Much progress playing flute

Starting yesterday, I finally returned to practicing flute. I had played very little flute in ten days, as a result of focusing my musical practice almost entirely on soprano recorder for the performance at the Pittsburgh Contras and Squares Holiday Ball on Friday. I did play flute just a little bit at the Holiday Ball, but nothing I needed practice on.

I was surprised how much better I was at flute yesterday (and today) despite no practice in ten days. How did this happen?

My path in improving at flute has been much different from my path in improving at recorder (which I continue to do, practicing alto on Saturday and then playing mostly tenor at the monthly local recorder group meeting on Sunday). I think there are a lot of reasons for the differences.

Physical demands

I feel that the physical demands of the flute have been considerable, such that I have simply required time for my body to adjust. I was limited in what I could do while I was adjusting.

The flute is bigger and heavier than the very light recorders I have focused on (soprano and alto) and holding it is more awkward. My left finger joint and right pinkie take the hit, in particular. Also, when playing the recorder, one does not curl the fingers, but that is correct and necessary for the flute.

The embouchure really needs to be developed. I still feel awkward about playing higher notes with a decent tone and in tune, but that is precisely what has become much better in the past ten days. It’s taken over a month to reach this point of what I consider “acceptability”! Patience is a virtue.

I am still working on improving my breathing capacity and control sufficiently to play as legato as I would like for pieces that want it. Definite improvements there.

Creating a nice tone is of course what the flute is all about. On the recorder, there is relatively little one can do with its sound, other than to make it clean. I’ve been working hard on improving my tone and developing a natural, tasteful vibrato.

Methods and accompaniment CDs

I did not and do not use any music accompaniment CDs when practicing recorder. I know they exist, but I had not believed it necessary to order them from a specialty shop online. At best, I have listened to recorded music featuring musicians playing recorder, and played along to some tracks.

On the other hand, I have found many flute method books with accompaniment CDs at the library and have been making great use of them!

I had started out with I Used to Play Flute, which I’m still using now. Then I got hold of the Boosey Woodwind Method: Flute Book 1 and Boosey Woodwind Method: Flute Book 2, and also the Moyse Collection of Easy Flute Classics.

I have made my way through most of this material. I had expected to make slower progress, but then again, I benefit from having played flute some as a child and also “cross-trained” by all my recorder playing that has developed my general, non-flute musical skills.

Varied repertoire

I an enjoying the varied repertoire in the books I mentioned above. There is classical stuff, marches, ballads, swinging jazz, Bosnian and Israeli traditional songs, the works. That’s why I took up the flute again.

Technical exercises

One thing I have not done at all yet is the kind of technical exercises I began doing on recorder long ago: scales, arpeggios, increasing the speed significantly. I want to feel vaguely guilty for not beginning such exercises, but I think I have had good reasons to avoid them for now.

One is that I wanted to get a “taste” of fun, of playing real music immediately, to gauge where I am.

Another is that frankly, until my body adapted to the physical demands, I felt I was not in any condition to benefit optimally from plunging directly into that kind of practice.


I am very happy with my flute progress and expect to hunker down after my month-long “beginner” exploratory phase, by developing a plan for serious technical practice. I will scope out recommended technique books and switch my focus from “real music” to exercises, so that I can play the “real music” better eventually.

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