The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike other woodwind instruments, a flute produces its sound from the flow of air against an edge, instead of using a reed. The most common type is the Western concert flute or C flute (most flutes are tuned to to the key of C). A musician who plays the flute is generally called a flautist or flutist. Thousands of works have been composed for flute. Flutes are used in many ensembles including concert bands, orchestras, flute ensebles, ocasionally jazz bands and big bands.
Playing a Western concert flute[edit | edit source]
Good flute technique requires that the flute be pressed against the lower lip in such a way that it is possible to efficiently blow directly at the far wall of the lip plate (embouchure) at any angle.
A maladjusted flute is much more difficult to play, and beginning flute-players should invest in a professional adjustment if their instrument is not new. The most common problem as a flute ages is that its pads rot and leak. In addition, rough handling can bend the pads and make them leak. The return springs can also weaken, causing slow or unsynchronized opening of the holes. In addition, the pad-closure mechanisms can become misaligned or misadjusted. Occasionally the alignment pins can fall out.
Beginning flute-players frequently find themselves unable to produce a sound. The most common reasons are that the hole produced by the player's mouth is not aligned with the tone-hole or/and the player is blowing lots of air past the tone hole instead of angling a smaller air stream into the hole. The standard beginning technique is to feel for the tone hole with one's tongue, and then roll the flute away to the correct angle. It is important to blow less air than most beginners want to, but angle it into the hole.
Beginning flute-players also often have improper embouchures: The correct embouchure is a small elliptical or slot-like hole formed by the lips and directed at the edge of the tone-hole opposite the player. The aim should be outward, with faster air for higher, or more brilliant sounds (more high-frequency overtones), and lower, more into the hole, with slower air for lower notes. One reliable way to aim is to move one's chin in and out, but it is best to develop the flexibility to change the relationship between one's lips and tongue and the lip plate, as needed for changes in air direction.
Correct breath control requires a player to emit large amounts of air at times, especially in softer and higher passages, but also requires a player to emit very small streams of air directly into the hole for loud notes in the lower register, which often do not speak if forced. All things being equal, a breathy sound is preferable to a pinched sound, but an efficient approach to air stream direction is best.
Flutes often have some of the most rapidly changing parts in orchestral music. To become able to play these parts, one should practice complex scales and arpeggios in different modes and keys.
More advanced flute-players can also employ vibrato. When playing with vibrato, a player varies the amount of air blown through the instrument at a rapid rate to create a wobble in the pitch and amplitude of the tone. Most classical and some jazz flute players tend to play with a continuous vibrato, though the amount and speed of vibrato can be altered for expressive purposes. Many purists contend that Baroque music should be played without vibrato, or with vibrato only on certain notes. More specifically, most flute methods from that period call for vibrati - a finger vibrato - rather than a vibrato of breath pulsations. The most common way to learn vibrato is to practice breath attacks (short bursts of increased air within a constant tone) as half notes, then quarter notes, then eighth notes, then triplets, then sixteenth notes. Eventually, when the breath attacks are too fast to be counted as separate notes, they become an instant though not yet subtle vibrato.
In outdoor playing, wind can "blow out" players' embouchures, causing the air stream to become misplaced. It is normal practice for the piccolo and flute players of a marching band to face away from the wind in heavy weather. The section-leader of the flutes in the marching band normally makes this decision.