Woodwinds: flute info - Homepage of FIEP the FLUTE
This site will only work if JavaScript is installed and active. Fiep de Dwarsfluit
  Hello, I am Fiep the Flute and on this page I will give you lots of info and tips how to make us good friends. You can also find me in learn - and playbooks like "FLUTE LESSONS WITH FIEP" by Frits Leffef. They contain much flute info and sheet music with styles of today like pop, rock, latin, jazz, but also classical. There are books for 1, 2 (duet), 3 (trio) and 4 instruments (quartet). Most books have accompaniment on CD, so you can play along with for instance an orchestra.

See woodwinds:flute in the main menu for all flute sheet music (flute sheet music to buy and free music pieces for flute).
  Fiep de Flute
Baroque Music in the Main Menu goes to my article Sence and nonsense about Baroque Music and how to read it from the notation. This article is very useful if you want to learn playing this music (Bach, Mozart, Telemann etc.) but also for instance jazz and pop. Yes, the rules for playing Baroque Music the right way (and hardly nobody does so) are similar to those of jazz and pop!
Here is a nice YouTube film concerning the article:
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    THE FLUTE construction
  Due to its construction and the way the sound is produced, the flute is rated among the woodwinds. The modern flute is made of ebony, grenadilla or an alloy of copper and silver. It can be silver-, gold- or platinum-plated.

A modern flute consists of three parts: The head joint, the body and the foot joint.

In the body and the foot joint you will find the finger holes, which are in case of a metal flute surrounded by the saddle. The holes are closed by means of the keys.
The lip-plate with the air hole is attached to the head joint.

The part of the head joint that is put inside the body, is the tuning slide (less inside makes the tuning lower). The part of the body that is put inside the foot joint is called the tenon.

The body and the foot joint are build cylindrical; the head joint is conical.

the flute
The head joint is closed by a cork, which has an adjust button on it. The distance between the cork and the air hole affects the tuning of the octaves. In most instruments they are in tune if the distance between the cork and a point half way the air hole equals the diameter of the head joint on that point. In many flute cases you will find a wipe stick on which this distance is marked.
With the adjust button you can give the cork the right placement. If you turn it clockwise the cork is pulled towards it. So if the button has come loose due by for instance vibration on your bike on your way to music lessons, do not tighten it too much.
The original flute, or traverso, had 6 small finger holes; like the treble recorder. Today the flute has big holes that are closed with keys directly or by means of levers. This mechanism makes the fingering much easier. It is called Böhmsystem after its inventor Theobald Böhm (1794-1881).
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    THE FLUTE principle
  How the tones are produced 
From its family name "transverse flute" follows that the flute is played transverse. Seen from the player it is hold with the head joint to the left. If the G-key is in line the airhole in the head joint must be in line with it; if not the inner side of the airhole must be in line with the outer side of the first upper key (C).
The tones are produced by:
  • Blowing across the air hole in the head joint, against its outer edge.
  • Changing the tension and position of the lips. This is called the embouchure.
