Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Novice Questions from past three months

Flute novice questions

(also see beginner questions):

Dear Flute lovers,
Over the past three months I've been super busy doing all kinds of projects.
But I'm back! :>) Yahoo. Thanks for your patience.

Now, unseen to blog-readers until now, I've received dozens of emails with intermediate and novice flute questions.  It may be of some interest for novices out there to read some of the answers and of course, more input from other flute teachers is very welcome if you use the comment button below to add your thoughts.
And huge thanks to all those who sent thanks by email. What a wonderful group of readers!

Some of the answers to the typical novice questions are not obvious and are hard to google if the asker doesn't know exactly what they're asking yet.
So here are some that hopefully have all the right "quester keywords" for flute novices.
Intermediate questions will appear in a future post.

Happy days; loving what I'm doing and happy to be back.
Best, Jen
Question 1:

Thumb spring problem from B to C:

Dear Jen,
I have been playing the flute for about two years and have already gotten first chair twice in my school band! =D However, I have recently had some trouble with my flute. My B and C notes are identical! I have checked all of my pads, springs, corks, etc. and I have no idea what is wrong. I readjusted my headjoint cork because it was a little off but it still won't play correctly. I informed my band instructor about this situation and he told me that I just needed better breath support? I was just wondering if it really was me or if it was my flute...I had several fellow flautists examine my flute to be sure that I am not over-looking anything, but nothing has come up wrong with the appearance of any of the mechanisms, etc. If you could provide ANY information I would appreciate it very much! (I am a bit desperate at this point.)
Thank you so much for your time! from L in Tulsa Oklahoma.

Dear L.
It sounds as if the springs that are located under the thumb keys are out of place, or not working correctly.
The two springs that open the thumb key after you let go of it look like 2 inch long flat metal bars that lie along the tube to the right and under the thumb key, and open the keys again.

The above picture is from a repair website.

You'll of course have to peer underneathe the B-lever or thumb keys to see the spring or springs lying against the tube.

If the thumb spring(s) are not working, the thumb pad remains closed even though you're not touching it. Sometimes the thumb springs are only half working, and the thumb pad rises lazily or slowly. This is something that requires a visit to the repair shop. It's not likely to be an expensive repair ($20 ?).

But what really surprises me is that you're expected to fix it yourself. You shouldn't have to fix it yourself. Your band teacher should give you the contact information for the flute repair person in your town.

I'm always surprised when students think that they have to repair their own instruments.
Absolutely not something an amateur should attempt to do.

A flute repair shop has to be within 40 miles of where you are (Tulsa), if you ask your band teacher, or phone a flute teacher or flute professional (member of local orchestra) in your town. A repair technician could have this fixed in a few minutes.

Flutes need to visit repair shops once a year. Seriously.
People forget this, and play on broken instruments....sigh....

So GO for it, find the flute technician nearest you, and let me know how it turns out.
Best, Jen
Question 2:

Sweaty Chin in Summer:

Dear Jen,
In the summertime concerts I play with my band, the heat causes me to sweat and the flute slides down my chin. What can I do? I'm allergic to alot of chemicals, and I don't really want to put anti-perspirant on my chin.

It's very easy to put a piece of non-slip paper on the near side of your lip plate.
Here's a picture of what to do for slippery chin plates, using brown paper tape, label paper (white) and a postage stamp.

(click on picture to enlarge it.)

Paper tape or stamps last a week or two, depending on how they hold up to friction, and can be removed with isopropyl alcohol and replaced when worn.
Isopropyl alcohol is $3 in the drugstore and you just blot with it on a small corner of paper towel or soft cloth.
You only need these in the summer, but some students use them also to prevent tarnish on their chin.
Best, Jen
Question 3:
What flute brands did you play, and do you play now on your videos?

Dear Jen
I have been looking at your website and listening to you perform!
 You play so beautifully and have a gorgeous sound!!! 
I was wondering what make of flute do you play?  Also, I have enjoyed your articles too!  I wish I lived near you and could study with you privately.  Thanks for answering my question.


Here's all the flutey info, and thanks so much for your very kind words.
What flutes has Jen played? (1972 to present)

As a Beginner:

1. Artley basic band flute (age 11)
2. Un-named band flute with black plastic lip plate with two screws holding it on and a severely falling off footjoint (Held on with duct tape). Very attractive. :>)    (age 13)

As an Intermediate:
3. Emerson's "Deford" Flute brand new and school owned (age 14)

all of the above flutes were in the band instrument collection at local schools I attended.

