How to Play the Flute: Tomplay’s Top 10 Tips for Absolute Beginners
If you’ve been thinking about learning how to play the flute, then this article by music educator Jane Cavanagh is for you! From figuring out your motivation for learning to find the right teacher, this article has you covered - read all about Tomplay’s top 10 tips for beginner flautists!
If you’d like to jump straight into playing, then why not browse our beginner flute sheet music catalogue:
TIP #1. Work out why you want to learn how to play the flute
The very first thing to do when you’re about to start learning the flute is to think about why you want to learn. When you know what it is that is lighting you up inside, it is so much easier to find the right teacher, progress quickly, and stay motivated! Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what your true motivation for wanting to learn the flute is…
To play your favourite songs
Do you want to be able to play your favourite tunes on the flute, and be able to express yourself by playing music that you love? If this is the case, I’d suggest you start by writing down all the songs or pieces that you’d like to be able to play one day. And don’t hold back on listing what tunes inspire you! Think about songs that you find yourself humming around the house, your favourite classical music pieces, or songs from your childhood. Chat to friends and family about their favourite melodies, and it will probably spark some ideas of your own! For inspiration, have a look at Tomplay’s Flute sheet music catalogue.
Tomplay offers thousands of classical, pop and jazz sheet music titles with backing tracks. Whatever your level or instrument, learn and play your favourite pieces, accompanied by high-quality recordings made by professional musicians.
Explore our Tomplay Flute Sheet Music Catalogue
To play socially
Maybe you’re someone who wants to learn how to play the flute so that you can play it in a social setting, for example in a community band or orchestra, in your church, or with friends in the comfort of your own home. If this is you, that’s wonderful. Music is a fantastic way to make friends, feel part of a group, and just spend time together with people you like, all while doing something you enjoy together! Do a bit of research into what local music groups are near where you live. Do a Google search on “community bands”, or “music groups” in your town or city and see what comes up. You might be surprised by the choice of potential groups in your area that you never knew existed! If you are a total beginner, you’ll need some time to learn the flute before joining a musical ensemble, so keep reading this article for tips on how to start learning the flute!
As a hobby
Maybe you’re someone who wants to learn the flute as a hobby - a skill to learn and keep you busy if you live alone, or a way of getting time to yourself if you live with others and need some ‘you’ time - that is a great idea! Learning a musical instrument is an excellent activity for keeping your mind active and your brain engaged - especially as you get older. Even though flute practice is something that you need to do by yourself (to really be able to concentrate on what you’re doing), as we mentioned above, playing the flute is a great way to stay social by regularly playing in musical groups.
TIP #2. Use a flute that is in good working order
Naturally, you’re going to need a flute to be able to learn it. And it’s so important to have a flute that works properly… Imagine this scenario: You’re teaching yourself the flute, you can’t make a sound and you think that you’re no good at the flute, so you give up. But actually, the problem was not you, it was your flute! So here are a few different options for acquiring a flute (that works!) if you don’t already have one.
Buy a new flute
The most important thing when you’re learning the flute is to have one that works properly. And the best way to ensure that your flute truly works is to buy a brand new student flute from a reputable brand. Google “musical instrument shops” in your local area, and go in and chat to the staff. Chatting to an expert is often the best way to work out what is a suitable flute for your budget. You might be tempted to buy a cheap flute online (e.g. on eBay), and they do look appealing - they are shiny and cheap! Sometimes these flutes work well, and sometimes they don’t.
As a beginner, it’s hard for you to know when the flute is actually working or not, so it’s generally best to avoid really cheap flutes. In a nutshell: If you buy a really cheap flute, you never really know what you’re going to get. I recorded a fun video about buying a cheap supermarket flute here - you can hear what a really cheap flute sounds like and you’ll learn about the “lottery” (i.e. the risk!) of buying a super cheap flute. The moral of the story is that it’s better to buy a brand new student model flute from a real music shop in person (or a real music shop online) if you can afford it. It will last for many years and is a great investment.