  • Using the keys or finger holes. Closing them, makes the flute in principle longer and by doing so you will get a lower tone (within the range of an octave).
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  Minimum age  
The minimum age for learning to play the flute is approximately 9 years, depending on the strength and length of your arms. Are they too short then you can consider to buy a shorter flute (with a curved head joint).
Maximum age  
Hi, hi, there is not any!
Body condition
Producing a warm sound and a clear attack is not only a matter of good will and regular practise. They also depend on the shape of your innermouth and the placing and shape of teeth and lips:
  • The higher the roof of the mouth, the greater the sound.
  • If there are gaps between the front teeth, or you cannot place the jaws/teeth one on top of the other, you have got a big problem.
  • The positioning of the lips is ideal when the opening between them is small, round and in the center. Some people are not able to do so because the upperlip has no groove in the center but a pointed shape instead. As a result they get 2 openings between the lips or they tend to play sideways. They will never have a warm, beautiful baroque sound and will always have problems with the attack (but still can be world-famous).
  • A large tonque, or lisping, is not a problem if you have got a teacher who knows all about the use of the tonque.
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    LEARNING TO PLAY THE FLUTE purchase flute
  • Buy a new or used flute with perfect closing keys, and with a tenon, tuning slide (see the flute above) and rods that work not loose.
  • Never buy a flute that is too cheep (with an original price less then about 400 US dollars). After a year or so the mechanism, tenon and tuning slide are worn out.
  • Do not buy a flute that is too expensive (original price approximately between 400 and 1000 US dollars). What they offer more is not worth the money.
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    LEARNING TO PLAY THE FLUTE taking flute lessons?
  Do you want to learn to play the flute without taking music lessons? It is an option, but buy at least a book that gives a detailed explanation. There are several flute methods on the market with classical - and folk music. They have however the disadvantage of being old-fashioned and the music is not always interesting. So, if it is more your taste to practise with music of today like pop, rock, latin en jazz, then you will have to buy my beginner flute book "FLUTE LESSONS WITH FIEP". Not only is it very motivating, but also better and faster as a flute method.
The advantage of the help of a flute teacher is faster progress but it is obvious that this will depend on the quality of the teacher. Even composer Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) said it:
"Always try to find the best teacher you can get, even if you have to pay more, because he or she can learn you more in 1 year then a zero in 10 years".
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    LEARNING TO PLAY THE FLUTE flute teacher
  Are you looking for a flute teacher in Apeldoorn, the NETHERLANDS? Frits Leffef is music teacher there and gives flute lessons for beginning and advanced players.
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    How to play the flute? 1. basics
  Most of the next info and tips are from my book "FLUTE LESSONS WITH FIEP". Nevertheless, many of them are not only useful for the beginner. (They are protected by law and you are only allowed to copy them from this Website and only for private use).
From its family name 'transverse flute' follows that the flute is played transverse. Seen from the player it is hold with the head joint to the left.

