The Flute Show - flute expert

Warming-Up Your Flute

How to warm-up your flute? Watch and learn!

In this video, Florence tells you why and how to warm-up your flute before practicing and performing.

Released on December 2, 2015

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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

Robert: Hi and welcome to the flute show with Florence Estrin. I am Robert Estrin, your host. Today's subject is how to warm up your flute. Now the first thing you might wonder is, why do you have to warm up your flute anyway? Well I know actually a little bit about this, being a french horn player, but let's hear from Florence about warming up your flute. Some tips and tricks that you may have learned along the way, and the importance of it. Why do you even have to?

Florence: Okay, well first of all, the flute, normally most flutes are silver. Mine has a little bit of gold in the head joint, or a lot of gold in the head joint. These metals conduct cold and hot. So if your flute becomes very, very cold, actually it affects the way it plays. Actually quite significantly. It actually changes the pitch, it lowers the pitch when the flute is very cold.

Let me tell you one story. This happened to me many years ago when I was living back east and my sister was giving her master's degree recital in double bass at Yale University. One of the pieces she was playing, I was playing with her, it was a duet for the two of us.

Robert: That is an interesting instrumentation.

Florence: It was originally written for that. Sydeman duo for flute and double bass. It was a fun piece. But anyway, we got to this cavernous hall at Yale, which is all these massive stones, the buildings are all made of this really beautiful limestone, I believe. We get in there, because this is the only event going on on this particular day, they didn't have the heat on. This is January in Connecticut, okay? We're trudging through the frozen snow, and we get there, walk into the building, and it's like "Oh my, it feels about the same temperature as outside." So somebody finds the thermostat, turns the heat on, but it's a huge hall. So obviously it is not instantly getting very warm.

I pulled my flute out, played a note, and a friend of mine, who had perfect pitch was with me and said, "Why are you playing in A flat?" and I said, "I'm playing in A." That is how low my flute was playing from the cold. So I am like, "Oh my goodness, how about I going to deal with this? Because I have to play with another instrument, we have to play in tune." So I went backstage and I'm trying to warm up the flute.

Robert: How do you usually warm up a flute?

Florence: Normally you don't have such an extreme situation. So say you're sitting in an orchestra, and you have a long stretch without any playing, and then you're going to come in and play, and you need to play in tune. You don't want to have to be lipping up, you want to be able to play normally. Well if you can get the flute warm with your breath. It is also important that you do it in a way that does not make a lot of noise. I have seen a lot of flute players do this. Well that is totally inappropriate on the stage. Instead you just very gently blow into the flute, cover all the keys so you're playing a low B or a low C, so that everything is closed, so that all the air is just going through the tube, and just very very slowly.

Robert: Pretty much silent.

Florence: That's right. And I can actually feel, even here, where we're not in a very cold environment. I can actually feel the difference in the tube, I can start feeling it warm up. So that is the way to warm up the flute. Now my trick, when we had that situation at Yale, because you might say, "Well that wouldn't work for that situation." is I went backstage and found a radiator, an old style radiator, that I actually just leaned my flute against, which warmed the whole thing up. Then I'm thinking, "What's going to happen when I go out on stage?" And the stage lights were low enough and hot enough, that it kept the flute warm enough that it lasted through the performance. And then I just froze through the rest of the concert, sitting in the audience.

The other thing I want to point out is it is not just a matter of warming up your flute before practicing, or playing. Obviously if you're going to play a concert, you want to warm up, you want to be ready to play. But even if you're just about to practice. A lot of people live in cold environments in the winter. Or maybe they're in a place with really cold air conditioning. And you're backstage, your hands are like ice, plus when you're nervous, sometimes it makes it worse. Well guess what you can do. You can find a restroom, you can find hot water. If you can find a place where you can actually fill the sink, so that you're not just pouring hot water, you just get it nice and warm and you keep your hands in there and warm them up. Because you will play better if your hands are warmed up.

Robert: I can tell you from playing french horn another concern, and tell me if this is also something on the flute. You're sitting there and your horn gets cold, and as soon as you start to play, your breath condenses and then you've got the gurgling the water gets into it and condenses instantly, so you want to keep the horn warm so that you don't get water collecting. Is that also a factor in the flute?

Florence: It's a very big factor on the piccolo, it's a big factor on the flute too, because it gets kind of waterlogged. You're not going to get the same gurgling that you do on a french horn, or even an oboe. An oboe sometimes, it will get trapped in the key and it will make horrible sounds. But with the flute, it can get bad enough, especially if you're playing for an extended amount of time, like an opera or something. The moisture can collect right here, in the smallest tone hole opening and guess what, it is like having that closed then. So it could literally take a C sharp down to a C, because that is the difference between the two.

Now on the piccolo, we have smaller tone holes and a much smaller instrument with this happening. So even though my piccolo is a wood piccolo, so we don't have the same cold, compared to warm breath, it constantly is collecting moisture. Especially when you're playing the high notes in the third octaves, it collects more and it can really totally destroy a performance.

One of the things you can do in that situation is first of all I always have a cleaning cloth there. When I'm not playing in the orchestra, I am taking it and I'm swabbing it out. And there are these papers that you can get from music stores that are very thin and you can put them under the key and press down, and that will dry the pad. I think it is very important to just get papers, not powdered papers. Because powdered papers, even though they might do the trick quicker, to dry that pad, it is actually putting little pieces of power on that pad, and that's abrasive, so it will wear out your pads sooner.

Robert: Well this is really good advice, it is not just to be able to make the instrument respond better and better in tune. But it is also holistic, does it make you feel good when you play. So it has many benefits. And I'm sure this transfers to many instruments, even pianists want to warm up your hands before you play so you don't do damage.

Thanks for this great information, I am sure everybody appreciates it. Thanks once again Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin. We will see you next time here on, the flute show.
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