Adult beginner information, flute books & CDs
by Jen Cluff
If you're an adult beginner to the flute there is one important technical piece of advice you must have at once: Get your flute checked out and cleaned-oiled-adjusted by a reputable repair person before playing it. Many old flutes from the backs of closets have minute pad leaks and possibly shrunken corks, keys that are out of adjustment and bent moving parts, and make learning on that particular flute almost impossible. Flutes are like Swiss watches, and have very fine mechanisms. When out of playing order, they can sound fuzzy, cause finger cramping, and be very stiff to blow.
A local woodwind technician will likely only charge less than $60 for a "tweak-up" and you'll avoid frustration in the first few months of learning. Perhaps begin by phoning the flute teachers in your area and get their recommended woodwind technician phone numbers and use the same phone call to inquire about starter lessons and other adult beginners flute clubs, flute choirs, folk groups or flute performance activities in the area at the same time. With a perfectly tuned up flute you can THEN start learning with full confidence.
There are many free articles aimed toward adult beginners for downloading, as well as full fingering charts for printing out (click here for Free Flute Articles and Links to the best flute fingering charts etc.)
Obviously the best possible start would be to find a fine private teacher, so that you can start off with the best and fastest way of learning (or re-learning ) the flute. Read about finding a teacher here, and what you can do to start while you're waiting for lessons to begin.
And if you are interested in recommended music books and flute CDs to inspire and self-teach just prior to starting private flute lessons, here are my top book and CD recommendations for flute instructional Books and "Beginner Adult Music for FUN!" Order one from each list through your local music store (or search the public library if on a budget):
1. First Lessons Flute by Mizzy McCAskill and Dona Gilliam -Mel Bay MB99824CD
This book and CD has many photos and drawings explaining everything from assembling your flute, holding it, getting your first sound on the headjoint, how to stand, and leads quickly intojamming along with the percussion group on the CD using headjoint only. The first few beginner tunes are jazzy and a salsa-latin style, and you learn to let go and improvise all the while learning to read rhythms and written notes. Putting the flute together the next session, you'll find that the fingerings are clearly demonstrated one at a time. Counting and playing simple tunes (ethnic and celtic in style) is very straightforward.If you have trouble working out a concept, you may want to take this book to your first flute lesson. The CD goes with the first half of the book, and the remainder of the tunes you are given the tools to work out yourself.
2. Trevor Wye Beginner Book of the Flute Volume I - Novello
This book is formulated by a master teacher who actually picked the songs by handing them around to hundreds of students and having them choose their favourites. The pace is solid and steady. There are duets every three pages or so, to play along with your teacher. Those adults who want to play it safe, and be able to very gradually build their flute skills will find this book to give good solid grounding in the flute's low register. Reading rhythms and notes is covered and if you are working without a teacher especially, you'll want to order the CD that goes with this book.. Illustrations of flute posture and balance are good.
3. How to Play the Flute by Howard Harrison - Elm Tree Books; ISBN 0-241-10876-4
Full of great cartoons, good music (much of it Celtic based) for beginners, and helpful hints for all aspects of reading rhythms, pitches and generally beginning flute. Suitable for the self-teaching adult as it goes amazingly far all in one inexpensive paperback. You will learn a host of more advanced skills by the time you reach the end of the book. Full fingering chart, high register playing, all the rhythms you need to play Celtic music.Only one drawback in the lastest printing, you have to break the spine to get it to lie flat on the music stand if you get the paperback.
Once you're about two-thirds of the way through any of the above books, there is a treasure trove of books for fun that I'm sure will inspire you:
Back to top
Beginning Adult flute student music books FOR FUN!!!
1. Jessica Walsh's Celtic Music for Flute with CD
See: www.fluteandguitar.com or <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = SKYPE />
An absolutely breathtakingly lovely book, and one that you'll be able to play for YEARS without ever growing out of it. Every tune is a winner.....and many of the over 40 Celtic songs can be played as duets with one player and CD or with two players and CD ( For creating duets: see list of page numbers below for each book).
