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Beginner questions
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Author:  keithsandra [ Mon Aug 12, 2019 4:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

More balanced hold than "grip", Jim?

Best wishes,


Author:  jim stone [ Mon Aug 12, 2019 4:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

I think 'grip' is a term of art in Ireland. 'First you must learn the grip!' Holding flutes is an art, no question for me, anyhow.

Author:  tstermitz [ Mon Aug 12, 2019 10:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

I'm three-plus years into my flute journey. I do recall having a few physical issues in the first year or so, which have eased with time. Maybe the remaining one is (after a few hours of playing) sore left knuckle where it presses against the flute. The Nicholson modification where the side of the flute is flattened seems appealing.

- Initial soreness came from a tight grip. Hand muscles gained strength and eventually learned to relax.
- Holding the arms and flute up for an hour or three never seemed to be an issue for me after the first year, although you would think this would be a problem.
- Keeping the flute position against the lips stable and un-moving. This takes time but eventually resolves itself.
- Immediate positioning of the flute at the correct location for good tone. Takes time.
- Right little finger got sore from pressing down and then later on, holding down the Eb key. This took more time than other things to improve.
- Posture. I don't recall issues with posture or back soreness - maybe a little. Looking at flute posture, it would appear to be less-than-ergonomic.
- My lips would get tired after a half hour - fine motor control would collapse and tone quality would go to hell. Eventually, my embouchure improved, then improved again, then went to hell because I got a new flute, then improved, then I had a huge break-through, went away, came back... etc. Quality and consistency take a long time.

I would review the hand hold that Terry McGee and Jem recommend for keyed flutes. You can grab an un-keyed flute almost any which way, but that will create bad habits to break if you ever get a keyed flute. Eb key, & Bb keys definitely require relearning your hold. I guess, you can cross that bridge if you get to it, but fore-warned is fore-armed. This took me a year or more of relearning, and my hold is much more relaxed now.

I highly, highly recommend an occasional class from a flute teacher. Classical flautist is fine, as the purpose it to learn embouchure control and tone. This is really the longest part of the flute journey. I've had major breakthroughs every other month of year 3, and I know I have yet more improvements coming.

Author:  DrPhill [ Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

ChrisCracknell wrote:
How low a bass A flute do you mean? The A below the D of the normal D flute? If so, then I have one and they are not uncommon.

Exactly that one.... So they exist - I stand corrected, and thanks for that. I have to admit that until a few weeks ago I considered flutes to be 'out of my league' and as none appear in local sessions I have been fairly ignorant of them. The only reason I mentioned it was my current 'need' for that low A when playing along to some recordings by Phil Cunningham.

@JimStone & @tstermitz
Thank you for relating your experiences and for your advice. I find it reassuring and encouraging. I am seriously considering getting lessons though I may have to travel a bit to them. From what you say it may be better to choose a longer term flute first though once I have finished my initial experiments.

Of course, choosing a more long-term flute may be difficult. Probably keyless, probably delrin/acetal, possibly with option to retrofit keys? possibly with option to add a foot (extra low notes like C I am assuming). And then trying to get all that at a budget price. I am still open to suggestions though one of the makers mentioned above seemed like a good possibility. I might stretch up to 400gbp but the top of that would hurt a bit.

Author:  ChrisCracknell [ Tue Aug 13, 2019 1:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

You can see what Casey makes for a low A flute here: Other makers do to.

They are a bit more tricky to play than the D, needing more, lower pressure air, so they are not what one would start with. Some time later and a few flutes down the line then one might think of picking one up as an additional flute.

The thing that I try to remember when playing the flute is that half of the playing is everything that happens in front of your lips and the other half is everything that happens behind your lips. (And the third half is the lips themselves :-)) Most people start by concentrating far too much only on what happens in front of the lip. This is not just about your attention and effort, but also about the fundamental way the system of flute+player makes and controls the sound.

Author:  PB+J [ Tue Aug 13, 2019 6:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

I find it such a physically demanding instrument. I can have great tone, or at least good tone, for a while and then it all falls apart. I can get through one reel, but the idea of getting through three in a row seems as impossible as the idea of flying to the grocery store.

Back in December I posted a question as a complete beginner on flute and got some very useful replies:

I've gotten much better since then. Lots of practice, some days where I feel like I made three steps backward, but getting better

Author:  tstermitz [ Tue Aug 13, 2019 9:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

The only reason I mentioned it was my current 'need' for that low A when playing along to some recordings by Phil Cunningham.

