Thursday, August 09, 2012

Beginner Questions

Dear Flute Beginners,

Some flute beginner questions came in this week, and I thought it might help to answer three of them here today.
Some cool videos too.
Help yourself to some answers.

Dear Jen,
I'm a complete beginner and am just getting used to learning from a fingering chart.
When I follow your fingering chart I get "A" when I play G and I get "B" when I play "A".
Playing Bb is super confusing. Do I really have to shift a finger from one key to another right beside it? That really slows me down when I go up the chromatic scale.
Can you help?

Dear Finger help,

It sounds like you have your left hand positioned wrongly on the flute itself.
Perhaps you have your left index shifted one key upward from where it should be.
Check out the diagram at the very top of this post.
You need your left hand positioned so that the left pinky will be overtop of the very long lever that sticks out (the Ab or G# lever that really sticks out from the body.)
And your index finger needs to be on the second possible key, (the one with a smooth underside, not the top most key with an obvious pad underneathe).

So, skip the topmost key (the one with the pad underneathe), and, instead, start with index finger on the second key.

Then skip another key and place 2, 3, and 4 on the remaining left hand keys, finishing with the pinky on the obviously long, thin, G# lever.

You might be better off with a fingering diagram that shows this in colour.
The blue keys are the ones you touch.
Also, you'll save countless HOURS of effort by taking a few beginner lessons with a qualified flute teacher.

Finally, when it comes to figuring out the three Bb fingerings, you may find this pdf handy.
It shows the three Bb fingerings and describes when each one is the best choice.
Best, Jen
Dear Jen, I'm a beginner flute player of 1 and 1/2 years, and with my teacher's help, I've been using a Thumbport to help balance my flute.
I know it's silly, but I really want to look more professional, and not play with a thumbport. I've tried taking it off for a few days, and there are some balance problems, but I want to overcome them quickly.
My teacher says to leave the thumbport on.
What do you think?

Dear Thumbport questioner,

I use a thumbport all the time, and perhaps I don't look "profesh". ha ha.
But I find it much more comfortable, and my playing is much much MUCH faster with the thumbport than without. And speed, ease-of-play, and dexterity are qualities I want to keep.

It so happened that I was watching the Berlin Philharmonic today on youtube (a beautiful piece of Brahms I didn't know had been orchestrated) and the flute parts are speedy to the maximus.

Check out this video; Wait for's at 1:50 minute mark.

What's that you see on the second flutist? A thumbport.

Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 (orchestration by Schoenberg) - Rattle- Berlin Phil

In my honest opinion, it makes no difference whether people see your thumbport or not. What counts is the ease of play, the balance of your flute in your hands, and your comfort over time.
Trust your teacher, and do your own experiments to prove it to yourself.
Some hands are just better with thumbports.
The flute is not "one size fits all" so we make it suit us as much as we can.
Best, Jen
Dear Jen,
I'm not sure about all the different kinds of flutes.
I'm a beginner, and don't know whether I should be buying a wood flute, a silver flute, an alto flute, or a piccolo.
What's the difference, and which ones do most flute players own?

Dear Flute-Purchaser,

Have a look at this short video for a bird's eye view of all the flutes.

Emi Ferguson - Different flute types

In my flutey opinion, you only truly need one good quality concert flute. Have a look at some brandnames such as Azumi for under $2000. You can certainly spend five to ten years of flute lessons on a silver or even a plated concert flute before you need to diversify into any other kind of flute. Save your money for lessons, music classes, sheetmusic, CDs, concerts, time to practice, musical holidays etc... and save your energy for finding space in your day for learning the concert flute. That's my best advice. Everything you learn will transfer to all future flutes including your enthusiasm! :>)

From my experience, it takes at least five to ten years to master the skills required to play the concert flute easily and well. And once you have mastered these skills, they transfer quite easily to any more rare flute type.

So, after five to ten years or so on the concert flute, if you happen to find yourself playing in a musical group that uses one, you can get a piccolo(bands and orchestras both use piccolo occasionally).
Piccolo is also used in flute choirs and in some chamber groups. It's a very fun instrument and easy to pick up if you play flute well already.

That's what I have; a flute and a piccolo. And that's all I have.

For the more exotic purchases, you really need a realistic reason to play them:

If you join a flute choir you may want to get an Alto flute instead of a piccolo, but be prepared to pay alot for a good quality one (over $4000 usually), and make sure the weight and stretch of the arms is alright for you first.

But apart from flute choirs, or solo recitals, Alto flutes are not frequently used.
They only have one strong sounding octave (the lowest notes) and are a few weeks work to get the control, pitch, and tone quality up to standard.

Bass flutes, as described in the video below, are rarely used, and also expensive (over $5000 and very heavy).
If you wanted to specialize in playing bass in a flute choir that you already belong to, be sure you're comfortable with the weight and the difficulty before you purchase.
(Rent or borrow one for a year, and really become used to it before you decide to buy your own.) Bass flutes also only have one really strong octave; the bottom one.

For Wood concert flutes (or keyless or Irish flutes with finger holes instead of keys), there are so many kinds to choose from, from antique models (built in the 1800s) with 1-6 keys on them, to reconstructed ethnic flute types used for historical music styles, to fully modern flutes made out of wood that are covered with silver keys and mechanism, there are many kinds of wooden flutes.

Get a professional flutist's input on how useful each of these wood flute types actually are before you consider buying them.
Just having a cupboard full of unplayed flutes is not satisfying at all. :>)

And if looking into modern-made wood flutes, notice that most professional performing flutists only use wooden flutes or wooden headjoints occasionally for particular styles of music, unless they become specialists in that style.

If you've reached the ten year mark on the concert flute, and find you want to buy something affordable that gives you a different sound quality for Baroque or ethnic music, but allows you to use your hard won concert flute finger technique, consider purchasing a wooden headjoint that fits your existing silver flute.
That would be a useful purchase.

A wooden headjoint, cut well by an expert headjoint craftsperson, will give you quick changeability of headjoints (silver/wood), and also a variety of tone colours for very little investment. (Can be found for under $1500 for a well-made wooden headjoint. Just make sure it fits your silver flute and plays in tune before you purchase).

Hope this helps!
Best, Jen
Comments (4)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of mine plays indian classical flute, for more that 6 hors a day, he can't stop it as it's his major job for money.
Problem is, he is not able to sleep, his brain is always alert, which is causing great trouble.
Can u share ur experience or give some suggestion on the same.
Thank you :)

Friday, October 26, 2012 12:15:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Sorry I have no advice about being unable to sleep. I sleep instantly. Relaxing completely is something a specialist in mental health, and physical/mental relaxing would know about. Perhaps have your friend consult a doctor who can advise him whether or not to see a specialist to learn techniques to ease sleep. Flute playing should be enjoyable and without stress. Perhaps the stress is job-related (tense situation, perhaps?) Good luck. Best, Jen

Friday, October 26, 2012 1:02:00 AM

Blogger Katharine said...

Hi Jen,
Thank you so much for all of the information on your site and the Youtube videos. It's amazingly helpful.

I am one of those people who prefers to read a lot of information, from many different sources, to completely understand something I'm undertaking-- I'm sure I drive my music and dance teachers crazy! So having a resource like this on the web is wonderful.

I know how much time it must all take, and you do it for free-- I'm sure I speak for everyone who reads when I tell you how much I appreciate it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013 10:56:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thankyou Katherine.
Your boosting compliments make my day! So happy to try and help.
Best, Jen

Saturday, November 30, 2013 1:13:00 PM


Post a Comment