Rent a flute
Many reputable music shops offer an instrument rental service. This is a fantastic option when you want to start playing the flute because it is affordable, and more importantly - the flutes are in good condition! The success of their business relies on them providing their customers with working instruments, so you can be confident that what you’re renting is a flute in good condition!
You have a flute lying around the house
This might seem like the perfect scenario, but as a beginner, you may not know whether the flute is working! The best approach, if you are lucky enough to already have a flute at home, is to take it to someone who is a good flute player and ask them if they can test it out for you. They can play a few scales on it and let you know straight away if it is in good working order. If so, you’re up and running with a flute! And if you’re wondering “how can I find someone who can play the flute well?”, remember the Google search you did earlier about finding local community bands? Contact them and ask if you could come in and watch part of a rehearsal! Take your flute with you, and I’m certain that the flute player of the band would be more than happy to test out your flute for you!
Borrow a flute from a friend
If you’re in the fortunate position of someone offering you a flute for free, it would be wise to go through the same process as above of finding a flute player to test out your flute for you. It’s really important to have a flute that works properly before you start learning!
Buy a second-hand flute
Buying a used flute can either be like getting the greatest bargain of the century (if the flute is good quality, in good working order and in your budget), or it could end up being the worst purchase you’ve ever made in your life (if you think the flute is a good deal but ends up not working properly!). So, as you would do with any other non-new flute you’re thinking of using, see if you can find a good flute player to try out the second-hand flute before you buy it. That way, you know that you’re not buying a dud.
TIP #3. Find yourself a good flute teacher
There are generally three options when it comes to finding yourself a good flute teacher: In-person lessons with a flute teacher, online lessons (e.g. Zoom) with a flute teacher, or buying a recommended online flute course.
Regardless of which style of lesson you opt for, the deciding factor should be that your new flute teacher knows what they are doing!
You might already be aware that being a flute teacher is more than just being able to play the flute well (although of course, this is very important!) - your new teacher should be able to teach. And teaching well is more than just telling you what to do. Good flute teaching is about the teacher being able to convey fundamental (often complex) playing techniques to you in a way that feels easy to you! And it’s not always easy to figure this out. Watch this short video to learn how to identify a good flute teacher.
What I like about this video is that it is a surprisingly simple method to work out whether a teacher is a good fit for you or not, and it’s something that I recommend to anyone who is starting with a new flute teacher. Now let’s look at the pros and cons of flute lessons in person, lessons online, or an online flute course.
First up - if you live in an area with a highly recommended flute teacher who teaches in person, go for it! As a total beginner, nothing beats the hands-on approach of a good teacher who can show you the basics of playing the flute. (More on these essentials in a moment, so keep reading!) One potential downside is that you might feel that a good teacher is expensive. Honestly, it is money well spent. Getting yourself off to a good start on the flute is worth its weight in gold. What you learn in your first few lessons will stay with you for life. You’ll develop habits in these first few lessons that will set the foundations for how well you will be able to play into the future. And that is no exaggeration.
An online teacher using live video (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Skype etc) is a great way to continue lessons with your local teacher if they are going away for a while and you want the continuity of lessons. Online lessons have also been an incredible teaching tool during the Coronavirus pandemic when many instrumental teachers in the world were not allowed to teach in real life. It’s incredible that technology offers us this option, however, there are natural limitations to live, online lessons. Sometimes the audio quality drops out, the internet lags or someone's face ends up pixelated (not ideal when a teacher is trying to demonstrate the finer points of a good embouchure shape!). You can generally expect to pay the same for an online lesson with a teacher as what they charge in real-life, although of course, this varies from teacher to teacher.
An online flute course
There are quite a few good flute teachers making a name for themselves online by offering flute courses and memberships that are very high quality. The benefit of learning from pre-recorded videos is two-fold: Firstly, you can pause, rewind and rewatch the videos as many times as you need to get a closer look, or to give your brain an extra chance to understand the lesson! And secondly, some students find there is less pressure when learning from a video recording than in a live lesson. It is a good skill to be able to play in front of another person without going to pieces from performance nerves, however, we are all different, we all have a different tolerance level for stress and that is something that the internet can accommodate beautifully via online flute courses. There is actually a third benefit to a flute course or membership - it is often significantly cheaper than hiring a teacher. This doesn’t mean the teacher isn’t as good, it’s simply that the teacher is able to provide their course to many more students than they would be able to teach one-on-one lessons to, and you, therefore, benefit from that cost-saving.
