Erin Spencer - flute expert

6 Tips for Coming Back to Flute Playing

Useful tips for all flutists wanting to get back into flute playing

In this video, Erin gives you six useful tips for getting back into flute playing.

Released on May 6, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hey guys, this is Erin, back for another video here on Virtual Sheet Music. I have seen a lot of posts on Facebook, Instagram, all over from people who are picking up flute, after having a lot of years off. Like maybe they haven't played since high school or since middle school, but now they have a lot of time on their hands of quarantine, and they want to pick it back up again, which is so awesome. So today I'm going to give you some tips on how to play flute again if you haven't played in a long, long time. After my second son was born, I had already graduated with my masters in flute performance, but I got Bell's palsy. So the left side of my face was completely paralyzed. It was super scary and I couldn't play flute to all for six months. And then even when I could make a sound again, it wasn't necessarily a good idea for me to do so, because it was building some bad habits.

So I really didn't play flute at all for about nine months. And I know a lot of you probably have more time than that off from flute, but I can relate to picking it back up, and having it be a struggle. So my first tip is to be really easy on yourself. You're playing flute again, which is hard, in a stressful time, which makes it harder with minimal outside help. Which makes it even harder. So that's really awesome, and you should feel good that you're trying to do something like this during such a stressful time. That's so great. If you're having a lot of trouble, remember that probably some of it is you, because you're pretty new at coming back to this, but some of it could also be your flute. If it's been sitting around in your attic or your basement, it's probably not in the best condition.

The pads can get leaky. You probably definitely need a new head cork. A lot of flute technicians are still taking flutes for repairs, so you could almost definitely get it fixed if you have the budget for that. But it's not necessary if you're just playing for yourself and your own enjoyment. Just make sure you don't blame yourself every time a low note doesn't come out. Also, be sure to make music the way you want to. So if you're playing piece and it has a part written low, but you wish it was high, play it high, who cares? Nobody. If you're going to enjoy it more, do it that way. If the rhythms are written a little bit weird and you want it to be a different way, change them. Make them how you want it to be. When you're making music for yourself, there are no rules. You can do whatever the heck you want and that's awesome.

So as far as actually making a flute sound, you're going to start with just the head joint, and you're going to put it right under your chin. The best way to make a flute embouchure at the beginning, is to pout and drop your jaw, and be as relaxed as you can here.

If you do a pout, chew a big wad of bubblegum, not actually while you're playing flute. It looks very silly. You have to aim your air pretty far down. If I have my hand in front of my face, I feel it hitting my hand right down here. If my hand's out here, I can't even feel it all, because it's aiming really far down. Once you're really good at making that one sound on the flute head joint, you're going to cover the end with one hand, and then put it back on your face in exactly the same spot you were before. But now you're going to try and make a low sound and a high sound.

To get the high note out, you aim your air straighter across and faster. And to get the low note out, you aim the air further down and it's a tiny bit slower. Once you're really good at getting those two notes up, and you can do it whenever you want, you're ready to add the body of the flute. I'm not going to cover how to put the flute together today. There are plenty of YouTube videos already out there for that, so you can just search one of those. But I do want to make sure you know how to balance the flute correctly. So the flute has four balance points. One of them, your left hand makes a little seat for it to sit on. Your right thumb, your right pinky and your face. Those are the balance points of the flute. Note, this thumb is not a balance point. There are too many notes where this thumb is up. It can't hold the weight of the flute.

So the rods on the flute are heavy. Your flute's going to want to fall back on you. If you notice that happening a lot, like when you're playing a C and your thumb is up, then we need to work on your right hand thumb position. Your thumb ... A lot of people tends to put their thumb really far forward, but that bends your wrist into a weird position. So you want your thumb to be actually pretty far back, more behind your flute, pushing it forward, than under it, supporting it. Because if it's just under, that's when your keys fall back on you. If your thumb is more towards the back, pushing it forward, then your keys are more likely to stay up. To find where your thumb should go horizontally, you're going to completely relax your hands by your side, completely relax, shake them. Don't even think about it. And then, just look down and notice where your thumb is in relationship to your other fingers. For me, anytime I just completely relax my hand, my thumb is a little bit outside my fingers. For most people it's like right under their first finger.

