how to play the Flute

Teaching yourself to play the Flute

Mastering the flute can seem like a massive mountain to climb. Included in our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning the Flute’ series, this unique segment will allow you to begin your journey by offering you the essentials to help you get going…

How To Play The Flute

Flute Basics

  • The sound of the flute comes from blowing air across the lip plate
  • Your breathing is very important – flute players need a lot of air to make a sound!
  • Try and stand tall and keep your head straight to improve your sound and posture
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed, especially when you breathe in
  • Most flutes are made up of three different parts: The head joint, body and foot joint
  • A standard C flute has a range from middle C to the D 3 Octaves above

Breathing

Like all wind instruments, you make a sound on the flute by using your breath. It is important to take relaxed, deep breaths by dropping your jaw and breathing into the bottom of your lungs. You can try this without a flute first if you like!

Making A Sound

Try making a sound with just your head joint first. Cover the end of the head joint with one hand and put the flute in the middle of your lips resting just under your bottom lip. Make sure the hole on the lip plate is pointing up towards the ceiling. 

How to play the flute

Making a sound on the flute is just like blowing across a glass bottle. The trick is to keep your lips relaxed and in neutral shape. Then you blow through a tiny hole between your lips. It can sometimes help to imagine you are saying the word ‘pu’ to find the right shape with your lips.

Making a sound on the flute can take a little time so be patient. It’s best to try for a few minutes and then take a rest so you don’t feel too dizzy at first. Your brain and lungs will get used to breathing deeply after a few weeks of playing.

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How to Play Different Notes On Your Flute

Once you can make a sound with your head joint the next step is to try with your full flute. Put the three parts of your flute together so your head joint blowhole is lined up with the keys on the body of your flute. Your foot joint should be slightly offset so it looks like this.

How to play the flute

Your left hand should be closest to the head joint with your right hand further down the flute. The numbers on the picture above tell you which finger goes on each key. Your left-hand thumb goes on the B key and your little finger of your right-hand goes on the Eb key. Start off by finding the fingers for the note B as shown in the fingering chart below.

How to play the flute

For this note, you use your left-hand 1st finger and thumb and you use your right-hand little finger. Your right-hand thumb doesn’t press down any keys but rests under the flute.

There are three main balance points on the flute; the lip, the left-hand 1st finger and the right-hand thumb. These help to keep the flute stable.

How to play the flute

Once you feel confident playing B you can gradually press more keys to play down to a low C. In general, the more fingers you put down, the lower the note should sound. As you add more fingers you will have to blow a little more as your air has to travel further down the flute. However, don’t blow too hard or the note might end up too high.

How to play the flute

Congratulations! You can now play 7 notes on the flute!

Let’s learn 2 more notes so you can play all the notes in the lowest register of the flute. C  can be a little tricky as you only have 2 fingers down for this note – your first finger of your left hand and your little finger. Taking your left-hand thumb off can feel a little scary at first but should feel easier with a little practice.

How to play the flute

D is the last note of the low register and you play it using the fingers as shown below.

How to play the flute

Take your time to get comfortable with these finger combinations as these are the basis of many higher notes on the flute. Playing long notes is a great idea to improve your sound quality and breath control. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed.

Now you can play a full octave on the flute, your next step is to learn how to play higher notes by changing how you blow into the flute. The good news is that many of the fingerings you have already learnt stay the same for these higher notes.

High Notes On The Flute

E to C in the middle register of the flute use exactly the same fingerings as the lower register. You just have to change the way you blow to find these sparkling high notes.

Top Tips For Playing High Notes:

  • Use your bottom lip to direct the air up
  • Blow more air than for the lower octave
  • Think about your air moving faster

To play high notes on the flute you move your bottom lip forward to direct your air higher. Instead of your air going straight forward, it will go diagonally up instead. The Pneumo Pro is a great gadget to help you to see the direction of your air using little windmills and a plastic head joint. 

How to play the flute

When playing high notes make sure you take big, relaxed breaths so you can use this air to blow lots of fast air into the flute. This will help you play beautiful high notes with a clear, open sound.

Use this fingering chart to learn how to play all the low, middle and high register notes on the flute. The higher you want to play, the higher you aim your airstream and the harder you blow across the flute.

How to play the flute

How To Play the Flute - Summary

By now, you should be able to:

  • Make a sound with the flute 
  • Play different notes on the flute 
  • Know how to breathe properly when playing the flute  

Now it’s time to improve your technique…

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