The tones are produced by:

  • Blowing across the air hole in the head joint, against its outer edge.
  • Changing the tension and position of the lips. This is called the embouchure.
  • Using the keys or finger holes. Closing them, makes the flute in principle longer and by doing so you will get a lower tone (within the range of an octave).
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    How to play the flute? 2. looking after your flute
  Learning to play the flute means also learning to look after it. The flute will repay your care by better and longer working for you.
Assembling and disassembling the flute 
To assemble the parts take the body with care in your left or right hand and put the head joint in by turning it clockwise. Do the same with the foot joint. Turn anti-clockwise for disassembling. The turning will prevent the tuning slide and tenon from wearing irregular and becoming oval. Grease them regularly with vaseline or special grease from the instrument shop.
After that, hold the instrument in front of you with the head joint upward and the upper key of the longest row of keys towards you. Now the air hole in the lip-plate must point at you. If this is not the case, turn the head joint in the correct position. The longest rod of the foot joint must point to the middle of the lowest key of the body.
Don not assemble and disassemble above a floor without a carpet until you have enough experience !
Parking the flute 
There is no need to put the flute in its box when you play it regularly. When you use a flute stand, put the whole at a place where it cannot be knocked over (especially during a break if you play in an orchestra).
Handling the flute-box 
  When opening the box, be sure the lid is on top.
Do not place the wipe cloth in the box on top of the flute when there is hardly any space for it.
Before picking up the box, be sure it is safely locked!
  The adjust button of the flute 
  If this button works loose, often because of transporting the flute (on your bike or in the car), turn it only finger tight. Do not tighten it too much or you may alter the position of the cork, on which it is screwed. This will affect the tuning.
  Cleaning the outside of the flute 
  • Do not polish any metal part of a rather new flute with silver or brass polish. It ruins the protective coat of lacquer and will quicken oxidation. The same goes for prepared silver polish cloth. Rather clean the flute with a shammy (no artificial), using methylated spirits or special lacquer polish for wind instruments (like saxophone and trombone).
  • For spots difficult to reach, use a shammy with a pricker. Do not use cotton buds, because they may scratch.
  • Clean the lip-plate regularly with a damp cloth.
  • Polish with care in order not to bring damage to the springs, which holds the keys open. They are very thin and bent easily. If they come loose from the key, make a little notch on end of a match with your nail and use it to grasp the spring and push it on its place.
up   Cleaning the inside of the flute 
  During play water may condense in the flute. Wipe it with a part of a thick handkerchief or shammy. Cut the part like in the drawing:
  flute wiper
  Use this wipe cloth as follows:
  • Hold the cloth at an angle to the stick and put A in the hole.
  • Fold A back against the stick and clasp it with the with the right forefinger. Hold the other end of the cloth firmly with the left hand.
  • Give the stick a half turn to the right with your right thumb.
  • Fold B with help of your left hand over the tip of the stick and hold it firmly between the left thumb and forefinger.
  • Roll the cloth on the stick by turning the stick to the right with your right thumb and forefinger.
  • Wipe each individual part of the flute. Turn the wiper continuously to the right; otherwise the cloth will unfold itself.
  Using this method the tip of the stick is well covered and it cannot scratch the inside of the flute. Besides that there is enough cloth around the tip to clean the head joint totally.
  Background noise of the keys of the flute 
  If a key makes a sticking sound when you release it, then the pad in it and the edge of the saddle are dirty. Place a piece of blank paper between them, press the key gently and push and pull the paper several times. Does not this do the job, then use a little bit of talcum powder on the paper. If this does not do the job, clean pad and saddle with water or methylated spirits using a small paint brush. Be careful, the pad can be destroyed easily! The cause of dirty keys is often dried spit, which has got there because the flute is held to often with the wrong side up while it is not wiped properly.
  Possible causes of tones that does not sound 
  If you change tones, having different fingerings, and the first tone keeps sounding, then the key of that tone is wet. This is because you held the flute with the wrong side up. Dry it with a piece of blank paper.
The rod casings, to which the keys are attached to, are hold by tiny screws. They can work loose during play, or transportation on your bike. The rod of the B key can also work loose during play. Check this regularly and, if necessary, tighten them with a small screwdriver, but not too much, or the mechanism will bind.
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    How to play the flute? 3. blowing direction and embouchure
  Blowing direction     Fiep says:"Play flute and you can blow a joint without being chased by the police".
If the tones are low you must aim the air high over the lip-plate; the higher the tone the more you have to aim the airflow in the air hole. This is not easy to learn, because it is unnatural. So remind: high tones, nose down; low tones, nose up.
All action of the lips and the lower jaw, needed to play a wind instrument, is called embouchure. It can be divided in the following 4 subjects:
  1. The lower jaw.
    To play you have to place your lower lip against the lip-plate. The lower lip will therefore be pushed inwards and this makes the opening between both lips too big. To prevent this, the lower jaw must be placed in a forward position (more with high notes and less with low notes).

  2. Narrow mouth.
    Pushing the corners of the mouth inwards makes the opening between the lips round. This produces a much warmer tone with no leaking of air. It is not easy to learn; draw in your cheeks, like you want to bite on them, and pretend pronouncing the letter W.

  3. Tension of the lips.
    While playing, the airflow tends to move your lips. To prevent this you must give them tension. The higher the tone, the greater this tension must be.
    The muscles between mouth and nose regulate the upper lip tension. Pull them in a downward-sideward direction. You will feel that mainly just below your nostrils, which are opening.
    The muscles between the lower lip and the chin in front of the canine teeth regulate the lower lip tension, which pushes that lip upwards. Pulling the muscles a little against these teeth will give support.
    Mention that lip tension is highest near the corners of the mouth.

