Flute Overview and History
The flute is one of the oldest musical instruments of all. It is considered as the first wind instrument ever! It has been in use at least since the Stone Age. Flutes used to be made of human bones (with holes punched out), and many of the first flutes were made of wood (keys were added on top of the holes. There are professional flutes that are still made of wood today, but most are made of metal. In the 1800’s, Theobald Boehm worked to improve the flute, adding felt pads on top of the key holes, and used German silver.
Where to Purchase
Flute Brands and Models for Beginners
You are looking for a nickel flute with silver plating with an offset G key. Sterling silver head joints are encouraged but not required. It significantly improves the quality of the sound.
- Yamaha YFL-222
- Gemeinhardt Model 2SH Conservatory Flute, Model 3 Series
- Pearl PF500 Series
- Jupiter JFL700 Series
Flute Brands and Models for Intermediate Players
You are looking for solid sterling silver body and head joint, open holes, B-foot, offset or in-line G
- Di Zhao DZ-600, DZ-700 Series (this maker lives right in Westford, MA!)
- Yamaha YFL 482 Series
- Powell Sonare PS705 Series
If you are a younger player and have shorter arms, it would be wise to purchase a curved head joint. This allows the player to play the flute with way less stretching the neck from holding the instrument up. You can easily purchase one online (please keep the brands consistent; if you play a Yamaha flute, purchase a Yamaha curved head joint.) Students usually stay on this type of head for one year and then transition to the stock mouthpiece that came with the instrument.
Some instruments are written in concert pitch. This means that when that specific instrument plays a “C”, a “C” comes out. To transpose means that the player is playing an instrument that sounds a different pitch (higher or lower) than the pitch they are presently reading on the staff. Flute players only transpose when they are playing a piccolo (pictured left). The piccolo sounds one octave higher than written. Luckily, you won’t have to do any tough transposing while you’re playing, just as long as you remember that the sound your piccolo is creating is actually 8 notes higher than written.
The flute is comprised of 3 different parts; the head joint, the body (long joint), and the foot joint. When you put the instrument together, you must be careful not to bend the delicate keys and rods.
- If you are right-handed, hold the head joint in your left hand.
- The right hand should be holding the body (long joint) at the top, where there are no keys.
- Put the head joint into the body straight up and down and gently twist until it stops.
- To insert the foot joint, hold the long joint in your left hand at the top where there are no keys.
- Put your right thumb on the pinky key, place the foot joint on the tenon of the body straight and gently push on until it stops.
Adjusting the Position of the Head Joint
- Twist the head joint so that the far edge of the tone hole lines up with the center of the first key on the body.
- Ask your teacher to mark this spot on the flute head joint and body for you so that it will be easier to remember where it should be placed.
Adjusting the position of the foot joint
- Put your right-hand first three fingers on the right-hand keys on the flute.
- Gently drop your right pinky down- this is exactly where the foot joint should be placed.
Hand Position and Posture Photo Slideshow
Embouchure and Sound Production
The “embouchure” (pronounced ahm-boo-sure) is the way a musician applies their mouth to the mouthpiece of their instrument. All wind musicians must work very hard to build muscle memory in the jaw and mouth so that your sound is consistently of good quality.
Step 1: Sit with a balanced posture with no slouching forward in your chair. Your back should not be resting on the back of the chair, either!
Step 2: Say the word “whee”. The corners of your lips will be outward and your lower lip will be flat.
Step 3: Say the word “doo”. “Whee-Doo” will set the embouchure.
Step 4: Bring the head joint up to your lower lipThe air will be directed INTO the tone hole, not across.
Articulation is the movement of the tongue against the back of the teeth or roof of the mouth to separate/begin each note. For flute articulation, I recommend that you silently say the word “do” while moving your air. The tongue should not stop the air, but should interrupt it just enough to give each note a clean start.
Out of Tune Notes
On the flute, there are a few notes that are notoriously out of tune. Here are the notes that are the major problems, and how to fix them!
Flute Fingering Chart
Maintenance and Care
- At the end of each practice session, rehearsal, or concert, be sure to wipe down any fingerprints on the flute with a clean cloth. Do not use liquid polish, as this will ruin the plating on the instrument.
- Swab out the instrument using a silk flute swab. Any moisture in the instrument is not good for the pads or mechanism.
- Swab out the head joint by putting your silk swab onto the tuning rod. Insert a corner of the swab into the hole, and wrap the swab around the rod. Using an up-and-down twisting motion, swab out the moisture from the head joint.
- Yearly, you will want to go to the music store and have them look at your pads to be sure that none need replacing. You will also want to replace your head joint cork yearly.
Notable Flute Players