Conservatory and University:

4. Gemeinhardt 3S open-hole with gold plated lip plate ( $550 at age 15 - my first OWNED flute)

5. Added a used Sankyo headjoint on the above Gemeinhardt 3S body (age 22; teacher sold me his headjoint for $200). Headjoint sold to student.

6. Sankyo Silver Sonic (purchased by parents upon University graduation; hand-picked from ten by teacher and myself. In 1986, these were then priced under $3000)


1. Sankyo Silver Sonic
(Sold eventually and much missed; I would buy this flute again!)

2. Mateki 06 (bought for $1500 in "busted condition" and then repeatedly repaired but never fully fixed the thumb key problems that made for slow trills with left hand thumb.)

2b. Mateki 06 with Powell "Boston" silver headjoint (Headjoint was $800 and chosen from among many).

(Mateki was then sold due to left hand thumb key slowness. Powell Boston headjoint sold to student, because too big bold and loud for pianissimo in orch. and chamber music.)

Current Flute and Backup:
3a. Altus 1007 inline G (this is mechanically the most sound flute next to the Sankyo)
3b. Altus 1107 offset G (this has the richest sound of any flute I've played.)

I enjoyed upgrading to these last two flutes, both of which are considered "Conservatory" level flutes, but were between $3000-$5000. With two semi-identical flutes, and a previous full performing schedule, I found that  if one flute was in the repair shop, the other is almost identical in feel, and the headjoint can be switched from one to another without much change in feel.
This is important because repair technicians might be fully booked, and you can't surrender your instrument to them the day before a concert!

4. Headjoint: (added 2005).
Added deeper, richer, more finessey headjoint to both Altus flutes and then I switch between bodies during repair schedule:
Nagahara silver headjoint .014 thickness with 14k riser.
Headjoint cut: DS (picked from among seven Nagahara headjoints at a flute fair.)

(This one was the most flexible and rich sounding headjoint I've ever tried!!! Could not leave it there; had to buy it. Ack!)

So this explains why I don't think people need to spend alot of money on their flutes.
But then again it also proves that you can't get through a Bachelor of Music in Performance on a Gemeinhardt. ho ho.
 Eventually, if you're performing at a semi-professional level, you need a $5000 flute, but in my opinion, not a $10,000+ flute.  But that's just my experience.
And have an excellent tiny listen:
Can you hear the difference in these flutes on recording?

On youtube performances: Piazzolla Histoire du Tango.
Mateki 06 flute (c-foot) with Powell Boston Headjoint
Flute and headjoint now sold.

On youtube performance of Srul Irving Glick's Sonata 1st mvmt.Sankyo silver sonic with original headjoint.
Flute now sold but very missed (kept adjustments for ages without needing tweaking at repair shop).

As of 2005 all  online Jen mp3 recordings use Altus flutes.
ie: Listen to Jen's current Altus flutes at this link:

Which flutes did Jen use for the mp3 of Fluteloops 9 where she attempts to imitate the sixteen Galway flutes?

Lighter, thinner examples were played on:  Altus 1007 with its original headjoint
Heavier and darker examples were played on:  Altus 1107  used with a Nagahara silver headjoint.
Headjoint cut: DS
Thanks for asking.
As you can see, you can go quite far on less expensive flutes, as long as they are always in tip-top repair and have fast key action and a flexible, colourful headjoint.
Best, Jen

Question 4:
Beginner-Novice  question: Reaching the E flat lever with pinky.

Jen, I simply can't reach D# key with my right hand pinky.
What am I doing wrong?

Don't hesitate to take an introductory flute lesson to show you how to put the flute together properly.
Many self-taught beginners actually put the footjoint on wrongly, and line up the wrong bits and then wonder why their hand doesn't fit their quasimodo assembly.

ha ha.
Seriously. I've seen many wrong footjoints.

How are you to know? The darn thing is darn circular. :>)

Here's some help while you're waiting to meet with a flute teacher for a lesson on how to assemble and dissassemble.

Very important to get off on the "right foot."