  4. Full lips.
    If the airflow has a thin tubular shape it produces a much warmer tone with no leaking of air. So you must play with fleshy lips. This is accomplished by closing your mouth in a normal way and then turning the inner side of the lips outward.
    If you play with stiff lips, pulling the outside inwards and making the tension around the opening between the lips higher, the airflow gets a cone shape. This produces a thinner tone and leaking of air.

    Remind always: If you must press the lip-plate strongly against your lower lip in order to get a tone, your embouchure is BAD, BAD, uuuh BAD!

Following this rules you must always keep in mind that your lips needs time to develop. So do not hurry and soon you will playing as beautiful as me:
Air Suite Orkest 3 BWV1068 2 (Bach, J.S.)
Give Me One Reason To Understand (Leffef, F.)
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    How to play the flute? 4. positioning of the hands
  Positioning of thumb and fingers of the left hand
Remembering the fingering is easy if you start with the key for the little finger. You will find it halfway the body where it sticks out.
It is in fact a lever that opens or closes a key (see the drawing). Contrary to the fingers the thumb can be placed either on one or two keys: On the double-key (= B-key and a lever are pushed at the same time) or on the B-key (= only the key is pushed). For the time being you must only use the B-key.
Positioning of the left hand
Positioning of the left hand
You must keep your left hand in such a position that the body of the flute rests on an elevation on the inside of your hand just underneath the forefinger. To do so you must place the wrist below the body of the flute while the palm of the hand is lifted straight up. This is not an easy task because the left forearm must be held in a more horizontal position.
Positioning of thumb and fingers of the left hand
Here also the positioning of thumb and fingers is easy to remember when you start with the little finger. It is placed on the first key of the foot joint. In fact this is a lever which opens (when pressed) and closes a key (when released). In almost any case it must be pressed.
The other fingers are successively placed on the nearest big keys of the body.
The thumb is placed underneath the forefinger. This is tricky yet because the little finger is inexperienced. In this stage you may therefore place the thumb more to the right in order to support the little finger.