If you with to hear this Celtic music before purchase, you can hear MP3s in advance by going to the website above, taking note that the flutist is performing on a wooden headjoint, giving an authentic tone colour to the lovingly arranged Celtic tunes. And although many of the rhythms and the lack of articulation markings (slurs could be put in by a teacher) may make this music somewhat complex to a beginner at first sight, I've had several 11-14 yr. old students who've been playing less than a year pick up these tunes by ear, and be able to play the most complicated songs, simply because they were so inspired by hearing the CD.
If you think the music is lovely, but you need easier note-reading try the following slightly easier-to-read-music collections by the same artists:
2. Medieval and Renaissance Music for Flute with CD by Jessica Walsh
These magical tunes (41 of them) deal with slightly easier rhythms, and stay within the harmonies and otherworldly sounds of the Medieval and Renaissance musician. Many can be played as duets, using one player and CD, or two players and CD. If you adore this period of music, you will be charmed.
If you're REALLY into this period of music also see:
3. Ancient Airs, Cantigas and Dances for Flute and Guitar by Jessica Walsh and Allan Alexander.
Even easier notes and rhythms for those adult beginners who want to pace themselves, and play tunes that are simply in half-notes and quarter notes, as well as gradually learn to play eighths and sixteenth notes with secure rhythm.
See: How to play from the Jessica Walsh Celtic and World/Renaissance books DUETS with the flute and guitar CD:
If you own any of the books above, and would like to play a duet with the CD, print out this list of "create your own duet" for using at home, as one flute plus CD, or at your flute lessons with two flutes and CD. See above link to creating duets from the Jessica Walsh books.
Back to top
Adult beginner books worth checking into
A biographical novel that's a really fun read for adult beginners is the book by Noah Adams called Piano Lessons. Look for it in your bookstore or library. It's a laugh-out-loud look at his own attempts to learn piano at 50, and how he neglected to look for a teacher until LONG after he'd overspent on a Steinway for his livingroom. :>) Just hilarious.
You might also enjoy an older book called Never Too Late by John Holt. Look for both these books whenever you feel discouraged. :>)
Some adult beginner books recommended by Just Flutes that I've never tried, but may be worth a look are:
Un-tested beginner flute books:
Fast-Track Flute, Sumbler Designed for adult learners who already have
some musical knowledge or who play another instrument. Invaluable
information to stop you getting into bad habits.
Illustrated Flute Method, Mellersh. More text than music, this
is ideal for someone already musical who wishes to take up the flute.
Learn As You Play Flute, Wastall A popular tutor -- good for the
younger players. A backing cassette/CD is available.
Learning to Play the Flute, Hunt This is excellent for the adult
learner. A history of the instrument is given as well as hints on
technique and posture, Includes many tunes, some duets for teacher and
pupil Good value for money.
A Progressive First Flute Book, CD available separately. Useful for
students of any age and especially popular with adult beginners.
Jen Cluff. 2004
Adult beginner worried that your flute teacher prefers child or teen beginners to you?
Once in a while an adult beginner runs into a flute teacher who, the adult is convinced, favours child beginners over adult beginners. It's possible that these biased teachers exist, but it's even more likely that the adult beginner is putting so much pressure on themselves to "catch up" to the child and teen intermediates that they're casting about for someone to blame for that "I can never be good enough" feeling. Sometimes too, adults can read too far ahead in the pedagogical flute information and feel that they are ready to tackle challenging techniques before they have amassed sufficient playing time. It's not uncommon for adult flute students to self-assign difficult work before they are actually ready for it, and this can lead to many more problems in tension and frustration.
The best advice for a adult who is chomping at the bit to improve quickly in private lessons is to record the lessons, and listen back and study them. Also, be sure and discuss your goals with your flute teacher in order to clear up any misconceptions about what you should be working on.
In 2003, a frustrated adult novice flutist asked on Flutenet discussion group: What are the advantages and disadvantages of adult beginner flutists over child beginners? I'm guessing that the adult who asked wanted to know if they were working against themselves.
I did attempt to answer using the list of features shown below.
However, there are always exceptional beginner adults who go on to play very well indeed, so my best advice is to not concern yourself with this question, and not to be self-demanding and overly-perfectionistic, but to find a teacher who works well with beginner adults, giving a great deal of optimism and who is upbeat, enthusiastic and experienced. If you have to travel to lessons over long distances, even if it is only once per month, at least you can record and listen to your lessons while you travel.
