Getting Started with the Flute

The Flute

The flute is delicate, and it can easily be knocked out of adjustment. Observe the following practices to protect your flute and keep it playable:

  • Handle the flute carefully, as you would a baby or a kitten.
  • Don’t grip the flute where there are keys. Grip the top of the flute where it meets the head joint for assembly and for carrying the flute. Grip the foot joint at the bottom where there are no keys. When assembling the flute, push in and turn the head joint or foot joint.
  • Before playing, brush your teeth, or at least rinse out your mouth.
  • Don’t chew gum or eat anything while playing. Don’t drink anything but water when you are playing.
  • When playing, put the flute down if you need to do something else. Holding the flute while doing something else could cause you to drop the flute or bump it into another object, such as a desk or chair.
  • Don’t put the flute on a music stand, use a flute stand or lay the flute down on a stable, flat surface. Music stands can become loose, causing the flute to fall to the floor.
  • Don’t subject the flute to extremes of heat or humidity. Don’t leave the flute in a hot car. The pads and corks can be damaged by excessive heat and humidity.
  • After playing, always swab out the flute to remove moisture and gently wipe the outside of the flute. Moisture left inside the flute can damage the pads. Don’t wipe the keys hard, as this could affect their adjustments.

Your Body

Proper posture and breathing are essential to producing a good tone and supporting technique.

  • When playing, keep your back straight, whether sitting or standing. Don’t slouch.
  • When breathing in, relax your shoulders, feel the diaphragm lowering, and expand your abdomen and lower rib cage all around.
  • Don’t raise your shoulders when breathing in.
  • As you play, keep your shoulders and throat relaxed and feel the support from your abdomen.


To begin, gently place the embouchure hole straight into your lips. Position your lips so that the line where your lips meet feels like it is across the center of the hole. Then roll the flute out slightly to get the playing position. Experiment with rolling in and out until you get the best tone. Aim to be neither too rolled in nor too rolled out, but somewhere in the middle.

After establishing your basic position as described in the previous step, experiment with different positions of the lip plate on the chin; try slightly higher or lower. The lower lip should cover about ⅓ of the embouchure hole.

Maintain a sight air space between your upper lip and upper teeth. As you play you should feel a very slight puffing out of your cheeks. Don’t push the flute hard into your lower lip, and don’t push your jaw forward into the head joint. The embouchure plate should float lightly against the lower lip.

As you form your embouchure, think of the air passing through the wet, inside portion of your lips. Move your lips slightly forward. Form the inner, fleshy part or your lips into a channel through which you can direct the air stream into the flute. Think of blowing air through a straw and changing the angle of the straw up and down to direct the air.

Flex and shift your lips as needed to maintain good tone throughout the entire range of the flute. For low notes, direct the air more down into the flute. For high notes, direct the air more straight across the top of the embouchure plate. These are very slight adjustments.

Breath Support

Breath support means that your breaths are deep and coming from your diaphragm, not shallow into your upper chest. Support also means that you always have some air in your lungs. You should never be completely out of air. Learn to take deep breaths when there are rests in the music, and replenish the air frequently, before you are completely out. Think of driving a car around–you don’t wait until your tank is completely empty before filling up at a gas station. Top off your air supply whenever there are breaks in the music that allow it. Sometimes you don’t have time for big breaths, and in these cases you can take more frequent shorter breaths to maintain your support.

When you are fully supported, your playing becomes lighter and more effortless. At times it might seem as if the flute is playing itself! Proper support is the foundation for full tone and advanced technique.

To help you feel breath support, try the following exercise:

  1. Put a belt around your waist at about the level of your lower ribs.
  2. Tighten the belt just enough to feel firm against your fully inflated rib cage.
  3. While playing, try to maintain the pressure against the belt. Take frequent, discrete breaths to maintain support.

At first you will need to take frequent breaths, perhaps after just a few notes. But as your breath support improves, you will be able to play longer lines in a single breath.

Next Steps

Begin working through the exercises in the Practice section. In the beginning, your goal should be to be able to play all of the notes from low C up to the third octave C. Then you can start working on the other notes in the third octave. You should be able to play by tonguing every note and by slurring the notes together in various combinations.



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