Remind always: If you must press the lip-plate strongly against your lower lip to prevent that the flute slips off, the positioning of your hands is BAD, BAD, uuuh BAD!
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    How to play the flute? 5. fingering
  The flute has more keys than we have fingers. The system is designed in such a way that there is almost no need to move the fingers along the flute: almost any finger has its own key. So many keys are in contact with others.
Fingerings and the quickest way learning them
The combination of fingers with which a tone is played, is called a fingering. Many students move those fingers, that are not used with a certain fingering, far away from the keys. Try to avoid this from the start and keep the fingers as close to the keys as possible. By doing so you will learn to manage fast runs much sooner and you will prevent stress of the finger, hand and arm muscles. 
Because it is not possible to see the fingers while playing, it is very useful to practice each new fingering "dry". This is done in a sitting position by placing the flute on the right upper leg with the head joint on the left shoulder. Then do the following:
  • Grab a tone you already learned and look very concentrated at the position of each finger. (Describing the position will help a lot). 
  • Make then a picture in your mind of the movement and position of the finger(s) necessary to get the new tone.
  • After that grab the new tone. Alternete the two fingerings in a slow tempo (but with fast movement of the fingers); keep looking! In case more than one finger has to close a key listen carefully whether they are closing together or not.
When you carry out "dry practice" attentively you will notice that 1. it takes only a moment of time, and 2. the fingers are doing there job automatically while playing. This is the essence of what I call the Fiepian Method. I will talk about that later. This method is not only useful for the beginner, but for the advanced player also. It works better, faster and will prevent you from getting RSI.
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    How to play the flute? 6. fingering chart
On the Fingering Chart you will find the most common fingerings for C1 up to B3.
Overzicht fingering flute L= left hand, R = right hand;
1 = thumb, 2 = fore-, 3 = middle -, 4 = ring -, 5 = little finger.
A hyphen (-) between two fingers means 'up to'.
In case of L1 you may also use L1* (not with F#3 and B3).
The right thumb (R1) is not mentioned because it is always be used.
Overzicht fingering flute The picture shows
the position of the
fingers on the flute.
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    How to play the flute? 7. breath control
  The next info is an excerpt from a.o. the books "SPEEL MEE MET FIEP" and "LISTEN, FEEL and THINK" by Frits Leffef (They are protected by law and you are only allowed to copy them from this Website and for private use only).
Abdominal, chest and forced  chest breathing  
The best way to breathe is by abdominal breathing. The principle of abdominal breathing is in fact very simple:
1.   Pull in the lower part of your belly.
  By doing so the bottom of the lungs will be first pushed in. In reaction to this the muscles between the ribs will contract; thus the chest will become narrower and the lungs are pushed in on the side.
  The result is that your lungs become smaller, the air in them will be compressed and thus pressed out: you are breathing out!
2. Relax your belly muscles instantly.
  By doing so the bottom of the lungs will fall down and the volume of the lungs suddenly becomes greater. Consequently the air pressure in the lungs becomes lower than the air pressure outside of the body; thus air will flow into the lungs.
  In reaction to this the muscles between the ribs will relax and now the incoming air can push the ribs away from each other. In this way the lungs can increase their volume on the side. This is breathing in!
The working of the ribs as part of this entire process is called chest breathing. Notice that it goes automatically.
When you ask somebody to take a deep breath, you will see in most cases that he or she will do the opposite: they breathe in with their belly pulled in, and their chest and shoulders pulled up; we call this forced  chest breathing.
  The advantages of abdominal breathing  
  1. Abdominal breathing uses the full capacity of the lungs.
In forced chest breathing the belly is always flattened, and therefore the bottom of the lungs is pushed in while breathing in; thus you will have less air. The ribs can only be moved apart by using great force.
2. In abdominal breathing the muscles from the lower part of the belly are used to deliver breath pressure; the muscles in the chest are kept as relaxed as possible. In doing so there will be no tension in the throat, you can easily prevent the falsetto position, and breath will have the highest speed in the front of the windpipe and the lower part of the inner mouth. These are the right conditions to produce a good warm tone.
  In forced chest breathing the muscles round the bronchi (the pipes that connect the lungs with the windpipe) are used to deliver breath pressure. This causes muscle stress and high blood pressure in the chest, shoulders, neck and head. The throat will become narrow and tense, and will often go into falsetto position; a shrill and nasal tone is the result. This effect will be reinforced by the fact that breath will have the highest speed in the back of the windpipe and the upper part of the inner mouth.
3. Abdominal breathing costs less energy because muscle power is only used for breathing out. Forced chest breathing costs more energy because muscle power is used for breathing out, as well as for breathing in.
4. There are many medical reasons why abdominal breathing is better than forced chest breathing. An important one is the stress reducing effect of abdominal breathing.
  Is it difficult to learn abdominal breathing?  
  In abdominal breathing it is necessary that you can smoothly pull in and relax the lower muscles of the belly. If you are not capable to do this, try the following exercise:
