Flute playing requires the use of many muscles, both small and large. For example, the embouchure is formed by the small muscles around the lips, in particular, the orbicularis oris. Breathing is controlled from the diaphragm, a much larger muscle below the ribs. When you are beginning to study the flute, or if you are returning to flute playing after a long time off, you need to work carefully to gradually build playing strength in those muscles. Too much work too soon can result in muscle strain and injury.
In the beginning, practice for 10-15 minutes and then take a short rest of 1-3 minutes. If you experience dizziness at any time, take a rest before resuming. As you become stronger, you can practice for longer periods continuously, but always take rest breaks in proportion to the time of your overall practice session.
Through daily practice, you gain strength and control over the muscles involved in flute playing. But to avoid injury, muscles need to be warmed up before exercise. The following warmup exercises gently condition the muscles and prepare them for the demands of more advanced playing.
Start with B in the first octave. Play it as long as you can and then take a breath and repeat. Do this several times to achieve a rich, focused tone.
Half-Step Exercise Descending
Play B for one second and then slur down to Bb and hold it for three seconds. Then play Bb down to A. Continue all the way down to low C. Strive for consistency of tone all the way down. You can also do groups of notes, such as B-Bb-A-Ab-G, playing all of them for one second and holding the last one for three seconds.
Half-Step Exercise Ascending
Play B and slur up to C. Then C to C# and so forth up to third octave C.
Start with third octave C and work your way up by half steps. Do just a few notes at each practice session. Gradually work your way up until you can play all the way up to high C (fourth octave). Do not overdo it on the high notes. Proceed very gradually and stop if your lips start to hurt.
Play a note, slur up an octave and back down. Start on low D and proceed up by half-steps: D-D#-E-F, etc.
Play a low C, then without interrupting the air stream, shift your embouchure to produce the C an octave above, then shift your embouchure to go back down to low C. Repeat starting on C#, then D and D#. After you can easily produce the harmonic an octave above, practice going from the octave to a fifth above it, and then two octaves above, as follows:
Low C (regular tone) –> C (harmonic, one octave up) –> G (harmonic, octave and a fifth above low C) → C (harmonic, two octaves above low C
Scales and Technique
Play all of the notes from low C up to your highest high note and back down again. Try slurring all of the notes, slurring in groups of four, and tonguing every note.
Start with C major from low C up to your highest high note and back down again. Try slurring all of the notes, slurring in groups of four, and tonguing every note. Later you can add other scales. Still later we you can add arpeggios.
This is where we get into how to practice musical works for accuracy and musicality.
- Take difficult passages apart and practice separately.
- Play at tempo as soon as possible to make sure that fingerings and other technical devices work at the correct tempo.
- When you can play a piece at tempo, return to slow playing occasionally to reinforce and memorize.