When it comes to playing the flute there are some useful tricks of the trade that can improve your practice time, and in turn, improve your performing abilities. Keep in mind some of these tips take time to learn and master, which means that you might not see results right away, but if you keep at it and apply them diligently, your playing is guaranteed to improve in the long run. So sit back and get ready to learn some of the most important tips for beginner flute players.
I know what you’re thinking - “If I could play perfectly all the time, then why would I need to practice?!”
However, don’t fret. While this tip is arguably the most important when learning the flute, it’s not that difficult to accomplish. The theory behind practicing perfectly stems from the fact that when we play an instrument, our minds rely heavily on muscle memory - the ways in which the body remembers the movements our muscles must perform in order to play the flute. By relying on our muscle memory to guide our fingers into the correct positions, we allow our mind to focus on more stylistic aspects of playing the flute (dynamics, articulation, etc.), and by practicing perfectly, we minimize our risk of error in a performance because we don’t give our bodies a chance to develop “bad” (i.e. incorrect) muscle memories. To do this requires some dedication during practice time. Break down your music into smaller sections and play them slowly enough that you’re able to play everything correctly - from the right notes to the correct rhythm and dynamics. Once you’ve mastered these smaller sections, begin linking them together and increasing the tempo until you’re playing the entire piece at full speed. This will take some hard work on your part, but there is no more effective way to go from playing the flute like a beginner to playing the flute like a master.
Sure, everyone dreams of playing flashy, crowd pleasing pieces during their career, but when it comes to learning the flute, it’s important that you build a solid foundation before tackling these sorts of difficult projects. Choosing repertoire that is within your playing ability is important for a couple reasons. For one, there’s no scarier feeling for a musician than knowing that you have to perform a piece that you’re not that good at yet. Flubbing through quick runs and arpeggios is not fun for the audience and is downright torture for the musician. Secondly, there’s no better way to destroy your self-confidence and motivation than to play a piece that is much too difficult for you. There is no shame in being a beginner (we all were at one point!), and choosing music that fits your playing abilities is important if you ever want to improve. However, don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t challenge yourself or get complacent in your abilities. Instead, it’s best to pick music that allows you to shine while still testing your limits. For example, if you’re uncomfortable playing in a particular key, find a piece in that key that’s technically easy enough to allow you to focus all your attention on learning the new key signature.
When it comes to learning how to play the flute, there’s a lot of information that you’ll need to remember (and that goes for more experienced flute players too!), so you’ll need to keep your practice time organized as best you can. Purchasing a notebook is a great way to keep up with everything. With it, you can keep track of what scales, warm ups, and pieces you’re working on at the time, as well as any important performance notes that you come up with. While staying organized is a must, it’s important that you don’t go overboard either and start micromanaging every single aspect of your practice time. This is bound to lead to burn out eventually.
It goes without saying that you should be on top of the notes and rhythms in your music, but there is so much more to a performance than just that. Unfortunately for many flutists, they ignore some of the most important aspects of playing, like proper posture and breath support, which in turn causes their sound to suffer. Don’t let that happen to you. The best thing about being a beginner flutist is that you haven’t had enough time to develop any bad habits. Instead, use your formative years to build a strong foundation that includes both musical and non-musical aspects of your playing. The more you practice them, the more posture and breath support become things that you can do correctly without even thinking.
A competitive attitude in itself is not a bad thing, but left unchecked, it can devolve into a cut throat, jealous disposition. When it comes to the flute for beginners, it’s best to take a realistic approach to the flute world—unless you are Sir James Galway or Emmanuel Pahud, there is always going to be someone better at the flute than you are. This is not something that should discourage you from playing the flute, though. Instead, it should discourage you from having an unchecked desire to be the best at everything—those desires rarely end well. It’s better to focus on yourself and how you can reach your personal best. Friendly competition can be a fun and healthy way to stay motivated, but when it comes to the learning the flute, it’s best to leave it at that.