You’ve watched Lizzo, Sir James Galway, and other great flute players. Now, you want to learn how to play the flute, but you don’t know where to start.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know to begin learning the flute. That way, you can set yourself up for success!
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What Is the Flute?
The flute refers to any musical instrument that has finger holes or keys and where you blow across some sort of surface that splits your air. When most of us think of the flute, we think of the western concert flute.
This instrument is played to the side, and you blow across an embouchure hole, similar to how you might blow across a soda bottle. You use your fingers to open and close holes using keys to change the pitch.
Other flutes, like the recorder are end-blown. That means you blow into the end of the tube. Recorders are considered block flutes because there’s a block in the mouthpiece that splits the air and creates a sound.
You can find end-blown and side-blown flutes from cultures all over the world. But learning all of those flutes can take time and different techniques. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll focus on how to learn the concert flute.
How to Play the Flute
If you want to play in a concert band, orchestra, or a similar ensemble, you may want to learn how to play the flute. The modern metal flute can be difficult at first, but it gets to be very rewarding once you master the basics.
Here are my best tips to help you learn the flute as a beginner.
Start With a Student Model
When starting the flute, you need to get a good instrument. But you shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on a professional flute. Luckily, there are tons of excellent beginner flute models, including:
A good student flute will be well-made, so it can withstand a lot of use as you learn how to play. It will also have the right specs and for a beginner so that you can focus on the basics rather than super advanced techniques.
You can always upgrade after you learn the fundamentals. However, it’s better to start with something affordable and of good quality that’s specifically for new flute players.
Play With Just the Headjoint
One of my biggest tips to start to learn how to play the flute is to use just the headjoint. That’s the part of the flute you blow into. It doesn’t have any keys, so you can focus on getting a good airflow into the instrument.
Holding just the headjoint is also a lot easier since it’s smaller than the whole flute. You won’t have to worry about balancing the entire flute or risk it falling as you start to make a sound.
Take some time to work on getting a sound out of the headjoint. It can be stressful, but the more comfortable you feel with the headjoint by itself, the easier it will be to add the body.
Add the Body
Speaking of adding the body of the flute, you can do so once you get comfortable making a sound. You can add the body and the footjoint so that the entire flute is assembled.
However, you can also add just the body and leave the footjoint off. That will help keep the weight down as you learn the first few notes of the flute.
Work on one note at a time as you learn the fingering. Take this step as quickly or as slowly as you need to. It’s better to learn at your own pace than to try and go too fast without really understanding what you’re learning.
Get a Good Method Book
A good method book will provide you with exercises to master each new note and other musical concepts. You can choose from a variety of method books, so you can follow a method that works for you.
There are older books, like the Rubank Elementary Method, that are simple and easy to read. But they can go a bit too quickly for some students, and they’re a little boring.
You can also look into newer method books, such as Flute 101. The nice thing about the variety is that there’s something for everyone. There’s no reason you can’t learn how to play the flute in a way that works for you.
If you want more direction, you may want to look into video tutorials that teach the flute. You can find some for free on YouTube and other social media platforms.
There’s also a growing number of online flute courses that you can pay for. You’ll pay either one time or annually, and you’ll get access to exclusive video content.
Either way, you can watch the videos over and over. You can slow them down, pause them, and rewind them as necessary. So if you don’t quite understand a concept the first time around, you can take more time to learn.
Find a Private Teacher
For even more guidance and feedback, you may want to enroll in private lessons. You can take lessons in person at a music studio or at your teacher’s house (or your own home).
Many teachers also offer lessons online, so you can learn no matter where you live. I offer asynchronous lessons, so I don’t meet with students live, but I will watch your playing and offer personalized advice.
Look for a teacher who you like and who understands your learning style and needs. That way, you can get the support necessary to help you improve at the flute.
One of the best things you can do when learning how to play the flute is to practice a little bit each day. You don’t need to dedicate hours a day (and you shouldn’t as a beginner).
However, 10 to 15 minutes is plenty of time for you to learn a new concept and reinforce it under your lips and fingers. That gives you time to play, but it’s not long enough to where you’ll were yourself out.
While you can practice for an hour once a week, it’s better to practice in short bursts more often. That way, you won’t give your body time to forget what you learned the last time you played your flute.
Don’t Give Up
When you first learn how to play the flute, you’ll almost certainly face a lot of setbacks. It can take time to get your first sound, and it can take even longer before you get a good sound consistently.
Combine that with learning notes and learning to read music, and you’ll run into a lot of things that could make you want to quit. If you really want to play the flute, keep at it.
You don’t have to be an expert overnight. Give it six months to a year of practicing consistently and watching tutorials or taking lessons. If you still don’t enjoy it, then you can quit.
