How to Flute:
A Beginner’s Guide to Playing the Flute

About the Flute

Simple system flutes are traditionally made of wood. The flute made in this project is made of plastic but has the same basic layout as keyless flutes used in traditional folk music. These flutes use the simple system, so named because of the simple finger patterns used to produce a major scale. All simple system flutes have six holes which can be covered by the player’s fingers to change the note played. Many simple system flutes also use keys to reach additional notes outside of their major scale and to play in other keys. Through the use of the “cross” fingerings shown, it is possible to play in other major keys as well as the relative minor key associated with each major key.

Holding the Flute

The first step in learning to play the flute is to establish a comfortable playing position. Hold the flute horizontally and extended to your right. With your left hand palm facing you, cover the three holes closest to the embouchure (the hole you blow into) with your index, middle and ring fingers. Use your right hand to cover the lower three holes in the same way, but with your palm facing away from you. You should be able to comfortably hold the flute with all of the holes uncovered even while not in playing position by balancing the flute with your thumbs, right pinky and the side of your left index finger.

Getting a Sound

The note played when all finger holes are uncovered is generally the easiest to play. Hold the bottom edge of the embouchure to your bottom lip. With your lips tightly drawn together and the corners of your mouth firm, blow a focused stream of air towards the opposite edge of the hole. Keep changing how you blow into the embouchure (where your blowing the air stream and how focused the stream is) while also rotating the flute towards and away from you until you get a steady and clear tone.

Playing the Flute

Once you can play your first note comfortably and consistently, start trying to reach lower notes using the fingerings shown on the fingering chart. You will also have to change how you blow into the embouchure by blowing more down into the hole with a wider, slower stream of air. This requires only a subtle change, but without it you won’t be able to sound notes with a consistent and clear tone throughout the scale. To get a better feel for these changes, try playing from the highest note in the first octsve (all holes uncovered) down the scale to the lowest note in that octave. Since the change is progressive as you move to adjacent notes, the scale should help to lead you through the changes in your lip positioning. Play the second octave by blowing a faster and narrower stream than with the first octave, while using the fingerings illustrated on the fingering chart. The second octave is generally more difficult to play quietly and in control than the first octave, but otherwise, is very similar to the first octave. It is possible to “bend” the pitch being played by rotating the flute away from you to raise the pitch, and rotating it towards you to lower the pitch. You can control volume by the amount of air you use. Don’t worry if you don’t read music. Once you can play a scale, try improvising your own tunes by playing up and down the scale with different rhythms. You can also jump around the scale to add more variety. Keep trying different combinations of notes and rhythms to find what sounds good. Many musicians learn tunes by playing what they hear. This requires a good ear for music, but is also a rewarding way to learn and play melodies. The best way to improve your playing is to put the flute somewhere that you will see it and play whenever you have some extra time.

Flute Care

Since these flutes are made of plastic, it will not warp or crack with changes in humidity. You may want to periodically clean the inside of the flute to wipe away moisture and dust.

Fingering Chart

This generic fingering chart works for all simple system flutes in all keys. The lowest note possible is to the left with higher notes following as you move farther to the right on the chart.