Resources for people who want to take flute up as a secondary instrument or a hobby

Not once as a flute student did I have an ensemble director that was a flutist (primarily or otherwise). Granted I started playing flute at age 14, but in my hometown’s district even if I had started in beginning band no one was trained in flute… everyone was either a brass specialist or focused on vocal music. Of course, my directors had knowledge about the flute and other woodwind instruments, but I distinctly remember there being a wall – a barrier – with the instruction, when something explained 3, 5, 100 times couldn’t make sense there was this level of frustration on both ends for the director and students.

Here we’ll be looking at factors to consider before starting, Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book”, free online resources, and common issues.


Factors

For band directors, maybe you are trying to learn flute yourself or you have a student that wants to learn flute. Where do you start?

Clearly, not everyone will start in the same place, but some general factors to keep in mind are:

  • Why do you want to learn?
    • Before pursuing a teacher or instrument, decide what you want to achieve with flute playing. It can change in the future, but if you are planning to just play for fun that will can save you a lot of money on the instrument and help find a teacher (or colleague) that is on the same track as you.
  • Commitment – if you are looking to make vast improvements in your flute playing you need to play regularly (especially in the beginning when it may make you lightheaded, feel like you’re not progressing, etc.)
  • Access to a quality instrument
    • Your instrument will look different whether or not you are planning to play flute seriously – and budget can play a large role in this
      • As well as being aware of cost-saving options (such as upgrading just the head joint rather than the entire flute)
    • Also, knowing where you can get the instrument service is vital to protecting your investment.
  • Knowledge of the instrument or knowing someone who specialized in that instrument
    • It’s okay to not know things, but knowing where to look or who to reach out to can prevent developing bad habits in the long run
    • Like previously mentioned, if you should know what your goals are before finding a teacher. Communication is key.
  • Being aware of quality resources
  • Being aware of free resources (also good quality)

My #1 Resource for Band Directors:

Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book” 3rd edition

Why?

This book is ESSENTIAL for a band director that wants to connect with their flute section and give them accurate information. This is not a sit down and read type of book (although I did bring this book to jury duty once and made a considerable dent in it…) it is best utilized for a quick pick up, skim over, and then put back until you need it again. Even dog earring or marking frequently used sections can help you consistently give correct information.

Nancy Toff is a is a reputable flute historian based in New York. You can read a summary of her bio here.

The 3rd edition of “The Flute Book” covers:

  • The Instrument
    • The modern flute
    • How to choose an instrument
    • Care and maintenance of the flute
    • A brief history of the flute
    • The flute family
  • Performance
    • Breathing
    • Tone
    • Vibrato
    • Articulation
    • Technique
    • Style
    • Performance
    • Recordings
  • The Music
    • Baroque
    • Classical
    • Romantic
    • Modern
  • Repertoire Catalogue
    • Baroque
    • Classical
    • Romantic
    • Modern

Free Resources

Jennifer Cluff’s website

Although it may still resemble a 2000s website, she now has moved over to BlogSpot to post regularly updated content.

Woodwind Fingering Guide

Need to know regular, alternate or trill fingerings for flute/piccolo? This guide is organized by register.

John Wion – Vibrato

Vibrato… either is comes naturally or it takes a lot of work for new flutist to understand. This website (another 2000s-esque looking page) has:

  • Vibrato slowed down
  • Has a problems and solutions section
  • Provides a list of reputable flutists with their regular and slowed down vibrato

Flute Tunes

If you’re able to do a quick Google search on free flute resources, you’ve likely come across this website at one point. Like the dangers of other free sheet music sites, the parts can be riddled with errors and inaccuracies. If you are just looking for music to play without regard for musical accuracy, this website is still valuable for the wide range of music it provides at beginning through ‘advanced’ levels.


Common Issues and Questions

How to deal with lightheadedness and what does it mean?

One common saying about the flute is that the majority of the air is wasted: not even going inside the head joint. There is some truth to that statement, but framing flute playing in that way only attributes to this issue of feeling lightheaded after only playing a few notes.

The main reason lightheadedness occurs is because the flute apperture is too wide. A common tool to find the target apperture size is buy using those tiny coffee straws (a value teaching tool… which you can find in a dollar store in packs of 300).

How to control dynamics?

