Is The Flute Hard to Play?

Aug 06, 2018

I get asked this question a lot.

So you’re about to learn EXACTLY what I teach beginner flute students in their first few lessons, and you can judge for yourself if the flute is hard to play!

By the way, I’m glad you’ve found this post. Because it’s going to change your (flute playing) life...

So how difficult is the flute really to play?

I wholeheartedly believe that awesome progress on the flute is not really about "just practicing more".

It's about learning the little "secrets" of amazing flute teaching technique that makes things just "click".

And when things click, this then snowballs into finding the flute easier and easier, and sounding better and better.

"Why didn't my old teachers explain it like that to me?! It's so easy now!"

- said by an exasperated, and relieved student, Antonia

Small, but clever changes to flute technique - with huge results.

The Flute Teachers School shows a different way to get better at the flute.

I love showing flute players (and their teachers!) how small and smart changes to technique make playing and teaching the flute not only easier, but totally amazing.

If I sound excited about teaching the flute, it's because I am...

My name is Jane Cavanagh and having travelled the world learning the flute, I now live and teach in my hometown of Sydney, Australia. That's me above, in all those video screenshots!

I love the efficiency of knowing how small changes to someone's flute technique makes a huge difference to their playing!

They are skills that I have learned over 22 years of teaching (including 15 years of professional playing) while learning from the best of the best teachers - mostly in Paris (as an adult) and Sydney (as a child).

You can read more about my background here...

If you’d like to stay in touch with me, click here.

The people who say the flute is hard to play are often the people who don’t know how to play it very well!

But I do not blame them for one second. 99% of the time, it’s been the teaching that they received that was not up to scratch.

And I (mostly) don’t blame the teachers either! Teachers just know what they know. They don’t always have the time to further their own knowledge and teaching skill. Mostly, they’re just doing their best.

The sad news is however, it’s the student who ends up suffering! A student taught by a teacher who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, ends up feeling that the flute is super hard to play. Sometimes to the point of giving it up. Which makes me sad.

Difficulty 1 - Learning the Lingo

Some people say that music is a language like any other, and often times beginning flute students can attest to this. Regardless of what instrument you decide to play, learning how to read music will be the first major obstacle you’ve got to tackle, and sometimes it can feel as hard as if you’re trying to learn ancient Greek! First off, you’ve got to worry about the whole slew of unusual symbols that are being thrown at you - from staves, to notes, to dynamic markings, and beyond. Learning what these symbols mean and how they relate to you and your flute playing can be difficult to say the least. Investing some time in learning the basics of music theory will do wonders for improving your ability to read and understand music. Secondly, you’ve got to get used to the fact that any number of foreign languages may be used in your music as well, although the most common ones will be French, German, and Italian. The best way to deal with these unfamiliar terms is usually memorization, in which case a dictionary of musical terms may come in handy. 

Difficulty 2 - Standing Out in a Crowd

If you’re learning to play the flute for pure enjoyment, then this difficulty may not be of much interest to you, but if you have any plans of playing the flute in the orchestra or band world, you’ll need to get used to the fact that there are lots (and I mean lots) of flute players out there, which means that it will be that much harder to stand out from the crowd and make a name for yourself. In most major orchestras, if a flute position becomes available, upwards of 50 flutists will audition for the spot! To overcome this challenge you’ve got to do two seemingly contradictory things. Number one, you’ve to practice until you can give a fantastic performance. Not a decent one, and not even a great one - a fantastic one. Secondly, you’ve got to stop worrying so much about how you sound compared to others. Playing the flute is a learning experience, and as literally every flute player on the planet can tell you, sometimes you just don’t get the gig no matter how hard you practice. The best course of action is to hunker down and do what you need to do to sound your best and have the faith that eventually someone will see the unique greatness in your playing.

Difficulty 3 - Learning to Breathe

Breathing is something we do from the moment we are born without ever needing to be taught. However, learning to breathe properly on the flute is a different story. Poor breathing habits can lead to flute playing problems that range from not being able to sustain a note more than a few seconds to feeling quite lightheaded and dizzy. Some breathing problems are unavoidable, since the flute is one of the instruments that takes the most air to play - you’ll definitely be needing a breath before the oboist sitting beside you who’s seemingly playing on and on forever. However, many of these breathing difficulties can be remedied with proper technique. For one, never take shallow breaths when playing the flute. Instead, work on some deep breathing techniques that will show you how to fill your lungs from the bottom up. While some respiratory issues can potentially interfere with your breathing, for most flute students it’s just a matter of learning to utilize their full lung capacity.

Difficulty 4 - Ledger Lines as Far as the Eye Can See

If you’ve spent any time playing the flute, then you’re probably quite familiar with ledger lines - the lines above or below the “official” staff. One of the problems that comes with playing an instrument with such a wide and high range is that the notes you’re capable of playing cannot be contained in the treble clef staff alone, so composers must turn to ledger lines.

Reading these notes on the flute can be tricky because you may be dealing with upwards of four, five, or six extra lines, and by that point, the notes can all start to look the same. This is something that you’ll just have to practice your way through. It will be confusing at first, but over time flutists become quite adept at interpreting ledger lines because they’re exposed to them so often.

If you’re still thinking "Is the flute hard to play?", I’m pretty darn sure I could make it easier for you! I’m not arrogant, I promise, I just know how to make playing the flute much much easier for students.

How to Instantly Improve Your Flute Tone

Come and join me (for free!) to learn the 3 simple tweaks that give you an instantly clearer sound.

Yes please!