How to Play the Flute
Blowing into the Flute
The first step in learning how to play the flute is learning to blow into it. Beginners should learn to blow into the flute by practicing first only with the head joint. Blowing into the flute is like blowing into a bottle. The head joint should rest against the chin with the open end of the flute to the right of the flautistís body. Role the head joint up to where the hole on the lip plate is centered to the middle of the flautistís mouth. Now roll the head joint down to where the bottom lip lays loosely over the edge of the hole in the lip plate. Donít let the bottom lip pull up, press down hard against the flute or let it curl up under itself. About a quarter of the hole should be covered with the bottom lip.
Flautist should press their lips together at the corners and sides leaving a side ways oval opening between their lips. Center the lip opening over the hole in the lip plate even if the lip opening isnít the exact center of the mouth. Point the top lip down a little over the bottom lip and blow a steady stream of air down toward the opposite edge of the mouth hole. Leave the bottom lip relaxed, it will rise up a little, but donít lift it up too much. Practice until there is a sound, it should not sound airy. If no sound comes out, roll the head joint out a little bit and make sure the bottom lip isnít covering the hole too much. Varying the shape of the mouth opening and the pressure of blowing can also help get a sound out. Beginners should practice this for small periods of time because their mouths will get tired and hurt until it is strengthened. Light headedness and dizziness are normal at first when learning how to blow.
How to Hold the Flute and Posture
Once blowing into the flute is accomplished, the next step is learning how to sit and how to hold the flute. When sitting, flautist should sit on the edge of the right corner of their chair. Their feet should be flat on the floor with the lower body angled toward the right and the upper body pointed toward the center or the front of the chair. Flautist should sit up straight and keep their head up.
The flute should be held straight out to the right when it is up to the flautistís chin. The left hand goes at the top of the middle joint under the flute with the hand and fingers reaching around in front of the flute. The right hand goes at the bottom of the middle joint behind the flute with the hand reaching over the flute. The fingers for the most part go on the keys with the holes on them, but a fingering chart should be referred to, to get the accurate fingerings. The left thumb goes on the keys on the backside of the middle joint toward the top. The right thumb does not go on any keys, but is placed on the bottom of the flute toward the bottom of the middle joint. The tip of the thumb should touch the bottom of the flute. Donít let the thumb stick out past the front of the flute.
When the flautist is not playing, the flute should still be held the same way, but placed with the top of the flute resting on the flautistís left shoulder and the bottom of the flute resting on their right thigh. The flute should not be held with the hand on top of the keys because this crushes them. When the flute is not being held, it should be put on a table or chair with the keys face up. If the flute is laid down on the keys, it will ruin the keys.
Visit some of the web sites on the resources page for interactive fingering charts.
Practice and memorize the fingering chart while blowing into the flute until the fingerings and sound come out naturally without much thought.
The next step is learning to read music. Flute music is played in the treble clef on a staff with five lines and four spaces. The lines starting at the bottom are the notes E, G, B, D and F. The spaces starting at the bottom are F, A, C and E. Notes go in alphabetical order from A to G and then start over with A.
The most common time signature that beginners will play is 4/4 time, which means that there is 4 beats in a measure. Measures are divided by bar lines on a staff. The lengths of the notes depend on the time signature. With the 4/4 time signature, a whole note is worth four beats, a half note is two beats, a quarter note is one beat, an eighth note is half a beat, a sixteenth notes is a fourth of a beat and the rest (the part where no notes are played) correspond with the length of the notes.
Practicing the length of the notes can be made easier if practiced with a metronome. A metronome is a device that makes a short beeping sound that tells when the beat is. When first practicing the beats, the metronome should be set on a low tempo (how fast it goes) such as 60. This means that there will be 60 beats a minute.
The next step after learning the length of the notes is learning how to tongue each note. Tonguing the notes is done by saying the word tu while blowing air through the mouth. Try saying the word poo and then the word tu and notice the difference of how it sounds and feels. The word tu sounds more precise and crisper. Practice tonguing while playing notes on the flute.
After learning the time signature and note lengths, the next step is learning what a key signature is. A key signature changes the notes of the song to either sharps or flats for the entire song. The key signature comes after the treble clef and in front of the time signature at the beginning of a song. The sharp or flat signs are placed on the lines or spaces of the staff to show which notes should be changed. Sharps, flats and naturals are also sometimes not in the key signature, but are placed in front of the actual notes through out the song.
A sharp looks like a pound sign, #, and raises the note a half of a step. A flat looks like an italicized b, b, and lowers the note a half of a step. A natural looks like two capital Lís put together to form a box with lines extending out from it and cancels out the sharp or flat that was in the key signature. If a note has a sharp, flat or a natural sign in front of it, it changes that note for just the measure it is in. So if there is two Fs in a measure and the first one has a sharp in front of it, both of the Fs will be played as a F sharp, but then in the next measure the F will be played as a natural, just a F. Sharps, flats and naturals should be practiced with the chromatic scale and a fingering chart. The order of the chromatic scale starts on low C and goes up to high C for the flute.
Playing different octaves not only changes some of the fingerings of the notes, but also the shape of the mouth opening and the pressure of the air blown. Higher octave notes require a smaller mouth opening and more air pressure. Lower notes require a larger mouth opening and less air pressure.
Tuning the Notes
Once all the fingerings and octaves are learned, the next step is learning how to tune the flute. Tuning is done with a tuning machine while playing the middle octave A. The machine will say whether the note is sharp or flat. If the note is out of tune, push in or pull out the head joint, until the note gets in tune. Once the head joint is in place to play an A in tune, all the other notes should be played in tune too. If they are out of tune, try changing the shape of the mouth opening or the air pressure a little bit until they are in tune. Also, if the note is flat, roll the flute out a little and make sure the flautist is not ducking their head. If the note is sharp, roll the flute in a little. Rolling the flute in or out should not be done by actually changing where the head joint is inside the flute, the player should just move the flute a little with their hands while playing for just those notes.
Additional techniques for playing the flute are flutters, trills and falls. Flutters are done by rolling the tongue, like Spanish speakers do with the letter r, while playing a note. Most of the fluttered notes will be during a whole note. The music will indicate when this should be done by putting the word flutter over the note. Fluttering comes easily to some, but for others it takes practice.
A trill is done by playing the note on the music and then changing the fingering to the next note above it really fast. The note changes back and forth during the duration of the note and ends back on the original note that was on the staff. For example, if the note that is suppose to be trilled is a F, the note that it would be trilled to is a G. The player would play the note F and then lift their right pointer finger on and of the key so that the note would change back and forth from F to G and then end the note on F. Trills are indicated in music by the letters tr above the note that is suppose to be trilled.
Falls begin on the note that is on the music and move the fingers after that note has been played to notes below it for the duration of the note length. For example, if the fall is on the note F, the fall will start on the middle octave F and then the player will play the notes E,D,C,B,A and G really fast and land of the lower F to end the note.
Last updated on May 3, 2004