As flute players that are learning online at home, it can be easy to slip into some bad habits that ultimately make flute playing more difficult for you. I’ve had a brainstorm, canvassed the crowd and collated some of the most common practice mistakes that beginners (and certainly even long-time players) make.

Only a few are made out of deliberate laziness (and I’m calling you out of them folks!). But many of them you may not even realise you’re doing, let alone the flow on effects they can have on your playing.

So let me hit you with these simple practice tips that will set you up for success.

In no particular order...

  • Sitting on your bed while playing. Are you guilty of sitting cross-legged on your bed, resting your arms on your legs and bending forward to reach the flute and your music you’ve placed on your mattress?? I think most of us have done this at one time or another! Not only will it become seriously uncomfortable for your neck after a while, but breathing properly is made difficult! Flute players need lots of steady, well-supported breath. We rely on deeply filling the lungs, drawing the diagram down and the rib cage out. It’s pretty tricky if you’ve crushed your torso. ALWAYS practice at the very least sitting straight in a chair with both feet on the floor. Even better, standing up! Bring the flute to your lips, don’t slouch forward to reach down to your flute. Have a proper music stand and your music set up at about shoulder height.  
  • Stopping EVERY time you make a mistake! Train yourself to just keep playing. The reality is you can’t stop and start during a performance. Once the mistake is made, you can’t fix it so move on, shake it off and concentrate on the rest of the piece. (Nine times out of ten the audience won’t even pick it up!)
  • Neglecting your tone. Make sure you set aside some time to experiment with your embouchure and develop that beautiful rich, clear focused tone. (Click here for some step-by-step Embouchure Tips). All the right rhythms and notes are completely wasted if they simply don’t sound beautiful! Whilst describing tone is shown to be quite subjective between people, descriptors like rich, full and focused (as opposed to weak and airy) are what you should be aiming for.
  • Playing too fast too soon when practicing. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking playing faster is somehow more masterful. Slow it down, build speed incrementally to ensure that tone, articulation, dynamics, note fingerings etc are all being practised at the same time too! When performing, its all of these elements that need to come together.
  • Learning to make a sound with the entire flute assembled. Ditch the body and foot and simply start to make sound with the head joint only. (Get help finding your flute embouchure are here). Concentrating on your lips, jaw, cheeks, breath speed and direction is enough to start with (trust me!). Once a clear sound is produced you can familiarise yourself with the positioning of arms, hands and fingers...
  • Practicing for too long. When you are just starting its common to feel breathless, dizzy and sore in your facial muscles. So if you feel yourself fading after only 10 or 15 minutes don’t despair. Just like building fitness slowly at the gym, you’ll build playing stamina. It’s far more productive for you to practice more often for shorter periods than to try and struggle through longer sessions.
  • Practising infrequently. I know this one’s obvious, but If you only pick the flute up once a month you’re unlikely to build any kind of playing momentum. ‘Muscle memory’ develops over time as you repeat an action over and over again.
  • Skipping your scales. Most students shudder when scales are mentioned, but they are literally the foundations of music. Scales will help you to sight-read new pieces more easily, develop your ear training and give you the perfect chance to polish aspects such as tone and articulation patterns.  
flute scales
  • Play only on your own. If you never play with other flutes or even other instruments, you’ll never know the importance of intonation (the ability to play in tune), timing and counting and balancing dynamics. Learning to communicate ‘non-verbally’ with others during a performance is key to these three areas and does requires practice. You can begin by playing along to the accompaniment tracks that are provided with a lot of sheet music on CDs. I’m a huge fan of digital sheet music providers like Virtual Sheet Music. Much of their music comes with accompaniment tracks you can download and play along to at variable speeds.  
  • Don’t be afraid to write on your music. I’m a big believer in marking your sheet music. Add breath marks, circle accidentals or problem areas, translate musical terms and add your own reminders. It’s not cheating - it’s smart!
  • Use a metronome. This will help you keep the main pulse or beat of the music while playing. It’s quite common for players to gradually speed up during playing without realising. It can be a result of nerves and an almost unconscious desire to ‘just get the piece as quickly as you can’. Often unnoticed while practicing alone, this quickly becomes problematic when playing with others. A metronome will help to improve your overall sense of rhythm. If you encounter a new or tricky rhythm, clap it out slowly to the beat and gradually increase to the required speed.
    • Remove distractions. Turn your phone to silent, the TV off and focus!
    • Forget that your flute needs some love. You’ll only ever be able to play as well as you treat your flute. A regular service to make sure pads seal and mechanisms move smoothly without sticking and clicking is a must and will make your flute easier and more pleasant to play. After EVERY practice session, swab the inside of your flute, wipe the outside with a soft dry cloth and disassemble into your case for storage. A build up of dust and moisture will eventually deteriorate the pads, causing leaks and lead to tone and intonation problems
    Share your thoughts

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

    1. Thanks a lot for the list! It is always useful to improve your practise methodology. I have one addition to make for the entry ‘Neglecting your tone’. I would say we could take time to develop different types of tone in addition to the clear focused tone, for instance pizzicato tone, breezy tone, flatterzunge, … Take time to play around and experiment with the tone.

    2. Thanks for this.

      I a student of the Indian Bansuri (flute) and this is so valuable , the key seems to be acting on your , with me I know what I should do , but slip into bad habits at times. Also, I am told may time the feeling of the music is key.

      Thanks for sharing.

    3. I love the playing on your bed, haha! I so remember doing that and you are so right. As far as not stopping for mistakes, yes keep going, definitely, if you are performing. If you are in a practice session, maybe yes, maybe no. If you are practicing for accuracy, stop and go back and repeat a phrase several times. Then play through it again. This way you retrain yourself instead of “practicing your mistakes”.
      Great article. This lifetime flutist loved it and agrees!

    4. Brilliant Christie! This article was perfect timing, since I am stepping up as a flautist, practicing pieces and consuming Music Theory, after not playing for years everyday, and recently joined a flute choir, my first rehearsal in two weeks. All your articles have been a real ‘game changer,” to get me ready to bring my “A” game. I cannot learn enough or have enough discipline, as I want to be sure I have the best habits while practicing alone in my studio.

    5. Thank you, such a useful article. When I learnt the clarinet (40 years ago!), there were no such internet resources. You had your instrument, your teacher and your book tutor. And that was it. Having recently taken up the flute, I am finding Dr Google and her friends extremely helpful. Please advise how long it takes to develop a consistently good sound? Am I expecting too much after 10 days of having the flute?

    6. Great article. Learned to play the flute over 40 years ago in grade school. The information in the article is comprehensive. My only suggestion would be to correct the spelling of practice and practicing. It is a distraction to the otherwise very good article.

    7. