While studying the flute can offer many rewards and provide a lifetime of joy, bad habits and poor playing style can affect one’s progression and overall enjoyment of the instrument. Whether you’re totally new to playing the flute or haven’t picked up the instrument for a few years, there are a few important things to keep in mind. From maintaining your instrument to understanding proper flute assembly, here are some tips for new or inexperienced flute players to keep in mind as they begin their musical journey.
Go Slow and Be Patient
As you begin to experiment with new fingerings, avoid confusion by moving from one familiar note to a second, less familiar one. As you master these two notes, add an extra note to the mix. Once you’re comfortable playing three notes, move onto four and so on. Many beginner flute players make the mistake of rushing into learning the instrument and don’t take the time to play note by note. Some fingerings are easier than others, so work with your teacher to create exercises that ascend and descend slowly. When the combinations become easier to play, challenge yourself by picking up the tempo accordingly. Whatever you do, stay patient- new flutists won’t pick up everything overnight, so patience is key.
Hold the Flute Properly
The flute is perhaps rivaled only by the violin in regards to how awkward the instrument is to hold. In fact, virtually every new flutist has trouble holding their instrument at first. As a beginner flutist, learning the proper posture and position is crucial. Younger children are often at a disadvantage due to the small size of their hands, which makes learning and maintaining the correct position even more important. It’s difficult to learn the proper hand position from a book or website, so seek guidance from your flute teacher, as they’ll be able to teach you proper formation. As for posture, sit up or stand as straight as possible, with your chin raised and your eyes looking straight ahead. This will open up your body, allowing you to produce clearer, longer notes. If you’re using a music stand, keep it at eye level.
Test Play Your Instrument
Many new flutists often purchase a used flute in order to save money. While purchasing a used flute is great for its money-saving properties, some used flutes are in desperate need of repairs, discouraging students who are unable to produce a good sound on the flute. It’s difficult for an orchestra director to distinguish which flute needs repairs out of the bunch; therefore, it’s important for a professional to “test play” your flute. During this test play, your flute teacher will try playing the lowest notes, which are more susceptible to leaks, the highest notes, and every note in between. Ideally, this test play would occur at the beginning of the school year, before your child signs up for the school’s orchestra or band.
Learn Proper Assembly
Many students accidentally cause damage to their flutes during assembly, so it’s important to learn the proper assembly of your instrument. The most important thing to keep in mind is to avoid twisting the mechanism. When joining the headjoint and the body of the flute together, hold both parts of the flute above or below the keys and lip plate. Another important aspect of flute assembly is aligning the headjoint and footjoint properly. Many new flutists push the headjoint all the way into the body even though flutes are designed so the headjoint should be slightly pulled out in order to play in tune. Before you assemble or disassemble your flute, run through the process with your teacher or a repair technician- that way, you’ll understand the proper assembly of your flute and will effectively avoid accidentally damaging it.
Maintain Your Instrument
While maintaining the instrument by swabbing the flute after each use is important, it’s important to avoid using key oil or polishing cloths. Oil can easily leak onto the pads when applied by a student. Plus, keys need to be oiled about as frequently as a flute needs repair, so it’s best to leave the oiling to the professionals. Although polishing cloths are intended to remove tarnish, in many cases they can actually deposit a residue on pads and in the mechanism. To effectively avoid accidentally tarnishing your flute, purchase a flute cleaning kit from a trusted brand, such as the Gemeinhardt Flute Cleaning Kit. The contents of a kit vary from kit to kit, but most will include polishing mitts, handkerchief swabs, and duster brushes.
As a beginner, it’s important to practice everyday without wearing yourself out. Practicing in shorter, yet highly productive sittings is far more productive than a couple drawn out cram sessions right before your lesson. Start out by practicing 15-20 minutes per day, and increase that number as you become more proficient at playing the instrument. Make your practice sessions goal oriented, as this will help you remain focused. For example, aim to perfect the transition from an A to a B during one session, and aim to work on your posture during the next. If you practice everyday and gradually increase the length of time accordingly, you’ll notice less stiffness and greater improvement over time.
What Will I Learn During Lessons?
Unlike the guitar or piano, playing the flute is less intuitive. Essentially, it’s not an instrument that can easily be self-taught. A good flute teacher should be able to teach you everything from the correct flute embouchure formation to proper breathing and posture. Other things you’ll during professional flute lessons will include fingerings for notes, different articulation, vibrato, music theory, and musicianship skills. Whether you choose group or private lessons is ultimately up to you, especially since each has its own unique set of pros and cons. Some students learn better in one-on-one sessions, while others prefer the camaraderie of learning in a group. For more information about the pros and cons of each lesson style, check out Private vs. Group Lessons: Pros and Cons.
Since caring for your flute is so important, learn about the Proper Care and Maintenance of a Flute.