How to Choose a Beginner Flute
Before you can learn how to play the flute, you need to get your hands on a good instrument. I already shared a few models I’d recommend, but they’re not the only suitable ones.
Keep the following in mind when shopping for your first flute.
Avoid Super Cheap Flutes
Most reputable student flutes cost between $500 and $1,000 when you purchase them new. Recently, a lot of cheaper flutes have popped up, especially on websites like Amazon.
These flutes cost around $100 or less. They can seem like an amazing deal, but they’re often too good to be true. Cheap flutes are made of lower-quality materials, and repair technicians often refuse to fix them when they break.
It’s not uncommon for these flutes to last for only a few months. So it’s better to save up a bit more and invest in a flute from a reputable company.
Now, I will go against the grain of other flute teachers and say these flutes aren’t entirely bad. If you’re on a tight budget, you can buy one to see if you like playing the flute. Just keep in mind you’ll need to upgrade sooner rather than later.
A lot of music stores offer rental contracts for beginner instruments. You can shop around at stores in your area to find a good deal. Most rental contracts are $25-$40 per month for a beginner flute.
Some of these programs are also rent-to-own. That means that if you make rental payments for long enough, you’ll eventually pay off the flute and own it outright.
If you decide to quit after a few months, you can return the flute. That can be a nice option if you’re not quite sure if you’ll stick with it. And even if you will stick with it, renting can put less of a strain on your wallet.
Look at Used Flutes
Another great alternative to buying a new flute is to look at the used market. It can be pretty easy to find a used student model for sale for a good price. That way, you can get an instrument of good quality.
You can look online at marketplaces like eBay and Facebook. Music stores may also occasionally have a few used flutes in stock.
Just be careful when buying used, especially online. Ask to try the flute before you purchase it (or have a teacher test it for you). If you’re shopping online, ask for a refund period in case the flute doesn’t work.
That way, you won’t waste your time and money on a flute that will need extensive repairs to be playable.
Ask a Teacher for Help
When shopping for your first flute, you most likely don’t know how to play. That’s okay, but it means you may want to ask an experienced player to assist you with the shopping process.
A teacher can try the models for you to make sure they work. They can also suggest reputable brands and models in your price range.
And a teacher may even have other students who are looking to sell their old student flutes. They could set you up with that other student, so you can try the flute to see if it works for you.
Buy From a Reputable Seller
I’ve bought multiple flutes on Amazon with mixed results. If you want to go that route, you should do your research on the third-party seller you want to buy from.
Otherwise, stick to well-known flute or music stores and dealers. They’ll only carry reputable brands, so you’ll know you’ll get a quality instrument.
Some music stores will even take care of any repairs a flute needs before they officially sell it to you. That’s super nice with used flutes, but it can also help if you’re buying a new flute that’s been in storage for a while.
Why Play the Flute
If you’re trying to decide what instrument to learn, you may wonder why you should go with the flute. Consider the following advantages that come with being a flute player.
We often think of the flute as a classical instrument, and it is. You can play everything from Baroque to 21st century/contemporary classical music. There are solo pieces, chamber works, and flute parts in orchestral music.
But there’s also a lot of jazz music that you can play on the flute. If you can transpose, you can play a part for the trumpet or alto saxophone. You can also use notation software to transpose the music for you.
Then, there’s pop music. Players like Lizzo and Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) have helped bring the flute into more genres. So no matter what music you like, you can find a way to incorporate the flute.
In Multiple Ensembles
You can also play the flute in a variety of ensembles. It’s a standard member of the orchestra, concert band, and marching band.
As far as chamber ensembles go, the flute is part of the wind quintet and quartet as well as a ton of duos, trios, and quartets. You can even commission a new piece of music for flute and whatever other instruments you have access to.
The flute is also (obviously) part of the flute choir. Not only can you play the standard C flute, but you can also play the piccolo, alto, and bass flutes.
Small and Portable
I’ll admit that one of my favorite parts of playing the flute is that it’s small and easy to carry to and from rehearsals. You can throw it in most backpacks and even some larger tote bags.
That’s nice if you ever need to run errands before or after a rehearsal or performance. You can easily carry your flute wherever and not leave it in the car (with the risk of it getting stolen).
If you ever need to travel with your flute, it’s also a lot easier. You can put it in a bag and carry it on board the play. Then, you won’t have to worry about it getting damaged in the cargo hold.
Easy to Find a Teacher
Since the flute is such a common instrument among students, it’s also common among teachers. That makes it a lot easier to find not just any teacher but the RIGHT teacher for you.
Of course, you can look for teachers in your local area. But there’s also even more teachers to choose from if you’re open to online lessons.
