The Flute Show - flute expert

How to Play Loud and Soft on the Flute

Learn an important lesson of the flute technique from Prof. Florence Estrin

In this video, Florence and Robert talk about playing loud and soft on the flute by featuring the lovely Fantaisie for flute and piano by Philippe Gaubert.

Released on January 7, 2015

Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
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

Robert: Hi, and welcome to the Flute Show with Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin, here on Today is a viewer question. "How do you play loud and soft on the flute?" After all, dynamics are so intrinsic to music, and it might be difficult for those of you struggling to play loud and soft, particularly to maintain the pitch because you blow harder, you think the pitch will go up. How do you control such a thing? Florence, maybe you could talk about this.

Florence: Thank you. Yes. Well, it's true. On a flute, if you just simply blow harder without compensating at all, the pitch will go up. So when you're playing, you want to control the notes with your lips, and you don't want to do it by tilting your head in or out. You want to do it by controlling the lips. I use the sides of my lips to direct the air either into the flute more, which will bring the pitch down or help stabilize it if you're using more air, or bring the corner forward to get softer and keep the pitch up.

A great exercise that I do every single day, as you know, are long tones, where I basically start with the C, third space C, and I do from quiet to loud to quiet, so complete crescendo, decrescendo on that C. Then I go down to the low C and do exactly the same thing with the dynamics. Then I go 2 octaves up to the C right above the staff and do the same thing.

Why it's important to do it that way, as opposed to just going through the different notes, is because you can compare the pitch of the octaves and listen to it that way. Now after I do the Cs, then I go to C-sharp and do the same thing on the middle C-sharp, the low C-sharp, and the C-sharp above the staff. I go through the entire flute, up until I get up to high-B. Then, for those of you with a low-B, you can then go all the way down to the very lowest note of the flute and to the crescendo/decrescendo on that.

One thing, I want to comment on why this is such a powerful exercise. It not only helps you learn how to control the dynamics, but it also improves your tone, and it just does it in such an efficient way.

Many years ago, I had a situation where my piccolo head joint cracked. It just wouldn't work at all. I called . . . I had a Haynes piccolo, and I called the Haynes company. As luck would be it, they were on their way to a flute convention and said, "We can't send you anything. We have to bring them all to the convention. So in about two weeks' time, we can send you a piccolo head joint."

So I was without a piccolo head joint, and I'm thinking, "Now how am I going to compare piccolo head joints and select one in two weeks, when I have not had the opportunity to be practicing the piccolo that whole time?"

So I did my long tones first thing in the morning when I get up. I do my practicing for the day. Maybe I do whatever I was doing that day. Before I went to bed every night, I'd do my long tones yet again. I did this consistently for those two weeks.

When I went, I actually went to Boston to try the head joints. I got there. I took my big excerpt book with all the different piccolo excerpts from the orchestra literature, and I started just playing through a lot of them with the different head joints. There was nothing that I could not do, until I bought the head joint, came home, and tried to actually get through a concerto and realize I didn't have the same endurance, but I had the control.

I was able to play all the different excerpts I was trying, which I think is a very powerful statement about how great these long tones are in helping with flute playing and piccolo playing and all the related instruments.

Robert: It doesn't help me at all on the piano.

Florence: Okay. Well, I'm going to start doing the exercise and show you how it works.

[Flute playing]

Then I would move on to C-sharp and do just three octaves, and then D and so forth. So why are dynamics so important is that we use them in music all the time. It's one of the most expressive tools we have, that along with vibrato and just our general interpretation.

So I have this lovely piece by Philippe Gaubert, "Fantasy," and I think the first three and a half lines show quite a bit about how important dynamics can be.

Robert: Let's play something for everyone.

[Piano and flute playing]

I wish I could play the rest of it for everyone. Perhaps in another flute show, we will do some more performances. Are there any last words of advice you have for people about long tones and developing sound and dynamics on the flute?

Florence: Well, I would say the most important thing is the consistency of doing them every day, and don't be discouraged because when you first start doing them, you sound terrible because you're discovering how to do it and listening. You can hear when you're out of tune, but you can't quite control it yet.

I remember when I first was learning how to do these, and I was at a lesson with your uncle. The first time that I mastered being able to do the highest C in the beginning of the long tones, that third one that I did for you, which is actually quite a difficult note to control, and I remember because I hadn't quite been able to get it at home. I was doing it, and I just kept thinking, "Just bring the corners forward more, more. Just keep doing it and keep the air support and everything."

It just worked. It finally worked. I remember my flute teacher, your uncle, actually jumping up and down, saying, "You did it. You did it. You did it." He knew because I got the concept. It was very gratifying, but it took a while to be able to do that. That's why you hate to lose being able to do it. Why skip a day or two? Because then you go back to it, and it's like, "Oh, it's so much work again."

Robert: That's why you have your vacation flute.

Florence: I do. I have an inexpensive flute that I take with me, so that when we do go out and have fun, I'm not afraid to leave it in the hotel room.

Robert: So that's good advice for all of you out there. Get a vacation flute, for those who play flute. Anyway, it's been a real pleasure bringing these shows to you. Thank you, Florence Estrin, for the flute show. I'm Robert Estrin. We'll see you next time, here on
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Anne-Marie * VSM MEMBER * on January 7, 2015 @10:17 am PST
Thank you for a great lesson. I am so exited that I found this web site and became a member. Thank you very much
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on January 7, 2015 @5:01 am PST
I really enjoyed that. I am a clarinet learner who Has recently started doing daily longtones, different notes but the same philosophy. Very well done. Might we get a 'clarinet expert' one day?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on January 7, 2015 @10:41 am PST
Glad you enjoyed it! Well, we plan to add more experts covering most of the instruments in the coming months... we really hope to be able to do that. Thank you for your nice comment.
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.