TIP #4. Learn the correct flute embouchure
Apart from having a flute that works, there is nothing more important in the early days as a flute player than learning the correct mouth shape, which is called your embouchure. It seems so simple to just “blow across” the embouchure hole on the flute and create a sound. But if you try that, your sound will be airy, you will run out of breath really quickly, and playing a few sounds in a row will likely make you dizzy! Quite simply, there is more to getting a good sound than just “blowing across the flute”. And if you learn to get a good sound by learning the proper embouchure, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of enjoyable, musical and skilful flute playing! There are three main elements to getting a good embouchure: Forming the right shape embouchure, getting the right size embouchure hole and the correct placement on the flute lip plate. If you have already tried to get a sound on the flute and it is airy, or fluffy sounding, you could really benefit from doing this free 3-day mini-course on how to instantly improve your flute tone. It’s well worth the 15 minutes a day (for 3 days) to learn the correct shape, size and placement of your embouchure. This free mini-course sets you up with the right embouchure which then allows you to be able to play with a clear, strong tone, easily play long phrases, and of course, play without ever getting dizzy!
TIP #5. Learn the secret to correct flute posture
In your first few lessons, there will be a lot of things bouncing around inside your head. Am I blowing correctly? Am I holding the flute right? Where do my fingers go? Am I standing ok? What am I doing again?! You get the idea! There is one thing that is essential to learn right at the start, and that is the correct flute posture. Why is this essential? Despite what you might think, it’s not so that you “look nice” when you play. It’s to avoid long-term injury to your neck, your shoulders and your arms. As you can imagine, if you have an incorrect body position when doing any repetitive task for many, many hours (e.g. playing tennis, typing, playing a musical instrument, etc.) you can end up in a world of pain. The correct flute posture that avoids injury is something I call “bringing the flute to you”. It’s very tempting to jut your chin forward to reach the flute. I see it in 100% of the beginner students that I teach. But unfortunately, if this tendency is left unchecked, it will eventually cause neck and jaw pain. Watch this good demonstration of correct flute posture to see exactly what I mean about “bringing the flute to you”. It’s worth learning this “secret” to correct flute posture now to avoid the misery that comes with neck pain later on.
TIP #6. Learn how to hold the flute
In the previous tip, you learnt about correct body posture when playing the flute. Now it’s time to teach you about correct hand position. In other words, how to hold the flute correctly. Holding the flute correctly - placing the weight of the flute on the correct part of your hands and positioning the flute so that it is balanced properly, does wonders for finger speed! At this point, you might be thinking “Finger speed? I’m nowhere near ready for that!” but learning this good hand position early on will allow you to have speedy finger technique later on. And that means you’ll be able to play fast, virtuosic pieces! Would you like a demonstration of how to hold the flute? Check out this clear video to learn how to hold the flute in 5 easy steps. You’ll see a demo for each step, which makes the learning process so much easier - you can actually see what you need to do! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter if you are left or right-handed. Playing the flute does not favour one hand over the other, so if you’re left-handed you don’t need a “left-handed flute”! They actually don’t even exist! (Well, a few left-handed flutes have been made in the world, but it’s mostly for curiosity and novelty).
TIP #7. Learn the flute fingerings
Beginner flute students often think that the fingerings are the first thing to learn. But you now know that is not the case! Once you can produce a clear sound (by learning the correct embouchure), and you know how to hold the flute with the correct posture, you’re ready to learn your first notes! The Tomplay interactive fingering chart is a great place to start. This is one of the clearest and easiest-to-read flute fingering charts I’ve seen, and the interactive nature of this chart means it’s super easy to see which keys you need to press down on. Plus, this fingering chart will actually produce the note, so you know whether you are pitching the note correctly yourself! If you’re going to be learning the flute on the go, without a computer, just download the interactive fingering chart (from the link above) before you leave for your trip. Then you’ll be ready to go with all the fingerings you’ll ever need for the next 10 years (no kidding!). The best bit - it’s all on one page!
