Mastering an instrument like the flute takes practice, patience, and perseverance. The flute is part of the woodwind family. Unlike instruments with reeds, the flute is a reedless wind instrument, and a beautiful one in that.
Learning to hold the flute properly is the first step in making great music with an instrument that has been around for thousands of years.
To play the flute to the best of your ability, there are four critical elements to master when learning how to hold your flute:
- Correct posture
- Proper finger placement
- Left-hand position & right-hand position
- Holding the flute at the right angle
By investing some time into mastering these basic techniques, you will significantly improve your flute playing ability.
Correct posture is especially important for playing woodwinds. When learning to play the flute, proper posture is integral to the breathing technique necessary to help you create clear, resonant tones that are pleasant to the ear. Hunching or slouching will impede your ability to provide consistent airflow through your instrument and result in more frequent bad notes.
Whether standing or sitting, make sure your body is straight and upright. However, try not to be too rigid. A stiff posture will be detrimental to your playing. Be sure to be in a comfortable position so that you can take full, deep breaths and move your hands easily as you play.
To create a smooth airflow, you should be standing (or sitting) with your shoulders back so that you can breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Correct posture is the first step in producing optimal sound from your flute.
Proper Finger Placement
Once you have the correct posture, the placement of your fingers is critical to playing the flute. You want to hold the flute with your fingertips, not your hands. You do not want to grasp the flute by wrapping your fingers around it.
When your hands are relaxed, your fingers should be slightly curved making a ‘C’ shape. You will want to try to retain the natural curve of your fingers to play the flute comfortably. If you fall into the habit of straightening your fingers, this creates muscle tension that will tire your hands out sooner than necessary.
The flute can be broken down into three sections: head joint, body joint, foot joint. The head joint is where the mouthpiece is located, also known as the embouchure. Your left hand will be used to control the keys closest to the mouthpiece of your flute.
The left thumb should rest on the first key located on the bottom of the flute, with the palm between your thumb and index finger providing support for the instrument. The natural curve of your fingers is then used to play the keys on top of the flute.
Your left index finger will rest on the 2nd key, the left middle finger on the 4th key, and your left ring finger on the 5th key of the flute. With enough practice, your fingers will naturally find the correct keys every time you pick up your instrument.
Using your right thumb to support the flute with your palm facing away from you, use your right fingers to hold it near the foot joint. Your right hand should have that natural ‘C’ curvature. Hold the flute firmly, but relaxed, not too rigid.
There are three bottom keys on the body of the flute near the foot joint. The first three fingers of your right hand will rest on these three bottom keys. The pinky finger on your right hand will then play the first key on the foot joint. It may feel a little awkward at first and difficult to coordinate all of your fingers with the keys, but it will soon feel comfortable the more you play.
Holding the Flute at the Right Angle
Holding your flute at the correct angle is very important for producing the desired notes. Try not to let the instrument point towards the floor. When learning how to hold a flute and getting your finger placement correct, it is often overlooked.
The flute must be held horizontally, or parallel to the floor, to create proper airflow through the instrument. Practice keeping your elbows out, not pinched close to your body when holding your flute. By keeping proper posture and not allowing the flute to point downwards, you will significantly reduce the chance of disrupting airflow and producing those squeaky notes.
How to Hold a Bamboo Flute
The bamboo flute dates back over 7000 years to the Chinese Zhou dynasty. It is different from a Western concert flute in that it has holes to cover with your fingers instead of pressing down on keys. It is also an end-blown flute and not a side-blown flute.
Similar to a concert flute, bamboo flutes are held parallel to the ground. To produce the best sound, maintain a relaxed posture with elbows out rather than held close to your body. Hold the flute with your thumbs to keep it in a horizontal position.
The finger holes must be completely covered to play proper notes with a bamboo flute. Practice covering each hole with the pad of your finger. Using just a fingertip may not cover the hole completely and create an unwanted sound.
You should be holding your bamboo flute so that the blowing hole is the first hole from left to right on the instrument. The remaining six or seven finger holes are used to create various notes.
Certain bamboo flutes may have an extra opening located between the blowing hole and the finger holes covered by a thin membrane. Do not cover this with your finger. The air blown across the membrane creates a sound unique to the bamboo flute, like other woodwind instruments that have a reed in the mouthpiece.
When holding your bamboo flute, your left palm should be facing you so that your index, middle, and ring fingers can cover the first three finger holes of the instrument.
The position of your right hand should be such that your palm is facing away from you and your first three fingers cover the 4th, 5th, and 6th finger holes respectively. The more you practice the better you will get at covering the holes completely with your finger pads, creating clearer sounds.
The flute is a fun instrument to play and can be mastered with practice.
Remember to keep your posture straight, whether sitting or standing; hold the instrument with your fingertips, not your hands; keep your hands relaxed, in a C-shaped position so that your fingers are comfortable and flexible; practice correct left-hand and right-hand positions; and focus on keeping the flute at the correct angle, parallel to the ground.
As with any instrument, the amount of time invested into it will yield positive results. By following the guidelines to how to properly hold a flute you will be well on your way to creating beautiful music with an instrument that has been played for centuries.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.