slightly (away from your face)
- Slight shift of the head to help direct air upward
- Better air support
- Slight shift of the embouchure to help direct air upward
- Alternate fingering may be available to adjust the pitch.
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
Get more familiar with your instrument and learn who invented it, who composes music for it, and who has mastered the art of playing it.
Flutes were known to exist in ancient civilizations. Over the years, they have been made of wood or metal. Early flutes, such as recorders, are played pointing forward. The other type of flute, called a transverse flute until the mid-1800s, is played to the side.
In 1847, Theobald Boehm designed the modern flute. This flute is capable of playing with more volume than older flutes. The keys Mr. Boehm added also allow the instrument to play a full chromatic scale, and help it to play better in tune.
The flute family includes the C Flute (the most common), C Piccolo, Alto and Bass Flutes. As the highest-pitched members of the concert band, marching band, and orchestra, flutes play melodies, harmonies, and solos, and are important members of the woodwind family.
IV. Composers & Performers
J.S. Bach, Claude Debussy, and Ralph Vaughan Williams are important composers who have written music for the flute. Some famous flute performers are Louis Moyse and James Galway.
Units of Study
Building skill. Developing technique.
Learn about intonation, pitch control, care & maintenance, etc.