How to Play Flute “Cold”

To play flute cold means to play without much (if any) time to warm up. There are many situations where you might need to play something cold. You might have a long rest during a concert, or maybe you are running late to a rehearsal.

Hannah B Flute | How to Play Flute "Cold"

Whatever the reason, every flutist should know how to play their instrument without much of a warm up.

There are a few things you can do now to prepare for playing cold. During the rehearsal or performance, there are also a few etiquette “rules” you should keep in mind.

Embouchure Practice

The biggest thing flutists need to warm up is the embouchure. It is central to our sound. When your embouchure is not good, your sound is not good. In order to play flute cold, you need to know where your flute goes and how you form your lips.

Everyone’s embouchure is slightly different, so spend time with a mirror. To build embouchure muscle memory, start with the flute down. Bring the flute to your natural playing position and play a note, say second octave F.

Do you like the sound? Great! Now look in the mirror and see what your lips are doing. Take note of how everything feels, including your hands and arms.

Did you not like the sound? Make one small change. That could be the angle of your flute, the size of your embouchure hole, or even the placement of your flute on the lips. Play the note again, and try and compare it to the previous one. Once you get the sound you like, refer to the previous paragraph.

Embouchure practice takes work, and I am still working on it. But having a good embouchure will make it easier to play flute cold. Being confident in your embouchure will make those tricky entrances less of a hassle.

Hand Position

This kind of goes along with embouchure practice. Improper hand position can cause a lot of problems like carpal tunnel or tendonitis. A lax hand position can also make it harder to play flute.

In order to get a sound on the flute, you have to blow air across the embouchure hole. If you are holding you flute in such a way that this isn’t doable, you will not make a sound.

So when you go to practice your embouchure, make sure to memorize how your whole body feels, not just your lips. Your hands are what get the flute to your lips, and a proper hand position will make maintaining your embouchure much easier.

Do a Quick Warm Up

When you finally have to play flute cold, see if you have ANY time to warm up. Can you play a quick scale back stage? Can you go to another room to warm up? Will there be any time between pieces for you to play something?

If not, that is totally fine. It’s worth asking, though, especially for a recital or other solo performance.

As you play flute, you will become warmed up, but you still want your first note to be as good as possible. So play through a scale or do a couple of long tones. They will help you prepare for that opening solo.

Related: Rapid (5 Minute) Warm Ups

Warming the Flute

If you cannot play to warm up, try to warm the flute in other ways. Keeping your flute a consistent temperature will keep it in tune which is super important when you are playing with others.

There are many ways to keep your flute or piccolo warm.

Blow warm air through the instrument. Close all of the keys and blow slow, warm air through the tube.

Use your arm. For piccolo, you can place it under your arm so that your body heat will keep the piccolo warm.

Hold the headjoint in your hand(s). While you do want to keep your entire instrument warm, the headjoint is the most important. Keep it warm by holding it.

Performance Etiquette During Rests

Every piccolo player knows what it is like to have a long rest. One piece in band had me resting for over 60 measures! But even if you don’t play piccolo, there is going to come a time where you have a long rest.

Your instrument can get cold easily, and your lips can also become “un warmed up.” So what do you do to keep you and your instrument warm?

Obviously, you cannot play during your rests in a concert. You shouldn’t play during your rests in a rehearsal either. What you can do is keep the instrument warm, like in the last point.

You can also form your embouchure when your entrance is coming up. When your long rest is ending, make sure you are extra prepared to play. Get your flute in position sooner than normal. Set your embouchure earlier than normal. And take a big breath, but you can do that as normal.


Have you ever had to play flute cold? How did it go? Let me know down in the comments!


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