Playing the flute is vastly rewarding. It’s fun and produces a beautiful sound if you know how to play it correctly. But figuring out how to get a clear sound on a flute can be easier said than done. With a little practice and following a few steps, you can learn to play and sound like a pro.
Hopefully, you have decided to teach your kids music lessons or at the very least found someone to do so. If you are teaching yourself or your child to play the flute, one of the first things to learn is how to blow into it. The flute is one of the more difficult instruments to produce a sound, especially a nice crisp, sharp sound that’s not airy. But once you learn the correct way to blow into one it’s like riding a bike, you won’t forget how to do it.
Learn The Correct Blowing Position
Learning how to blow into a flute and produce any sound at all is the most difficult part of playing one. So how do you get a sound on the flute?
Use Your Finger
This may seem a little odd but hear me out. Using your finger can help you achieve the correct angle for your airstream as you blow.
To start, place your hand out in front of you about six inches. Blow a steady stream of air at your hand. If you use the right amount of force as you blow, you will feel the airstream on your hand. Should very little or no air be felt on the hand, blow harder and more direct, like blowing out birthday candles on a cake. That is the amount of force and direct stream of air needed to produce a clear sound on the flute
Next, place one index finger just below the bottom lip with the first and second knuckles centered on the opening when blowing as described above. Now blow again, this time blowing across the finger. You shouldn’t feel much on the finger just yet. But make sure the same force is used as before.
Now blow slightly downward with the same force and airstream. If done correctly, you should feel that solid airstream down across the outside of your finger. This is the correct blowing position to produce a sound on the flute.
Play the “Bottle” Flute
The “bottle” flute is a term coined by my youngest and it stuck. It’s a reference to a pop bottle, water bottle, or similar type bottle with a small mouth opening. Be careful to choose something on the smaller size as it will make things easier. Glass is even better.
After all the liquid is gone from the bottle, it can be played as an instrument in the same way a flute is played. Put the bottle up to your lip so it remains level. Don’t tip it like it was being drunk. The opening of the bottle should be parallel with the ground and centered just below the lower lip just like the index finger was in the last step.
Blow down and across the bottle opening just as you did across your finger. The bottle should produce a solid mellow sound. If no sound is produced, adjust the bottle in small increments, making sure it’s level and centered. If that doesn’t work, go back to just using your index finger to get the correct blowing position and airstream direction. Then try the bottle again.
Continue using the bottle to get the correct flute lip position (or embouchure). Using the bottle will help keep the focus on just how the mouth should be shaped, the direction of the air, and the force needed to produce a sound.
Now it’s time to use an actual flute…
How to Position Your Lips on a Flute
To correctly position your lips on the flute, start with just the head joint. Leave the other pieces safely in the case for this step. The head joint has a few different parts to it. I won’t get into all of them and what they do in this post, but the one to take note of is the lip plate. That is where we will focus.
The lip plate has a hole in it. This is obvious but that is where you will produce sound. Place the head joint so the larger side of the lip plate is just below your lower lip. The open end of it should be pointing to the right. It should be in the same location as the bottle and your finger was.
The hole in the lip plate should be centered with your lips. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but in fact, is one of the most important things when playing the flute. Lip position cannot be ignored.
Getting a Sound on Flute
By now you should have a better idea of how to get a clear sound on a flute. So it’s time to put all these things to use. Once the head joint is positioned at your mouth, try blowing down and across the opening just like the bottle and finger. There will be a sound produced if done correctly.
If there is no sound when blowing across the hole make minor adjustments by rolling the head joint back and forth so the air is blowing high across the hole more or low and into the hole. Make sure the hole is centered and positioned correctly. If slight adjustments fail to produce a sound go back to the bottle and get a sound out of it. This will remind you of the embouchure.
Then get the head joint back out and try again. Don’t forget the basics. It is possible to get a sound out of a flute even if you don’t think you are cut out for it. Just take it slow and don’t give up.
How to Get a Clear Sound on a Flute
Now that you are getting a sound out of the head joint, or even if you have been playing for a while, it’s time to tweak things to get a clearer sound. You might be wondering if it’s even possible or just thinking to yourself “How?” To get a clear sound on a flute requires minor adjustments in one’s embouchure.
It’s common for a beginning flute player to have a very airy sound. However, an airy sound is less than desirable as one continues playing. To produce a better sound quality there are a few things you can do.
For starters, try making your embouchure hole smaller. This is sometimes all it takes to get that clearer sound. When I was young and learning, my dad would often tell me I sounded airy. I would try tightening my lips just slightly and generally, the sound improved.
If tightening down your embouchure doesn’t help you may simply need to adjust the placement of the lip plate. Moving it up or down slightly can get the desired results. It’s easy to have the flute just slightly off when putting it up to your lips resulting in an airy unwanted sound. Simply getting to the right spot will fix the issue.
Finally, one thing most people won’t think about that I discovered by making the mistake myself is using chapstick. Don’t use chapstick right before playing the flute. By all means, use it at other times during the day. Just wait to play for a little while after putting some on, or make the decision to do your playing and then immediately follow it with chapstick. It sounds crazy but it makes a big difference.
To play the flute or any wind instruments for that matter, proper breathing technique is important. It’s difficult to play an instrument without air support and to get that you need to breathe properly.
When playing wind instruments, you need to breathe low. That means to use the diaphragm which is a large muscle at the base of the rib cage just above the abdomen. When the diaphragm expands, it allows the lungs to fully expand as well. This allows for better support when playing wind instruments.
To tell if you are breathing low, stand up and place your hand on your stomach. As you inhale, your hand should move outward. That’s right, your stomach will expand not your chest. If you are breathing too high your shoulders will move upward. Aim for stomach expansion, not shoulder expansion.
Breathing low not only allows for better support but also gives more control. As you exhale, the diaphragm can be used to limit the air going out. If you lack control and always blow at full force a few things can happen.
Overblowing can cause you to go sharp (the pitch is too high). There is a way to adjust the air direction to avoid going sharp when blowing at full force on high notes or to keep from going flat when playing softly. But I’ll save that for a later post as it’s not something to worry about until you’ve mastered the basics.
Blow a Note
By now you should know how to control your airflow by breathing low rather than high, proper mouth placement, and embouchure. So it’s time to play a note. Put the flute together the rest of the way and let’s go!
The first note to learn would be low B flat. It’s not too high or low, making it easier to play in the beginning. Make sure you are properly holding the flute to start. Then press down each index finger, your left thumb, and right pinky. Blow and listen.
If the note sounds you are good and can begin the celebratory dance. If not, adjust the flute. Lip position should be checked. And make sure the keys were fully pressed down.
Begin Teaching Your Kids the Flute Today
Now that the basics of blowing into the flute and producing a clearer sound are down, begin teaching your child. It will take time and some practice but they can learn to do it. If you follow the steps above there isn’t a reason you can’t include the flute in music lessons for your kids.
Learning to play full force with a clearer tone and confidence is a matter of time and practice, but it’s doable. My oldest is learning the Saxophone and has tried getting a sound out of the flute with very little success in the past. She never gave up and did the things listed above. Now she is getting a sound out of it. Is she going to be the next James Galway? No. But could she play it if she wanted? Absolutely.
So don’t be afraid to teach your kids to play the flute. Begin music lessons with them today!