You can look for a teacher who has experience working with students with your background or learning style. It’s also a lot easier to find a teacher whose personality matches your own.
Compare that to an instrument like the bassoon, which is much rarer. There are some teachers but not nearly as many.
The flute is the only member of the woodwind section that doesn’t use a reed. As you play, you don’t have to buy more and more reeds. And you don’t have to learn how to make reeds yourself.
All you need is a good flute and some music. You’ll also need some cleaning supplies, but that’s the case with any instrument. Since you don’t need reeds, though, you could save a lot of money over time.
You can also avoid the dreaded “reed lip.” This is what I call the scar tissue that develops on the inside of your lips from covering your teeth.
Curved Headjoint Flutes
When learning how to play the flute, most beginners use the standard straight headjoint. However, there are a few beginner models that come with a curved headjoint.
The curve makes the flute look like the letter J. It also brings the flute closer to you, so the keys are easier to reach. That makes it especially popular among younger students.
However, older kids and adults can also use a curved headjoint. If you have arthritis or similar health issues, the curved headjoint could make things easier for you.
You may not need reeds to play the flute. But there are some accessories you should get either right when you start playing or when you realize you’re not going to quit.
Put the following accessories on your shopping list.
Cleaning Rod and Cloth
If you don’t buy anything else, at least make sure you have a cleaning rod and cloth for your flute. Most flutes come with a cleaning rod, which looks like a big sewing needle.
But you might not get a cleaning cloth with the rod. You can buy a silk or microfiber cloth. Then, you’ll thread it through the hole in the rod and push the rod through the flute to soak up any condensation.
You can also get a polishing cloth to use on the outside of the flute. When you finish practicing, wipe down the instrument to remove any fingerprints.
Another accessory that’s nice to have but not necessary is a flute stand. I have a couple of stands, one of which is for my home studio and the other of which I use when I have a rehearsal or performance.
My bigger stand is a Hercules Alto Flute Stand. It can hold my flute, piccolo, and alto flute, so I can set all of my instruments down during a practice session.
For travel, I use the Hercules Travlite Flute Stand. It fits in my flute case cover, and it’s super small so takes up next to no space. No matter the stand, it’s a safe place for you to rest your flute during a practice break.
Tuner and Metronome
To help practice the flute, I’d highly suggest you get a tuner and metronome. A tuner tracks whether you’re playing flat, sharp, or in tune. You should get used to using a tuner to help train your ear.
Meanwhile, a metronome plays a steady beat. You can set it to as slow or as fast as you need to keep you from playing too fast or too slow. If you want a physical metronome, I’d recommend the Korg TM60.
But a lot of people use metronome and tuner apps these days (including myself). I use the Tunable app on my iPhone and iPad. That way, I don’t have to dig out another device just to practice.
When you first learn how to play the flute, you should also invest in a sturdy music stand. You can get a cheap wire stand, and that can get you started. But it’s not the best quality.
If you try to rest more than a few pages of paper, the stand can wobble or even collapse. You can find a good music stand for around $30 or $40, so it’s not super expensive.
But those better-quality stands will last much longer than the wire ones. So you could save money in the long run.
When to Start Playing Flute
You can start learning the flute whenever you want. Some people first learn when they’re as young as four years old. Others don’t start learning until they’re in their 70s.
The best time to learn is when you have the motivation and access to a good instrument. Don’t wait until you hit a certain age before you feel like you can start playing.
Similarly, you’re never too old to learn. If you’ve always wanted to play an instrument, you can.
Where to Buy a Flute
You can buy a flute from a variety of places. I’d recommend going to your local music store if you want to buy a flute quickly and easily.
Other options include various flute shops and music stores. There’s also Amazon and other online retailers.
When to Upgrade Your Flute
After you learn the basics and have played the flute for a while, you may find your flute starts to hold you back. At that time, you should look into an upgrade.
You may also need to upgrade if you decide to enter music school. If you take private lessons, your teacher may even suggest when you should upgrade.
Can I Teach Myself the Flute?
You can teach yourself how to play the flute. However, doing so isn’t right for everyone.
If you’re self-motivated, you’ll have better luck learning the flute without a teacher. But if you need more guidance and external motivation, you should enroll in private lessons.
Is It Easy to Learn the Flute?
Learning to play the flute can be easy, and it’s easier for some players than others. But even the best players struggle with certain parts of playing the flute.
You have to learn how to breathe into the instrument and how to support that air stream. Then, there are the keys, and you have to learn what each one does.
Learning how to play the flute is a daunting task. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on your dream of being the next Lizzo or Sir James Galway.
Instead, consider starting with the right flute and materials. And if you’re ready to get started now, enroll in your first Flexible Flute Lesson.