Links you need:

How to align your flute's footjoint for best reach:

Finding the best right thumb position on flute:

How to hold a flute:

Right hand pinky problems?

Best, Jen
Question 5:
Adult Beginner inexpensive flute problem.

Dear Jen,
I'm an adult beginner, and I know you say that I shouldn't buy a $150 flute from ebay or from a budget box store. But I did. And seriously, it doesn't really play all of the notes "out of the box".
I put it together, and played a C-scale, and several of the notes just won't come out.

What should I do?
Dear Adult seeking inexensive flute.
Take a deep breath. I'm serious when I say this:
Cheap flutes not worth buying, honestly. :>)
Cheap flutes under $160 are typically made of soft metal; they resemble real flutes, but are replicas, and are not repairable.

It's as if you walked into Walmart to buy your child a bicycle and found one for $39.95
You're going to doubt that it's going to hold together when the child is riding it.
For sure some parts are going to come flying off, and the wheels are going to bend within a few days.

Fake replicas of real objects are not meant for mechanical tasks.
Cheap flutes don't take wear and tear, and may not even work straight out of the box.
That's why they are so cheap.

Example of flute you should not buy:

What you want to do is return that inexpensive "pretend" flute  for a full refund, and put that $150 towards a flute that will last out the year and maybe even last ten years or more for you.
One that won't make you force the keys closed to sound any note, when they start to bend, in order to get a clear sound.
Keys that don't seal the pads instantly cause hand position and tiredness problems in the wrists and arms.
Whereas a flute that holds its shape and keeps the pads sealing effortlessly is alot easier on the flutist!
A good flute makes playing fast effortless.
And a well-made flute allows a clear tone much more easily.

I've written many times on this topic online because the cheap flutes actually hold the avid student back, and cause disappointment.
So if it's not out of its return-policy period yet, send it back, if you can.

A decent flute that stays mechanically sound and is easier on the learner is possible in the under $500 range.

You can rent a Yamaha beginner flute (very durable) for $20-$30 a month, while you search for a good $500 flute that's worth its salt.
Also, if you quit playing at any point, the $500 flute can be sold for $400 (because it keeps its value) and you've only ended up paying $100.
That's how it works.

So here are some brand new flutes under $600 that are reputable brand names: ask your teacher to help you select one.

Better deals for flutes: NEW
Pearl student flute $400 on sale:

Emerson EF1 student flute: $475

Jupiter 515 student flutes: $570

Di Zhao DZ200 student flutes: $590
You can also find used flutes for sale.
I recommend Yamaha 221 as an all around decent flute when purchased used.

Try searching for Yamaha, from time to time at this good used flute U.S. site:

Before you do anything further, try to get in touch with a local flute teacher, get the name of the best flute repair person nearest to you, and then phone them and ask if they have any well-made brand name beginner models that are USED, and for sale through the repair shop.
Often you can get a flute that's been recently serviced and looked after by the repair shop for years, that's under $350.

Brand names to look for are discussed here:

If you're enjoying flute up til now, you'll certainly make a better deal in the long run by avoiding mechanical failure, frustration and sense of loss when the cheap flute stops working completely.

Send it back for full refund, if you can.

Best, Jen
Comments (7)
Blogger Karen said...

I need your help. I just started the flute 2 months ago - I needed a hobby that would reduce the stress from my crazy job and the flute fits that bill perfectly. I can't take lessons right now because of my crazy travel schedule - I don't know where in the US I'll be on any given day very far in advance - so I have been reading the internet and watching videos. When I retire next year, I will be taking flute lessons, but for now, and since most of my practicing is done in motel rooms and I need to play softly, what should I be working on? I have a "teardrop" so I play to the left, but I have been trying to practice James Galway's embouchure exercises and I can now reach some of the high notes, but not C3 yet. Should I work on those or should I concentrate on tone and technique with the Wye books? Anything you can tell me will be GREATLY appreciated!

Thursday, March 07, 2013 7:34:00 AM

Blogger OrcasMom said...

A comment on Question 4: It is also possible that the beginner has his/her right hand positioned one key too far towards the headjoint. I've seen several beginners do this. It's easy enough to get in the wrong place without a live teacher, as beginner books with fingering diagrams can be confusing for novices trying to learn by themselves.

