Teachers may use the following steps
to guide beginning flute students in the first few sessions:
- Begin with the lips together in a natural position
(every set of lips will vary somewhat), teeth apart and jaw relaxed.
Say “pooh,” releasing the air outward through a small,
relaxed hole in the lips (without puckering!) and allowing some
air in the cheeks.
- Bring the headjoint (without the rest of the
flute) to the bottom lip. Be sure to feel the bottom edge of the
embouchure hole on the bottom lip, covering approximately ¼ of
the embouchure hole with a small portion of the bottom lip (do
not cover the entire hole with both lips and then roll out – this
will often lead to an incorrect lip-to-flute placement). Repeat
step 1, blowing air over the hole with a “pooh” release.
One must blow across the hole, not into it – do
not cover the embouchure hole completely and blow into the flute – simply
blow across the hole. It is very helpful for beginning students
to have a mirror, so they can see what they are doing.
- Continue step 2 several times. If light-headedness
occurs, take a short break. Try blowing a little bit longer each
time. Do this while keeping the headjoint open, then closing it
with the right hand.
- Work towards getting at least 4 separate pitches
with the headjoint alone. For lower notes, blow more downward;
for higher notes, angle the air more upwards with the bottom lip,
create a smaller hole in the lips (this is done by keeping the
lips closer together), and use more air. You should be able to
get 2 lower notes (closed tube, open tube), and 2 higher notes
(closed tube, open tube), and possibly a very high note with the
closed tube. It is not necessary to pinch the corners of the
mouth, thereby tightening the face – always try to remain
relaxed and as natural as possible. Once a good sound is
achieved, continue with a “tooh” articulation – the tongue
may strike in a similar place where it would be to say the word “tea” (you
may need to wait until several lessons have taken place before
- Assemble the flute; it is imperative to
show your students how to put the flute together in the first
lesson, or they will try to figure it out themselves, possibly
resulting in damage to the instrument. Gently grasp the
footjoint with the right thumb on the C-sharp key; attach it
to the bottom of the flute body using a gentle turning motion – DO
NOT pivot or rock the footjoint back and forth, as this
will deform the tenon, causing it to not fit properly (making
it too loose or too tight). Insert the headjoint into the top
of the flute body – again, be gentle – don’t
shove it in – just slide gently using a turning motion.
Line up the flute so the middle of the embouchure hole is in
line with the center of the keys on the body. The main rod of
the footjoint should also be centered with the middle of the
keys on the body.
- Show students how to take the instrument apart,
how to clean it (all flutes should come with a cleaning rod – preferably
wooden or plastic), and how to place it back in its case correctly.
Be sure to clean the headjoint especially well – put a little
extra fabric from the cleaning cloth (preferably silk or cotton)
into the headjoint before inserting the cleaning rod, so you are
sure to get all the moisture away from the cork at the top of the
headjoint. DO NOT store the cleaning cloth (or
anything else) inside the case with the flute – it will keep
moisture in, and it may damage (bend, etc.) the instrument. Also, DO
NOT leave any kind of cleaning device inside the flute
body – this will keep excess moisture from being able to
- It is advisable to use a good method book and
to acquire a fingering chart. The Rubank Method for Flute (Beginner,
Intermediate, Advanced I, Advanced II) seems to coincide very well
with the American band curriculum.
The position for playing flute is not
one that feels very natural. This being the case, it is very easy to
start feeling tension-related pain if one is not careful. I encourage
students to try to maintain as natural a stance as possible, whether
sitting or standing. For solo, chamber, concert band, and orchestral
playing, I teach the following position:
When standing, keep the feet at a
comfortable distance (approximately shoulder width) apart; line up
the hips over the ankles, and the shoulders over the hips. Hold the
flute vertically in front of the body (similar to a recorder), then
bring it up so the headjoint meets the left shoulder. In this way,
the back remains straight and does not bend in an unnatural way. Turn
the head towards the left shoulder, and bring the flute to the lips.
Do this without craning the neck forward, causing unnecessary tension.
You will notice that this position keeps the back straight, the shoulders
relaxed, and the front of the body open for effective breathing. The
flute does not need to be parallel to the ground – just be certain
that the hole in the lips lines up with the hole in the flute. A mirror
is a helpful tool for this.
When sitting, I advocate sitting somewhat
diagonally on the front right edge of the chair with both feet on the
ground. In this manner, one can sit very similarly to how one would
stand, with the shoulders over the hips, while the head turns to the
left to be met by the flute. The body will face somewhat to the right
(about 45 degrees), but the flute and head will be forward for proper
projection. Do not hesitate to shift positions every now and then to
avoid stiffness and tension.
In marching band the flute is a very
visual instrument and therefore concert posture cannot be used. The
flutist will want to maintain very accurate angles, keeping the instrument
parallel to the ground at a 90-degree angle with the body. This will
cause some twisting in the back, because the right shoulder is forced
back. I recommend trying to remain as relaxed as possible and to stretch