1.  Lie down on your back with your hands firmly flat on the lower part of the belly, just beneath your belly button (Not above it, because then you will push on your stomach!).
2. Breathe slowly in through your slightly opened mouth, while pressing your belly upwards against your hands. When you feel that your belly has reached it utmost position, you musthold your breath a short moment. After that you must pull your belly in as fast as possible while breathing out.
3. Repeat this exercise ten times, do that each day during a week, and you are able to pull in and relax your belly muscles without the help of your hands. You will get quicker results if you do the exercise in the evening, just before you go to sleep. Both when you are in sitting or standing positition, it will help you to relax the muscles when you get the feeling of "letting your belly fall down".
When you play a wind instrument breathing in through the nose in principal trickers forced chest breathing. Only very experienced players are able to do it right, although it even cost them much concentration and energy to combine it with abdominal breathing and to keep the throat open and relaxed. Therefore I strongly advise against it. 
Stresskickers, having with certainty a lot of trouble  with the exercise mentioned above, must practise also just after waking up. While breathing out they must close the mouth slightly so they can hear the airflow.
Super-stresskickers I also advise to practise before going to bed and just after waking up. But they must open the mouth by pulling down the lower jaw. While breathing out they must produce a weak humming sound, as low as possible, way yonder from their throat (don not force it!). Please tell the rest of the family that you are planning to do so (and maybe the neighbours also), for else they might get very strange thoughts about you!
Breathing and the Locomotory Nerve System  
Under normal conditions the Automatic Locomotory Nerve System (ALNS) will regulate automatically all muscle action needed to breathe. When you try abdominal breathing for the first time, it means that you must unlearn forced chest breathing. This will be the biggest problem because abdominal breathing is the opposite of forced chest breathing. So you must learn to think the other way around! 
In the beginning the ALNS will cause you to do it automatically wrong and you will often get a kind of struggling feel in your brain, chest and belly. This is in fact a struggle between the Conscious Nerve System (CNS) and the ALNS. So the problem by starting practising abdominal breathing is, that you must re-program your ALNS in a drastic way. The best and quickest way to do this, is performing an action pattern at a very low tempo while describing each detail of the action in your mind, and giving your ALNS enough time to memorise it all. Thus the ideal way of practising abdominal breathing is playing long notes followed by long rests, while memorising the next diagram:
SILENCE  =  BELLY OUT         =  BREATHE IN        =  REST 
The following exercise is a good example. Play it in an easy tempo (Moderato); use the first count in the measures that only have rests in them to let your belly fall down. Use all the remaining counts for slowly and quietly breathing in.
adem oefening
It is very important to realise that you can only breathe in after you have relaxed your belly. If you do this correctly you will feel the pressure of the incoming air at first behind your belly button. After that, you must feel it going up, pressing under your shoulder blades and making the chest wider on the sides. To make this possible:
  • turn the upper side of your pelvis backward
  • slightly bend your back and shoulders
  • do not let your upper arms rest against the side of your chest; do not even hold them too close to the body, for this also causes tension in your throat and chest muscles. Place them about 50 degrees sideways instead
  • make yourself wider in the shoulders
  • place the toes of your feet slightly outward and spread your legs a little bit; in sitting position somewhat more otherwise your legs will press against your belly preventing a free breath intake
Never let the pressure come so high that you feel it under your breastbone or in the neck, because this induces forced chest breathing. Thus don not pull up your chest and don not straighten your back; at the end of a breath intake you must have the feeling that you have become shorter and wider, in stead of narrower and taller. The audience will be deeply impressed by your presence!
  The Automatic Locomotory Nerve System 
  Finally some important extra remarks about The Automatic Locomotory Nerve System. The ALNS is a part of the brain that can automatically perform most of the muscle actions, needed to move your body. In principal it has learned to perform an action when you execute this action twice. But actions often consist of many sub-actions, all of which must be executed twice.  Beyond that it is not always easy to discover the sub-actions which are involved. So in many cases learning takes more time.
The ALNS can perform many actions simultaneously, unless you switch it to its learning position. In that position it can only learn 1 action and will perform the actions that are already in its memory very uncertain. So it might happen that when you are concentrated (with your CNS) to memorise the correct accidentals of a line of music, you play the wrong rhythm which you just had studied.
Because of this you must make a difference between practising and playing.
Practising is analysing each aspect of a piece of music and showing it in your most proper way to your ALNS (twice).
Playing is staring beyond the horizon and only singing the music in your head (= relax totally, do not want to analyse and control). If you do so than all the things that must occur with your instrument to play that music, will be executed by your ALNS. This goes for the right fingering, embouchure etc. and of course your breath control as well!
  The greater your precision during practising is, and the deeper you can relax while playing, the faster your progress will be with the greatest amount of fun!

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