My family gave me Roger Mather's three-volume set for my birthday, from your website. It's really excellent! I got the whole thing printed out and bound for about $20 -- well worth it.

Thursday, March 07, 2013 8:04:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear OrcasMom, So glad you like the Mather books. They're amazing aren't they? And thanks for the insight about hand-shifts. That was a problem with the beginner in the "beginner questions" link too. Good point.

Dear Karen, You're asking about what to work on as a beginner; I would say "play dozens and dozens of lovely TUNES". If you have a book of interesting and musical tunes for beginners, everything will follow from playing those. If you don't read music quickly, easy-to-read music for beginners will be fine. Tone improvements, ease of play, and fingering finesse all build up gradually over time when you're immersed in playing attractive musical melodies. Playing higher and higher can come gradually. Nice to hear from you.
See adult-beginner info. for books and ideas here:

Best, Jen

Thursday, March 07, 2013 8:58:00 AM

Blogger Karen said...

Thank you so much for your advice! I found all sorts of music I can play just for my sheer enjoyment (probably not for others yet though!). There's a site (flutetunes) that even allows me to play the music off the screen so I don't even have to carry music with me when I travel!

Your blog is such a TREASURE!! Whenever I get curious about something, I now check your blog to see if you've already answered my questions. For instance, I have a lot of How and Why questions. How is this little tube making those wonderful sounds? I'll check with Jen - sure enough, you have a link to the University of North Wales Acoustics site. Why are the scales formed the way they are? I'll check with Jen - and you have a link to a Music Theory site!! (Who knew this little instrument could be so satisfying on so many levels!!)

So my question for you is why don't you allow advertizing on your blog? This blog is so USEFUL that it could pay you a decent salary with a little help from flute related companies!! I would hate to see it disappear because of finances!! I have a few other favorite blogs and the advertizing really doesn't bother me much - and it must pay pretty well, because it appears that the only jobs these bloggers have is their websites!

Also, I read your information on flute buying (I wish I would have read it earlier!) and I have a couple of other reasons why an older person should invest in a good flute and stay away from the $500 wonders!
1) Lets face it, older people (well, people like me who are over 60) have wrinkly and flabbier lips - I just bought an Azumi AZ3 and that little square hole in the head joint has made flute playing SO MUCH EASIER. My old flute had a large oval and it was a struggle to find the "sweet spot"- it is so much easier on the new flute! I could do the James Galway emboucher exercise on my old flute, but I wasn't consistent. I can now do it consistently - every time I try!
2) It was a struggle getting the high notes on the old flute - I could only reach C3 by tensing up. I can reach G3 now with no tension AT ALL - and my natural vibrato has come back (HOOYAH!).
3) I taped myself playing the old flute and the new one - the difference in tone is AMAZING! I am sure my neighbors appreciate my getting a new flute!
4) The keys don't stick on the new flute and I'm not always having to clean the pads. I did get the old flute checked out and was told that some people just have stickier saliva. That has not been a problem with the new flute, though!
5) The new flute makes me want to keep playing because I am not "struggling" any more and I know I am gradually getting better now and I know someday I will be able to create the music that I like, and that encouragement alone makes the difference in price worthwhile!!

Again, thank you Jen for this wonderful blog!!

Sunday, March 17, 2013 5:43:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Karen,
Thanks for your thoughts. I'm really happy for you and your new flute (so much easier!). You're telling the truth here; and sharing it! Great!
As for advertising; I'm totally against it; I"m not into money at all. I find ads to be annoying and don't believe that they help the world of honest communication.
But that's just me.
Best, Jen

Sunday, March 17, 2013 7:56:00 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

I'm intrigued that you have an offset and an inline flute as your current flutes. What do you like most about each key arrangement? Do you find you prefer one for periods of time or do you hop between them all the time?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 1:39:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear James,
I put extensions on my inline flute years and years ago. Then when an offset version of the same flute became available to buy, I purchased offset to see if I could use it without the glued-on extensions, and leave it open-hole instead of plugging the holes.
However my hand (LH) couldn't operate well without the extensions, so I put them on the offset flute as well. Now both flutes feel the same, and when one is in the repair shop, I play the other one. This works well if a flute goes out of adjustment just before a gig; just switch to an almost identical flute. And they're not expensive flutes.
Best, Jen

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 3:23:00 PM


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