Hello, I am trying to teach my daughter to hold the flute without resting it on her shoulder, she is 10 but her arms are about 3" too short to hold it properly. She starts band for the first year next school year which is in August. I want her to impress her teacher by knowing what she is doing and how to hold it properly. Is there a way to get her to hold her flute without resting it on her shoulder and having her head turned to the side? I know she is supposed to rest it on her chin and then have her thumb hold the bottom half of the flute but she has to turn her head over to her shoulder just to play it and then she ends up resting it on her shoulder instead of her chin. I can't afford lessons for her and since I know how to play I figured I can get her started but I need help with how to teach her to hold it properly and still be able to reach the keys. Thank you, C.
Jen Cluff replies: Dear C.,
I started at 11, and I too rested the flute on the left shoulder for the first few weeks. The solution is really to start with the flute's headjoint only, and then eventually graduate to adding the middle joint to the headjoint, and playing B A and G melodies. This method works far better in the longrun and is covered in a video on my previous blog on starting beginners.
Yes, it's a big problem if youngsters get into the habit of resting a 'too big' flute on the left shoulder. It causes neck strain, and as you have noticed, means that the weight of the flute is not being spread between all the balance points.
However, you may find that the youngster who really wants to play despite all obstacles (such as I was; played it every day for hours after school without any parental input at all) will quickly develop the arm muscles just enough to get the flute off the shoulder.
If you're looking for simple instructions to suggest, they might be these:
1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and standtall with shoulders low and relaxed
2. Create as much distance as you can between shoulders and hips by making the torso tall, but leaving the shoulders down.
3. Create as much distance as you can between the shoulders and ears (shoulders stay down, head rises up as you lengthen the neck).
4. Bring the flute to YOU, don't bend to reach the flute.
But for some really tiny children, it's perhaps better to start them on a smaller instrument so that the struggle to balance a full flute is attempted gradually. Many children start on simple little fifes nowadays to give them the basics as they grow into the flute. Recorders are also useful.
The Liz Goodwin Fife Book at the $12 Yamaha Fife are both available at Fluteworld. Total cost: $25 approx.
Headjoint Games at first:
Many beginners progress really well, if they start seated cross legged and experiment with the flute headjoint only. There are plenty of "copy what I do" games for headjoint only that are really fun.
As the youngster progresses, gradually adding the middle joint of the flute to the headjoint, they can play many tunes with the "right hand on the barrel" (with the footjoint still off.) See these notes on it from my articles on teaching beginners:
Right hand on barrel:
If your beginner is 9 to 11 years old, but small for their age you may wish to begin them on a C-flute with closed holes, and an off-set G, and to suggest they leave the footjoint off the flute for the first few months, until they adjust to the size of the instrument.
If balance and strength are slow to come, it can be very helpful to learn to play with the left hand only, on the notes G, A and B, and to leave the right hand, palm facing forwards, around the barrel of the flute to steady it.
(The barrel is where the headjoint inserts into the middle section.)
Many notes are possible (chromatic and diatonic) as well as the overblowing of low, middle and high octaves. G, A, and B can later be extended to include F and E (only D doesn't work without a footjoint) and the teacher can teach footjoint-left-off as well. Using the head and middle sections only many skills and tunes can be learned in this way without undue discomfort for the smaller child.
Youtube videos showing how to play with the right-hand on the barrel
Patricia George on "right hand on the barrel"
Aligning the headjoint for a student:
Additionally, one big question one for you as the parent/flute player/observer is: Is the headjoint on correctly for your daughter's chin-shape? How is the headjoint aligned?
Unbeknownst to many parents and amateur teachers, appoximately 75 percent of flutists need to line up the far side of blowing edge with the middle of the keys. Only 25% of flutist should line up the center of the blow hole with the center of the keys.
A short pdf on "basic hold" for the flute, might be of use. It's is the one that shows how to line up the headjoint, and how to angle the flute, rather than play with it parallel to the chest
See the way that the flute is swung forward so that the head is in fact looking to the left.
Read more about this here at "Lining up your headjoint" and try it yourself, so you'll know how to be alert to the variations in human face shapes, lip shapes, chin shapes as well as hand size and finger size.
Part of the difficulty of holding any flute is that, like the violin, it's a oblique cross-body instrument. It does not cross the body like a "T", but angles across.
What works well is angling the whole body 45 degrees to the right of the music stand, whether standing or sitting, and then pushing the right thumb gently forward, so that the head and neck feel comfortable in looking to the left.
See this picture of foot placement so you can visualize the correct way to stand (double click to embiggen :>)
The above picture comes from the handout called "Top Ten Secrets of Great Flute Playing".
Along with fingering charts, and "cheap and fun beginner flute book lists", you'll likely find your youngster enjoying flute far more with both some starter lessons from an experienced teacher and for your part, with the addition of lots of flute music being played in the house (live, or on CD or mp3).
If your child is truly small in stature, and you aren't able to learn flute teaching for beginners quickly enough, then I would contact a local teacher who specializes in young flute players, and see if they can demonstrate and/or let your daughter try a curved headjoint (or even rent one for a few months).
A good brand of beginner flute that comes with both a straight and a curved headjoint is made by Jupiter .
If a curved headjoint is hard to locate on your budget, ask around locally; flute teachers often have one to lend out for a week or two. In general, contacting a flute teacher is a good idea all around, as they may have a curved headjoint for loan, as well as be able to start the student off with several introductory flute lessons to learn how to use the curved headjoint.
Curved headjoints may be needed for a few months to a year.
Yamaha, Gemeinhardt, Armstrong, Emerson all made beginners curved headjoints at one time or other, and there are some as low as $50 online, being sold used. You can watch a youngster play one in this video on youtube. Note the curved headjoint's angle. It too needs a teacher's experience to set up properly (and be fitted and aligned.)
Learning the basics so you can teach them well:
For future use, as a parent who also plays, I could point you toward various pictures and diagrams on how to hold the flute, but they will only be of SOME help with your own youngster.
It takes time for good posture to develop, and there are several "awkward" stages that beginners go through, where expertise flute teaching is an asset.
An experienced teacher can easily get a ten year old started on the BEST flute habits for a liftime of enjoyable playing, but an amateur teacher, or one who has never taught a small child flute before may accidently teach BAD habits that can be difficult to break once they've become ingrained.
I have many helpful handouts online for parents, students and student teachers.
Basic information for people who want to teach the flute:
Collected articles for beginner flute teachers
The top ten secrets of good flute playing
General flute teaching information including "Teaching the First Flute Lesson by Mary Byrne.
Holding the flute, a basic hold
Buying a flute sized to fit the child
PURCHASE an inexpensive, unbreakable plastic fife (good for holidays at the beach)
See curved headjoint flutes for children
You may also need to train yourself, by using the public library to order one or more books on "how to teach flute"
Books on how to teach flute
Have a look at an 8 yr. old who's a bit of a genius, but she's holding her flute with her body facing 45 degrees to the right and only her head turned to face the front.
Video of 8 year old flute playing body position.
In summary, my best advice is:
a)buy or rent a curved headjoint (a beginner flute with both straight and curved headjoints is about $500 U.S. but you can resell it later.)
b) start with a $12 plastic fife for a month or two (like a recorder, but side-blown) so that your daughter can learn about breathing, tonguing, embouchure, and fingering without having to master the full flute until she grows larger.
c)work on headjoint only, and then move on to the headjoint plus middle joint. (I would leave the footjoint off because the weight being off makes the whole thing easier.)