Some people it's under their middle finger. You just want to find wherever it's most relaxed, and then you want to be as close to that position as possible on the flute. So your thumb is going to be, for me, a little bit outside my first finger and a little bit back. If your thumb was most relaxed under your middle finger, it'd be way over here. If it was under your first, it'd be right there. So you just want to customize that to how your hand is. We're not trying to make cookie cutter flute players here. Then make sure you can play a stable note with lots of fingers down, like a D. And if everything feels nice and secure, go up a note. Just pick up one finger at a time until you get to C.

If you can get all the way to the C, without your flute falling over, then you found a good hand position. One of the most important resources you're going to need is a good fingering chart. Remember, the fingerings for each note, usually change each octave. G and A are the same for a couple octaves, but D is different in every single octave. And if you're trying to play high notes with the same fingerings as the middle or low notes, they're going to sound bad. And it's not because of your air or your face or anything you're doing there. It's just because you're using the wrong fingerings. So make sure if you're not sure about a fingering for a note, always double check a fingering chart. I highly recommend the one by Jennifer Cluff. I will link to it below. She is a really well known flute pedagogue. Her blog is a just a treasure trove of resources and tips. So definitely check her out.

I also highly, highly, highly recommend looking at the Top 10 Secrets of Great Flute Playing that she has. Anytime I do a high school masterclass, or I go teach a sectional somewhere, I bring that and give it to everybody and we go over it, because there's just so many good tips in there. I am going to link below some of the best easy flute music here on Virtual Sheet Music. Some of them are free, some of them are free if you're a member, so it's a really great resource, and all of them are really fun to play. There's some great classical tunes that you will absolutely recognize like Ave Maria. There's some really fun Irish music too, that is always a hit with my students. is another resource for great free sheet music.

If you're more advanced, you could check out they have a whole ton of sheet music that's in the public domain. Last thing you should do if you're picking up flute and feeling like you're getting pretty halfway decent at it, is to Google your city flute choir. That was one of the first things I did when I found out where I was moving in Colorado. And I immediately found a really great flute choir and started playing with them. And it's been such a blast.

Even though they won't be meeting in person right now, they probably have a Facebook group or a email chain that they could add you to, and you could get some tips from the other players in your specific area, and start forming those relationships and connections. I know in my flute choir, we have several members who didn't play flute for 30 years, and then when they retired, they were like, "Maybe I should play flute again,." And they're rocking it. It's so fun to have them in our flute choir. So you should definitely look up if there's a flute organization in your state or your city. And I'm sure you could find some really great, helpful connections that way.

I hope you enjoyed the video. Be sure to follow me on Instagram @spencermusicstudio for more flute tips. And I'll see you in the next video. Bye.

Erin's Six Tips at a glance:

1: Go easy on yourself!

2: Start making a sound with the headjoint only

3: Balance the flute correctly

4: Consult a good fingering chart frequently.

5: Play fun, simple music that you love.

6: Find a flute choir or club in your city.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ben Smith on November 30, 2020 @1:08 pm PST
Hi, my wife played flute to a pretty high level but stopped around 15 years ago. I'm hoping to surprise her at Xmas as she's said she wanted to get back in to it.would you be able to advise me where to start in terms of buying her another flute? I want to get one that isn't expensive to start with just I'm case I've taken the hints wrong haha. Thank you
Erin Spencer - host, on November 30, 2020 @4:16 pm PST
What a great gift!! If she played at a pretty high level, she'd want a good quality flute. Yamaha or Jupiter are great brands for entry-level flutes, that's what I recommend my students start with.

If you'd rather not spend that much money, you could look into renting a flute from a local music store. It's a great option that's way cheaper but would let her see if she's enjoying playing again before purchasing a nicer one. Many of my students rent. Just try to get a Yamaha or Jupiter if you can!
Diana Irving * VSM MEMBER * on September 6, 2020 @10:01 am PST
Great video! Thanks for taking the time to explain some of these basic things to check on our flute(s) to get best results.
Erin Spencer - host, on September 7, 2020 @5:31 am PST
Thanks for watching, Diana! Glad It was helpful.
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