In the case of "Hut on Staffin Island". You can easily play "A F# D E with minimal impact on the tune.

For some reason folding just the A on other tunes doesn't disturb. I'm thinking of Martin Wynne's. Or the leading B on King of the Fairies. Your ear fills in what it expects.

The flute isn't a fiddle, so you aren't going to get those growly low notes like on Red Crow, but that tune is wicked hard, anyway. On the other hand, third register notes where fiddler's sometimes fear to tread are accessible... at least up to c, d and maybe e.

Author:  DrPhill [ Sat Sep 07, 2019 2:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

I am back again.....

Tony Millyard has kindly lent me a whistle to try with a view to buying. I find it far easier to get a nice note from. I am liking some of the sounds a lot, and SWMBO approves of the lower volume.

I am struggling with consistency though, and wonder if my experiences are to be expected, and whether anyone has any tips. I am three or four weeks into playing/trying, though I swapped to the Tony Millyard whistle just over a week ago.

I can generally get notes when I first pick up the flute, and on a good day I can get nice notes from g to G. The notes below this range seem 'fuzzy' and those above the range seem to be hard work. After a couple of minutes playing I seem to 'lose it' (whatever 'it' is) and can't get it back until I have stopped playing a while. By 'losing it I mean a total inability to make a musical note; I cannot find/create the right lip position. I am pretty sure that it is not failure to seal holes, so I am wondering if there is a muscle that gets tired

I expect the learning to be long, but I am just wondering if my experience is common to learners.

Author:  fatmac [ Sat Sep 07, 2019 2:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

I would say that your experience is very common amongst us learners, I have days when I can play through 4 or 5 tunes, & other days when I can't even get my embouchure right, but I'm not attempting to play it full time, I have whistles, piccolos, fifes, & harmonicas I (try) to play too. :wink:

Harmonica & flute/piccolo/fife have very different embouchure needs, but both require strong lips - mine are still in development.

Author:  flyingparchment [ Sat Sep 07, 2019 4:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

the facial muscles you use for flute playing aren't really used much for anything else, so it'll take a while for them to strengthen - everyone goes through that, and the only remedy is practice.

there are two useful exercises you can do to improve your embouchure: long tones, and octave slurs. long tones will help your sound across the entire range, while octave slurs will help you learn the differences in embouchure between each octave (it's good to start this early so you don't get into the habit of playing the second octave by blowing harder).

Author:  DrPhill [ Sat Sep 07, 2019 11:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

Thanks for that guys. I thought my experiences would be normal, but it is good to have it confirmed.
@flyingparchment: the exercises sound like a good idea. I was doing something similar - playing slow tunes that have lots of jumps (eg Sarah's Song by Phil Cunningham). But I will add the exercises into my practice sessions.

Author:  mendipman [ Wed Sep 18, 2019 3:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Beginner questions

DrPhill wrote:
Hi. I am a tourist visiting from the whistle forum. I can sort-of play the whistle (high and low) and was toying with the idea of learning to play flute.

I am almost entirely ignorant of the flute world, but have read some of this forum and searched on 'beginner' without much luck. I have two questions and would be grateful if someone could answer...
  • Does anyone have a link to an idiots guide to the whistle. I am most interested in keyless (I think) as it will be more familiar. But something describing the purpose and usefulness of each bit of a flute would be good.
  • What would be the easiest flute to learn on. I do not mind buying a cheap one and then moving up, and I dont mind spending a bit more on a first flute if it will ease my learning. I live in the UK and am resistant to purchasing from the abroad - import duties extra delay, etc. Any recomendations? My primary goal is to ease the early learning curve.

Thanks in advance for any help


I can't offer any suggestions on what might be the 'easiest flute to learn on'. My instinct is that will vary from person to person according to their physical make-up.

But I do strongly agree with the posters who have advised that you go for the best quality and most personally-suited instrument that you can afford. That doesn't require chucking a huge amount of money and it is certainly very differently motivated than 'cash for flash'. A better instrument will make learning easier and a joy, and it will gift you so much more and 'grow' with you. We tend to know in our heart that we want to make that flute sound. Yet even if your decision alters down the road the money invested in a better quality instrument can be released back into cash.

I bit the bullet and bought a Lehart flute from the outset. That represented a significant outlay for me. Not only do I have no regrets, I'm still as thrilled when I pick it up to play as the day it arrived. I have since added a boxwood flute, but the Lehart is a keeper. I feel no urge to spend further money.

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