The Fundamentals of Learning How to Play the Flute

Elizabeth Velez Urie shows us the fundamentals of learning how to play the flute in this video flute tutorial.

It is important to realize that learning how to play the flute is an investment of not only your money, but your time and dedication. It requires being taught by a teacher, who is a professional flutist, and work by the student (albeit fun work!). That being said here are some pro tips to help you get started learning how to play the flute.

First Learn How to Assemble Your Flute Properly!

Before you can begin to learn how to play a flute, you need to learn how to put the flute together! Misalignment of the footjoint or headjoint can make it harder to play notes quickly with good tone. When properly aligned the flute keys should be parallel to the ceiling.  Keys that are tilted backward or forward can lead to bad fingering habits, in particular for beginners. Shown below is a simple 3 step process for assembling your flute demonstrated by Jeff Smith.

flute assembly body

Step 1

    Pick up the body and hold it with the last three fingers of the left hand at the headjoint receiver (noting to not handle the keys or posts).

flute assembly footjoing

Step 2

    Pick up the foot joint and with the right hand hold the B (or C) key down with thumb and gently twist it back and forth to connect it. Place the post of the footjoint so it aligns with the middle of the keys of the body.

flute assembly headjoint

Step 3

Still holding the body with the left hand, gently twist the headjoint onto the body, making sure not to hold the lip plate. Line up the embouchure hole with the keys.

It's All About Embouchure!

Ok, now that we have the flute together we can get on with the lesson, starting with embouchure.

how to play flute_pouting

What's Embouchure?

To become a good flute player one of the first things you will need to work on is your embouchure. Embouchure is a fancy word to describe the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of woodwind or brass instruments. For flute, you can start by practicing pouting.  The key here is for the bottom lip to remain flexible. (Don't worry you'll smile later when get it!).

how to play flute_embouchure

Good Embouchure Position

The correct embouchure position will find the lips relaxed and rested on half of the embouchure hole. The lower lip should be placed at a short distance from the embouchure hole and the upper lip is somewhat firmer, giving a gentle pout look. The bottom lip should lay slightly over the edge of the hole on the lip plate.

how to play flute_bottle practice

Learning How to Blow the Flute

The next step in learning how to play the flute is learning to blow into it. Beginners can practice by starting with just the head joint. Blowing into the flute is similar to blowing into a bottle. Start by making a "t" sound and tonguing air into the headjoint. Do not puff your cheeks as you blow; the air should be coming from the diaphragm.

Body Mechanics

It is essential to have proper body posture while playing the flute. This facilitates improvement of your air capacity (stretching out the diaphragm), producing clearer and longer notes.

Posture: Sit or stand with your back straight, elongating the diaphragm. Sitting or standing taller will help prevent neck and shoulder problems down the road. Also, adjust music on a stand at eye level. Placed too high or too low will cause “kinks” in the neck.

Hand and Finger position: When finding good hand position, it is important to remember “proper” alignment is good for most people. However, these procedures are more like guidelines than hard rules. The student flutist, with the instructor, may have to balance proper flute alignment with the student’s own unique body structure.

Wrists must be kept in a neutral position with no extreme flexion or extension. Continuous flexion or extension (not neutral) while playing the flute can eventually lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

On the left hand, place your left thumb on the long, flat key on the back of the flute. Your second finger should go on the second key from the top. Skip the third key, then place your third (middle) finger on the fourth key and your fourth finger on the fifth key. Place your little finger on the small key (or lever) which extends out from the body of the flute.

On your right hand, place your right thumb on the underside of the flute, to help support the instrument as you play. This is the right thumb’s only job. Your second, third, and fourth fingers should go on the last three keys before the foot joint. Place your little finger on the small, semi-circular key at the beginning of the foot joint.

​When you place your hand on the flute, your hand will be 'C' shaped. Once you get used to holding the flute, balance will come from three places, your mouth on the lip plate, your right thumb and your right little finger.

Here's Elizabeth again to demonstrate how to hold the flute...

Practice, Practice, Practice

Perfect practice makes perfect! This does not mean if you don’t get it right away you should give up! It means to notice where in the music you have trouble mastering and practice more on those areas. To prevent frustrations, break down and master music to one measure at a time. The total time a flutist typically practices is 20-30 minutes, 5-7 days a week. Thirty minutes may seem daunting for younger students. Simply tell them to practice the song 3-5 times in one sitting. This usually fulfills the 20-30 minute required practicing time without a young student feeling overwhelmed!

After every playing time, be sure to clean the flute with a flute cleaning rod. Then put the flute in its proper place of the flute carrying case. The case is the flutes best defense against any mishaps, dings and dents.

For answers to more Frequently Asked Questions about Flutes be sure to check out our BIG Flute Buying Guide.​