An Introduction to the Flute

by Denis Karp, Music & Arts Lesson Instructor

Tools for Success

Music Stand Shop Now >
All flutists require a music stand because without one, proper posture is impossible!

Cleaning Rod Shop Now >
Flutes must be cleaned every time they are played. Otherwise, moisture build-up on the inside of the flute can lead to damaged pads and mildew, resulting in expensive repairs! Cleaning rods are typically included with flutes, but if you do not have one, they are an inexpensive necessity. They are also needed to check cork placement in the headjoint.

Cleaning Cloth Shop Now >
See above. The cleaning cloth goes through the cleaning rod to swab out the inside of the flute.

Please make sure you use a proper material cloth. Something that is both absorbent and soft without the risk of leaving fuzz or dust inside is best. Silk cleaning cloths are always preferred!

Pad Cleaning Paper Shop Now >
No matter how much we swab out the inside of the flute, moisture as well as weather changes can cause the pads under the keys to stick. This moisture can be removed by placing a sheet of pad cleaning paper under the key and pressing the key down. Please ask your teacher to demonstrate because improper use can lead to torn pads!

From beginner to professional, all musicians should always have a pencil ready when they play. Pencils are needed for taking rehearsal and lesson notes as well as notes to help during practice sessions.

Metronome Shop Now >
This device provides steady beats through clicks in order to help develop the player’s sense of rhythm and steady beat. Metronomes allow for the tempo to be adjusted to fit your needs.

Tuner Shop Now >
This device shows a student how close they are to playing the correct pitch. This tool is especially important for flutists since the slightest change in the direction or speed of the air stream as well as shape of the lips can make the note go higher or lower. Pitch is usually the number one challenge for flutists! A combined metronome/tuner device is highly recommended.

Sheet Music Shop Now >
Whether this is your band book, a book written specifically for beginner flutists or material with more advanced exercises and solos, sheet music is essential for all musicians!

Staff Paper Shop Now >
This is paper with pre-printed groups of lines on which the player will practice writing notes, rhythms, scales, chords, etc. Staff paper is essential because student need to learn how to write in order to read it.

Practice Log
A practice log is essentially a journal that helps you to keep track of what, when and for how long you practiced. This is not only helpful to the teacher who will help keep track of your progress, but it will help you develop a sense of routine and to keep track of what you may need any extra help with.

Mirror Shop Now >
Practicing in front of a mirror is the easiest way for a student to correct bad habits and to see where their air is going, how they are holding the instrument and how to look for the correct embouchure.

Flute Stand (optional, but recommended) Shop Now >
One of the main causes of flute damage is when a flute gets dropped because it was resting on an unstable surface. A sturdy flute stand, designed to hold the flute upright, can eliminate that risk.

A sturdy flute stand, designed to hold the flute upright, can eliminate that risk.

Thumb Guide and Finger Cushion (optional, but recommended) Shop Now >
These are small plastic pieces that attach to the body of the flute (easily removed) designed to help guide a student's hands to the correct places on the flute.

Assembling, Holding the Flute and Correct Posture

The flute is made up of three parts: The headjoint, body and foot. When connecting the pieces, the hole in the headjoint should line up in a straight line with the row of keys on the body. The main rod on the body of the flute should line up with the middle of the keys on the foot joint.

The flute is made up of three parts

It is important to note how fragile the flute can be. It only requires common sense to properly care for it, but the flute can be dented easily if the student is not careful carrying it––please do not swing it around! The keys and rods can also be bent if they are held when putting the flute together. Note that there are areas without keys or rods on each section of the flute that can be held when assembling the flute.

To hold the flute, make a "C" shape with each hand. The left hand is placed under the flute with the thumb on the key in the back, allowing the instrument to rest on the base of the index finger. The fingers wrap around, skipping the first and third keys, like this:

To hold the flute, make a 'C' shape with each hand.

The right hand also makes a "C" shape, with the thumb under the first finger and the pinky on the key on the smaller foot joint. The fingers must remain curved:

Correct posture is key when playing the flute

Correct posture is key when playing the flute. Just the slightest change can make the difference between a clear sound and no sound at all!

Here are some posture tips:

  • The flute should remain straight across your lower lip. Sit or stand straight and tall.
  • Do not allow the elbows to rest against the sides.
  • Do not allow the flute to rest on the shoulder.
  • The chin must stay up, not down against the chest or shoulder.
  • When sitting, feet must remain flat on the floor.

Reading Music: Notes and Rhythm

In order to play the flute, you must be able to read music. The flute plays in treble clef, so it is not necessary to learn bass clef. Each note is represented by one of the letters of the music alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F or G. These notes can also be sharp (#), which raises the pitch by a half-step or flat (b), which lowers the pitch by a half-step. The rhythm tells us how long to hold a note. Use of flash cards, note and rhythm game apps or websites is encouraged. The sooner music notation is learned, the easier everything else will be!

Producing Your First Sound

Producing Your First Sound

Beginning students should first try to produce a sound on the headjoint alone. It is important to note that the sound on the flute is produced by blowing across the hole, not down into it. The lips should remain relaxed with the corners slightly tightened (do not make "fish lips"). The air stream will come through a small opening in the center of the lips. Remember that it takes a lot of air to play the flute. You may need to blow harder than you think!

Once you become comfortable producing a consistent sound, it is important to begin "tonguing" as soon as possible. This refers to the use of a "too" sound to begin each note.

Flutes are fairly fragile instruments, so most care is common sense:

  • Do not swing the flute around or grab it around the rods.
  • There are many small screws and springs that should not be touched until you understand more about the instrument. Please leave this to your teacher or a professional repairman!
  • Swab out your flute every time you finish playing.
  • Keep the flute stored in the case in a safe place, avoiding extremes in temperature.
  • Keep the flute dry. The pads under the keys can be destroyed by excess moisture.
  • Flutes should be taken to a professional repairman for a clean, oil and adjust at least once a year.
  • Do not play with the screw-cap at the top of the headjoint. That is attached to a cork inside the flute!
  • Have your teacher occasionally check the placement of the cork in your headjoint and adjust, if necessary. A cork out of place will cause intonation problems.

Practice Time

Proper practice is essential for the success of any musician. 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week is the minimum amount of practice required to maintain and progress, although the more you practice, the more you will improve! Check with your teacher for personalized practice time recommendations. Use of practice charts and logs is encouraged, especially for beginners.

Simply playing through band music over and over is NOT an effective use of practice time.

Long-tones, scales and etudes are essential for all flutists. When a difficult passage is encountered, it must be isolated and practiced in bits and pieces. Your teacher can help guide you through different techniques to perfect these areas.

Maintaining Your Flute

Please keep in mind that it does not take much for something to be knocked out of alignment on the flute. Chances are, if the student suddenly experiences difficulty doing something that they were previously able to do, either a screw, pad, or spring is to blame. Have your teacher take a look. Many times, if you know where to look, it is a simple fix. Otherwise, a professional repairman can resolve the issue. Many times, student frustration can lead to quitting the instrument when simple maintenance could easily resolve any problems.

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