Adult beginners who worry are also those who have a tendency to be trying to prove too much in too short a time.
Also, adults who've long loved music often have such a good ear for "right and wrong" in music, that they can be their own worst critics, and slow their learning by self-criticism.
A good flute teacher will let the adult beginner know when to STOP pushing themselves so hard, and to just enjoy the journey.
So be aware that adults tend to be self-critical, whereas part of the joy of childhood is to be un-critical of self.
Lack of self-criticism when learning also speeds the learning process.
See the book "The Inner Game of Tennis" or "The Inner Game of Music" by Timothy Gallwey.
CHILD learning flute
- Children often have more unstructured time in a day to spend
practising and fooling around with the flute; listening to music;
exploring musical ideas.
- flexible muscles, joints and tendons
- extremely speedy learning capabilities; the learning curve can be
VERY swift (age 11 to 17 especially)
- lungs are resilient, heart is strong, can focus alot of power into
the flute without becoming tired
- parents and family usually supportive of time spent practising
- usually there are more music programmes/ensembles/bands/solo
competitions/talent shows available for kids than for adults
- very similar to learning to swim or ride a bike---no matter how much
later in life they take up the flute again, the body can remember
quite a great deal about reading music/fingerings/blowing methods.
- can develop a cool one-on-one relationship with private teacher
which can be the basis of a healthy child-adult/mentor experience (and
possibly the only adult they may have this type of cool relationship
CHILD learning flute
- in small children the weight and length of the flute can be tiring
on small arms and necks
- very young children can't yet sustain large breaths for slow or
- adolescents can quickly lose interest due peer-pressure or onslaught
of competing hobbies/sports
- adolescent hormones and mood swings can interfere with steady
improvement and therefore musical achievements
- child can be over-pressured by parents (wish-fulfillment deferred
onto child) and then rebel by giving up flute all of a sudden
- child may have transportation problems if family is large, without
vehicle, or disorganized about ferrying them around to flute events
- child may have to wait for sheet music, recordings, and/or good
instrument for a very long time if family cannot afford these things.
ADULT learning flute
- can rearrange own schedule and pay for own lessons
- can reason with family and friends about time needed to practise
- can purchase own equipment including a good instrument
- can budget and save in order to purchase CDs, recording equipment,
sheet music. Finding money for these things is usually quite easy for
- can understand concepts from reading about them, and get more out of
self-teaching by using methods and texts
- can travel to special classes, festivals and musical events
- can usually afford to go to masterclasses and consult with top
teachers or take notes at such events
- can investigate alternative methods for learning how to read music,
how to understand theory and harmony etc. if there is a known learning
- can organize own ensembles for playing with others
- can decide how much time to give each hobby, and can reason out
which hobby they'd like to focus on.
- can get into esoteric learning areas on own steam.
- adults have DECADES of music listening in their minds already,
making musical concepts sometimes quick to absorb
- can develop a cool one-on-one relationship with private teacher
which can be the basis of a healthy adult to adult learning
experience. Opportunities to learn about whole new areas of musical
interest are possible
ex: Baroque flute--Native flute---Irish flute etc.
ADULT learning flute
- muscles, tendons and joints may be stiff and relaxation therapies or
special postural therapies may be needed in order to practice
- adults learning is often hampered by their own demanding,
perfectionistic ears; they often want to sound VERY good right away,
and are easily discouraged and embarrassed when it takes too long
- many different chores and workloads cram the adult day---finding
practise time can sometimes be close to impossible (unless they are
single, have a light job, and no kids)
- family can interfere or complain about the adult's practise time and
need for noise-privacy
- lungs may need to be taught more slowly how to work efficiently for
sustained air control
- fingers and arms may need to learn how to become more dextrous,
springy and resilient
- it can be tricky joining ensembles, as time-conflicts and scheduling
may prove difficult
As far as adults learning as flute as beginners, though, I've seen some miraculous things (like starting an instrument in the 20s and being fully proficient by the 40s) and some really tender and heart warming things such as starting the flute in one's 50s, and being so happy about it
that it becomes an adult's central hobby.
Back to top
Back to Jen Cluff's webpage