TIP #8. Learn to listen to yourself
You may be tempted to start learning the flute by getting yourself a “learn to play the flute” book. But really, this book is more of a “learn to read music” book. To actually learn how to play the flute, you need video (or real life) demonstrations of how to blow and how to hold the flute. That is not something that you can learn successfully from a book. Here is a perfect strategy for learning to play and read music with ease:
Step 1 Learn how to play lots of notes on the flute first, listening to your tone and concentrating on using the right embouchure, posture and fingerings.
Step 2 Learn a few short melodies without using any music. Simple melodies like Mary Had a Little Lamb, or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (for example) are a great way to boost your confidence with playing before introducing the complexities of reading music.
Step 3 Now start learning to read music from your “how to play the flute” book. You will find it so much easier to learn to read music when you already know how to play the note before learning to read it. Check out this Tomplay blog article about classical pieces for learning the flute for some inspiration on where to start!
That’s it! If you follow these three steps, you will give yourself the best chance to play with a good sound and without the brain overload from trying to do too much at once! Remember that if you’re still struggling with a fluffy or airy sound, this free mini-course will help you instantly improve your tone by learning proper embouchure shape, size and placement.
TIP #9. Use a music stand
Now that you’re ready to learn to read music, it’s important to keep up the good habits we have discussed. Remember how I explained about “bringing the flute to you” to avoid neck pain? Well, the only way to achieve this good posture while you are reading music is by using a music stand. If you were to read your music off a table, the balance of your flute completely changes (in a bad way!). And that quickly becomes a slippery slope into neck pain, arm pain, back pain, fluffy sound, hand tension and slow fingers. For some insight into why reading music off a table is so bad for your flute playing, take a look at this short video. You’ll see a demonstration of how the balance of the flute gets thrown off and how it ruins your flute playing!
What to do if you don’t have a music stand
You can buy a music stand from any real-life or online music shop. Even regular shopping websites sell music stands. The quality and price differs of course, but it’s not the end of the world if you buy a cheap one and it falls apart: it’s annoying and a waste of money, but unlike cheap flutes that break, you know your music stand is broken. It’s pretty clear if your music stand is not holding up your music anymore! So invest in a music stand for yourself. And while you’re waiting for it to arrive in the mail, here’s a quick temporary solution: Sticky tape your page of music to the wall in front of you at about eye level. If you’re using a book of music (or an iPad), you can also prop your music up on a bookcase, or on the top of a piano - somewhere that is around eye level for you. Using a music stand will honestly set you up with a good flute posture for life. It’s such a cheap and easy way to ensure that you give yourself the best start to learning the flute.
TIP #10. Start learning beginner flute music
Now that you’ve learnt to play a few simple melodies on the flute and you’re starting to read music, it’s time for you to start playing pieces of music! If you’re a fan of classical melodies, check out the Tomplay collection of 10 well-known classical music pieces (like Swan Lake, Carmen, and Ode to Joy).
If you’re a movie buff, you’ll no doubt love these 6 fantastic movie themes (like Moana, The Greatest Showman, and Game of Thrones). There are also beginner collections of sheet music with a range of musical genres, like pop and jazz. Tomplay caters for new flute players like you by offering a “beginner” level of difficulty. It’s a wonderful way to start playing while accompanied by the piano (or even an orchestra!).
You are ready to start learning the flute! You now have everything you need to successfully learn to play the music that you love on the flute. Thanks to these top 10 tips, you now know how to get a working flute and where to find a good teacher. You also now know the importance of learning the correct embouchure and posture in your first few lessons, and how it sets you up for a lifetime of skilled, expressive, and enjoyable flute playing. Now go and enjoy the wonderful process of learning the flute!