Introduction to Tone Color Production
Beginning Flute Basics
Playing on the Headjoint
The flute is comprised of three primary parts: the headjoint, the middle joint, and the footjoint.
Prior to assembling the entire instrument, it is beneficial for the beginning student to first learn how to successfully make a sound using only the headjoint. The first step in this process is to make sure that the lip plate is properly aligned in proportion to the student’s lips. The lip plate should be aligned so as to allow the edge of the bottom lip to touch the inner edge of the tone hole, with the center of the lips in line with the center of the tone hole. Since every student possesses a unique set of lips with their own individual characteristics, these instructions should be taken as an approximations rather than an absolute rules. Ideal placement should allow for the bottom lip to cover approximately 1/3 of the tone hole. For example, those with smaller lips may need to place the edge of the tone hole higher on the lip, while smaller lips may necessitate a slightly lower placement. Additionally, if the student has a “teardrop,” the lip plate should be shifted slightly off center, so as to avoid obstruction from the upper lip.
Once proper placement of the lips is achieved, the student is ready to begin the first steps towards embouchure setup and the production of their first sounds on the headjoint. It is especially helpful to have the student use a mirror in working on lip placement and embouchure setup. The student should first practice saying the syllable “pooh,” first away from the headjoint, and then with the headjoint in place. The corners of the lips should remain relaxed—no pulling or tightening—with the bottom lipping moving slightly forward. Repeat the syllable “pooh” with the headjoint, until a sound is achieved. Once the student begins to produce a sound, work on sustaining the sound by taking a long, slow breath in through the mouth, and then saying the “pooh” syllable. Once the student is able to produce a sound on the headjoint with consistency, have them attempt to play the pitch one octave higher. The student may also experiment with using the palm of their right hand to cover the open end of the headjoint, and producing the A an octave lower. Instruct them only to use more air to produce the upper notes rather than delving into detailed embouchure concepts—at this very early stage, it is best to allow the student to begin to develop these ideas naturally.
Assembling the Flute
Once the student is able to confidently and consistently produce a sound on the headjoint, they will be ready to learn their first notes on the flute. The first step in this process is to teach them how to correctly and safely assemble the instrument. It is especially important with younger students to emphasize the fact that the flute is made of delicate material that can easily be bent, and that they must work slowly and carefully in assembling each part of the instrument. The student should begin by attaching the headjoint to the body. This should be done by holding the barrel (topmost portion of the body) in one hand, and using a gentle twisting motion to push the open end of the headjoint into the top of the body. Once in place, the headjoint should be adjusted so that the center of the tone hole is in line with the center of first key. Lastly, the footjoint should be attached. While still holding onto the barrel, the student should gently wrap their other hand around the middle of the footjoint, holding the bottom two keys closed. They should then attach the top of the footjoint to the botton of the body, using the same gentle twisting motion that was used to attach the headjoint. Finally, the student should adjust the footjoint so that the metal rod running along the side of the footjoint is in line with the center of the last key on the body.
In learning to hold the flute, the student should focus on utilizing the three main balance points: the left index finger, the right thumb, and the chin/lip. The student should make a “C” with the thumb and index finger of their left hand. They should then place their “C” so that the pad of the index finger sits on top of the second key, and the tube of the flute rests on the B key. The flute should then rest on the “ledge” created by the left index finger, near the base of the finger. The student should then make a backward “C” with the thumb and index finger of their right hand (the thumb should be pointing toward them). The pad of the right index finger should be placed on the top of the third key from the bottom of the middle joint, and the tube of the flute should rest on the thumb (the thumb should be pointing away from them). With the left hand index and thumb still in place, skip one key and then place the middle and ring fingers on the next two keys; the pinkie should be placed on the lever key. With the right hand index and thumb still in place, place the middle, index, and pinkie on the next three keys (pinkie should be on the first key on the footjoint).
L Th = Left Thumb L1 = Left Index L2 = Left Middle L3 = Left Ring L4 = Left Pinkie
R Th = Right Thumb R1 = Right Index R2 = Right Middle R3 = Right Ring R4 = Right Pinkie
Once the fingers are properly in place, the student should bring the flute toward them, positioning the instrument so that the lip plate is properly aligned. The student should be sitting up straight in their chair, feet flat on the ground, with their head up and facing forward. The elbows should remain relaxed (the right end of the flute may be angled just slightly downward), with the right thumb “pushing” the flute slightly away from the body.
First Notes and Basic Articulation
At this point, the student is ready to learn their first notes on the flute. Recommended first notes for the beginning flutist are C, B, and A, in the middle-low range of the instrument. The fingerings for these pitches are fairly simple, and they speak relatively easily for a beginning student. Using the same concepts practiced in playing on the headjoint, the student should finger each of these pitches and then attempt to play each note using the “pooh” syllable.
Once the student is able to produce these pitches with consistency, they should begin to transition from the “pooh” syllable to true flute articulation. The student should first practice saying the syllable “dah,” taking note of where the tongue hits—behind the teeth, just in front of the ridge on the roof of their mouth. The student should then practice the same process for note production that they have been working on, replacing “pooh” with “dah” to begin each note. When they are able to successfully do this, they may begin to learn simple, three note songs (ex. “Mary Had a Little Lamb”).