Amy Porter has a short masterclass for dynamics in the lower register that you can watch here.

She is working from Moyse’s De La Sonorite.

#1 Experiment – because the inside of our mouths and the way we form our embouchure and apperture are all slightly different there will always be people that dynamics some to naturally and others who spent months trying to understand dynamic control.

Jennifer Cluff has an article on the basics: the main takeaways are that you are not over-blowing OR pushing. If you keep your smooth air and change (1) the vowel, (2) speed of the air – which can be changed by altering the size of the apperture, and (3) which part of the body you are blowing from (think of it relating to singing – head, chest, etc).

How to create vibrato?

Jolene Harju Madewell has a short video with 6 tips on creating vibrato that you can watch here.

Again experimenting is key! In the video linked above, Jolene immediately jumps into pulsing the air; however, I have had students who start to move their lips, face, body in an unnecessary way to achieve the pulsing and this the start of a bad habit. To help these students bridge the concept of smooth air to pulsed air I will have them tongue or go ‘HA’ (a non-tongue attack) to the same speed and pattern that I want to to pulse at.

A lot of vibrato work is imitating other players. At first, working towards metronomic vibrato to avoid the nervous or sporadic, uneven vibrato – start slow and gradually speed up. Only move up as much as you can without tension – once you feel tension that is your body acknowledging you need to take a break, don’t worry about getting your vibrato fast in the beginning.

How to improve intonation?

Emmanuel Pahud has a short masterclass slip on intonation that you can watch here.

First and foremost, look at your head joint. A few VERY IMPORTANT THINGS:

  • The head joint SHOULD NOT be pushed all the way in…
  • The head joint should be pulled out about an inch or so from the body (I tell my students measure in comparison to the width of their thumb) pulled out, but wait there’s more…
  • The angle of the embouchure hole on the head joint should be INLINE with the center of the keys on the body (minus the offset G keys)
  • Lastly, DO NOT continuously adjust by pulling out or pushing in. And definitely DO NOT move the flute or the head joint forwards and back. Set everything up, balance the flute, and you are the one that must adjust and experiment.

The flute tendencies are unlike the majority of woodwind instruments. The lower register tends flat, the high register tends very sharp, and open notes (like C) will go flat. Being aware of these general tendencies, as well as using to tuner to gauge your own, will help train your ear to achieve good intonation on the flute.

Generally, for sharp pitches there is too much tension. By lowering the tongue in the mouth and creating more space (changing the vowel) and physically relaxing your body, the pitch will be lowered.

And generally, for flat pitches there needs to be more support. By raising the tongue in the mouth, keeping a steady air stream (spinning the air, NOT blowing harder), adjusting the vowel, and checking in with your body. Poor playing posture can affect intonation more than you might expect.

How to focus tone? In different registers?

James Galway has a short masterclass clip on Articulation and Embouchure that you can watch here.

A focused sound on the flute comes from understanding and control of the embouchure – particularly the top and bottom lip – and apperture. Apperture size was previously discussed, generally for the high register the apperture will be much tiny then the apperture in the lower register.

To improve the embouchure to achieve a focuses sound practicing harmonics is invaluable. Patricia George and Phyllis Avidan Louke’s Flute Scale Book and 101-103 series and Trevor Wye’s Omnibus edition had harmonics on p. 6.

Likewise, practicing 5 note scale patterns such as Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises – available on IMSLP – #1 or 2 (which are 5 note patterns in Major and minor keys) can help focus on specific notes. For example, in the middle register Eb tends to be a very unfocused note, with T&G you can practice improving the Eb from several different notes…

Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb

Bb-C-D-Eb-F

C#-D#(Eb)-E-F#-G#

Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb

How to improve finger coordination?

KEEP YOUR FINGERS CLOSE TO THE KEYS.

Spider fingers… wandering fingers… if you are a band director you’ve probably seen them all. Students whose fingers just fly high above the flute. What you may not realize is that it takes a great effort to get the fingers back down. It is much easier to lift up than to press down.

The only way to achieve this is through vigilant observation: record your hands when playing or practice in front of a mirror. Be honest and don’t let yourself slack.

Access to quality instrument or music?

What are you favorite flute resources and articles? Or have a question that wasn’t featured here? Share them in the comments section.

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