Jennifer Cluff ~ Quick Flute Progress

Canadian Flutist and Teacher


How to progress really quickly on the flute


If you are just thrilled with the idea of progressing at a truly awesome pace at the flute, here  i­s a list of things you can do that will zoom you ahead:

1. Have your flute cleaned, oiled and adjusted by an expert flute repair person before struggling with it. You may discover that you were being held back by leaky pads, poor mechanism, or other mechanical problems. Take a look too at how to assemble it correctly, how to avoid crushing the moving parts during assembly/disassembly, and how to line up the headjoint so that holding and balancing the flute in the hands is simplified.

2. Commit to practicing the flute everyday for a series of 20 minute sessions. After 20 minutes always take a break, stretch out and relax, but really endeavour to reach a musical goal for each session. Plan on practicing 6 to 8 sessions a day. The improvements that you notice in other flute players are inevitably the result of simply time spent on the flute. You will see for your self what a difference focused practicing makes once you've tried it for at least a month. From then on, you'll wonder how you ever managed without. :>)

3. Find a truly great private flute teacher. Ask around, shop around, and attend flute recitals and concerts on the hunt for the teacher(s) in your area that have the most enthusiastic and talented flute students. Make a point of saving up the necessary money for lessons, and commit to practicing dutifully whatever it is that the teacher gives you to practice. A great teacher can improve your flute playing ten times faster than any work you do without a teacher. Go for it! Go to the experts!! They will likely know everything you need to know, and they'll know how to teach you to do it in the least amount of time.

4. Listen to flute CDs, radio broadcasts, and check at your local library for flute-concert videos. Your progress will be exponentially increased by watching great flute players on video, by listening to flute music, and by listening to music in general in the home. Feel free to explore music of all kinds, from jazz flutists to french horn recitals! Listen to great singers. Listen to great orchestras and jazz bands. Open your ears 300% and take it all in. You'll be surprised at how quickly you will develop HUGE ears that will help you speed up your flute learning.

5. Attend live music concerts of all kinds. Witness first hand the humour, the humanity and most of all the incredible tone colours and harmonies that live instruments make. Send yourself out to fetch tickets to all kinds of concerts, from choir and musicals, to big band; from classical guitar recitals to bassoon trios. According to Timothy Gallwey in "The Inner Game of Tennis" the biological computer that is our brain is able to instantly absorb subtle things that we are not even conscious of, and imbue us with tremendous levels of expertise just from having witnessed expert musicians performing. So put aside a small amount of ticket money each term, and choose from all the wonderful offerings in your area.

6. Learn your scales, arpeggios and daily finger exercises. Some flutists, although very musical and talented, think that they can zoom ahead without thoroughly learning the "technique" of scales etc. Myself? I am living proof that eventually you will hit a wall. I avoided technique for years, and only did it when I had to, and watched in horror when, at the age of 22, there were other flutists still somehow getting better and better, while I stayed "treading water" in the same place. It took me three years of daily effort to catch up, and suddenly I understood: the fingers absolutely FLY when the daily technical practice is "uploaded to your hard-drive." :>) Don't waste all those years thinking: "I don't have to practice scales really "that is just nonsense." Zoom ahead. Spend two 20 minute sessions on scales and technique, and another session or two a day on etudes and daily exercises and you will discover an effortlessness to music that will surprise and enchant you. Believe me. :>)

7. Practice Etudes/Studies to gradually become an expert interpreter of tricky maneuvers and to build up endurance. The best way to learn an etude is to completely take it apart and put it back together again. Ask your teacher how to do this. You see, etudes were written chiefly by flute players who were absolute experts at solving the problems inherent in the flute. If there is a difficult rhythm, they will write it to last two whole pages. If there is a tricky tonguing, or tons of accidentals, they will give you three pages. What task-masters! :>) But if you work your way through from easy etudes (Gariboldi) to fiendish ones (Andersen), you will find regular solos, orchestral excerpts and pieces so much easier. A list of graded etudes can be found in my files on Flutenet, and some of the most fun etudes are in my Favourite Repertoire listings. Play them like they are showpieces, and you will find they are your best friends in your flute improvement.

Take the challenge. Overcome the fear of etudes! :>)

8. Listen to yourself with huge ears, and avoid ever repeating a mistake. If you hear a note with fuzzy tone on it, stop and fix it. (Longtone up or down to that note stepwise, to re-establish the lip position and airstream for excellent tone.) If you think the rhythm sounds funky, stop and fix it. Count it aloud, clap it out, walk around the block (take the dog for a walk) singing the rhythm. If you have a piece with vast amounts of flats or sharps, simplify your comprehension of the key by practicing the related scales. If you have many accidentals, stop and figure out what they are. Copy the most difficult bars out in bigger noteheads if necessary, to truly "own" the difficult sections. Do whatever it takes to never repeat a mistake. Repeating mistakes mis-programmes the body to have to choose between the wrong version and the right version, because it has played the wrong version far too often. Don't give it the choice. Correct things immediately, even if it means you must read a piece at a snail's pace, and if you never make a mistake (as Julius Baker once said) you will never make a mistake. :>)

9. Record yourself frequently, and listen back to your playing. It is amazing to think that we have the technology to hear ourselves objectively and that we seldom or never use it. A good book on this topic is: "To Hear Yourself as Others Hear You" by James Boyk. You will in fact hear thousands of things about your playing that you will want to change and correct once you sit back and really listen to a recording of yourself practicing. Play any thing and everything into a recorder and ask yourself: Is the pulse steady? Can I dance to that? Does it sound musical? Do the phrases make sense? Are the dynamics audible? Is the mood right? Is the tempo right for the piece? Are the legato sections smooth? Is the articulation clean and precise? How is the tuning? This will increase your speed of improvement immeasurably. Hear for yourself. Use your own senses to create in your playing what you wish others to hear.


If you have not yet found a private flute teacher:

There is a good flute teacher search at online. Articles on "how to find a teacher" can be found in the intermediate level articles.  Also in the intermediate articles you'll find advice to highschool flutists and a flutist's development chart to determine your flute ability level, to use in describing yourself on the net and when phoning around inquiring about lessons.

While waiting for lessons to begin, feel free to write to the teachers on Flutenet with questions you may have. Be sure and describe your needs very specifically (include lots of details), so that the online flute teachers on Flutenet (often speed-reading! :>) can really zone in on what you're trying to learn and what your flute-playing level is, and which of the million answers would suit the level you're at.

Most of the commonly asked flute-student questions have already been answered in the articles I've written over the past 5 years. So perhaps read through those first, before asking the standard questions. See:free flutist's articles

To join Flutenet (free/no obligation/great discussions) click here.

For flute students at the intermediate level, who are waiting to restart lessons after a hiatus, a great library reading list can be found here, and, why not buy a copy of any or all of the following GREAT flute method books and work through them on your own until your flute lessons start:

  1. Trevor Wye ~ Practice Books for the Flute. Volumes 1~5 Omnibus Edition.
  2. Fiona Wilkinson ~ The Physical Flute
  3. Vernon Hill ~ The Flute Player's Book with demonstration CD.

All the above flute practice book titles are available at

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© Jennifer Cluff