Friday, July 17, 2015

How to Get Started on the Flute

Dear Flute-lovers,

In the five years that I've been selling Roger Mather's "The Art of Playing the Flute", I've had five adult beginners write by email and order the book, telling me "I'm a complete beginner; I hope this will help."
I always write back and say: "Roger Mather's "The Art of Playing the Flute" book is for teachers and more advanced flutists who already know how to play, but want to improve the higher skill levels and teach them clearly to others."

However, inevitably, the adult beginners who order Mather's brilliant three volumes on Embouchure, Breathing and intricate flute skills, are still incredibly curious and want to read the Mather book (I can hardly blame them, it's that good!)
So if you too are a beginner who hasn't yet begun, and you're searching around about how to get started on the flute, here's my advice that I wrote this morning for a recent book-buyer who wanted to know:

How to Get Started on the Flute

If you're a complete beginner and don't yet have a flute, here's my best advice:

Update Jan 2021:
Get inspired: Five Minutes to LOVE the flute (from the New York Times)
Sound samples from amazing flute performances with a paragraph about each player.


1. Singing is the closest thing to flute playing. So if you don't have a flute yet, there's nothing stopping you from singing and listening to music. It gets the chest open and the breath flowing and the ears working. Feel free. Even if you're not a great singer, (or you even think you're tone-deaf), you still need to move the air stream. So sing away.

2. Book: The cheapest and best book on how to begin flute playing is $10 and is also in the public library; HOW TO PLAY THE FLUTE by Howard Harrison.
It uses the musical terms used in the UK (Crochet instead of quarter note.) but it has everything you need even if you later use different nomenclature. Great tunes; great advice; big print, illustrations and quality ideas.

3. Rent a flute: The cheapest way to get a great flute to start on is to rent a Yamaha 200 (closed hole C-foot student level flute) from a flute shop. It costs about $25 or less a month.
You will learn (from the Harrison book) that you start with the headjoint only, learning to blow the air at an angle to make a good sound. This is the technique for the first two weeks of playing the flute; head-joint ONLY.

4. Old flute: If you are using an old flute that was given to you, take it to the repair shop first, before you struggle with it. Flutes typically suffer from leaking pads (the soft cotton part that closes the key firmly, and gives you each new note). If you have an old flute that hasn't been to the repair shop in a year or more, then this is a necessary maintenance that cannot be avoided.
If you play a flute with leaking pads you will be frustrated very quickly. Check this out. Terribly important, even in a rental flute (where they will fix the rented flute for free, or give you a better one.)

5. Lessons: The fastest way to progress is with a teacher.
We like to think that we can do it all with a book and some concentration, but it's too three-dimensional (actually more dimensions than that!) like gymnastics, and you would never think of becoming a gymnast without a teacher; too many angles and fine points for you to guess at just using a book! So get a teacher. Even if you only take ten lessons, you will save yourself up to five years of fruitless effort.

6. Playing Duets: The fastest way to get music into your life is to find people to play with.
This motivates and engages. Without people to play with or to talk to about your music, you can become isolated, which erodes your enthusiasm.
Get involved in duets with your teacher, and eventually duets and trios with your fellow adult-beginner students; then you'll be swept up in the incredible beauty that you used to dream of, and you'll be learning in a real and true way; by having excellent quality music being made around you and with you everyday.

Hope this helps.
More adult beginner flute links at

Comments welcome (just click the comments button)

Comments (4)
Blogger Mombom said...

Hello. My 9 year old daughter is planning to start in band at school this fall. She wants to play the flute and I've been looking into them a little. I wanted to get a professional opinion on two options I found. One is to buy a newer Gemeinhardt beginner flute that was used one season for $90 or buy a 30 year (or so) old Armstrong 105 that has not been played for about 20 years for $50. Any thoughts?

Thursday, August 20, 2015 11:53:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Mombom,
It's hard to say, as the 20 year old Armstrong's price is so incredibly low, that it is likely it needs about $150 worth of pad replacements and repair in order to get a scale out of it. So the low price is telling you that. Take it to a repair shop and have the work estimated before you buy, if you can. The $90 Gemeinhardt's price is also too low for a $400 flute that's only been played for one season. It should be more like $300 if it is in playable shape. So perhaps your budget is so low that you're looking at broken-down instruments? I hope not. Hard to guess without play-testing them. You need a flute person to play-test them for you.
Best, Jen

Thursday, August 20, 2015 12:39:00 PM

Blogger Mombom said...

The Armstrong is from a friend (their old flute) and we can certainly have it evaluated. She had suggested that. The Gemeinhardt is being sold by someone in my neighborhood that just wants to sell at a "low price". I don't know them personally. I guess I was just curious if an older flute but maybe higher quality? would be better than a newer beginning flute. Is an Armstrong 105 worth repairing? Our budget is not so low but I also don't want to buy an expensive instrument and then have her decide it isn't for her. Both of these options would most likely be less than renting for a year. Thanks for your thoughts.

Thursday, August 20, 2015 1:37:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Here, where I live, the rental cost is around $20 a month for a Yamaha 200 closed hole flute. The repairs are covered. So if you rent for ten months it would be $200, and then if your child changes to some other activity, you're out $200.

For the $50 Armstrong, which IS worth repairing btw,they are usually okay student flutes, the repair cost would have to be less than $150, to match the $200 rental, but then you could resell the Armstrong for $100+ if it was all fixed up.
So there's re-sell value.

The Gemeinhardt I can't know about; they're not always durable, and can be bent irrepairably if roughly handled. Still need a repair person to see it before you know for sure.
Good luck,Jen

Thursday, August 20, 2015 3:14:00 PM


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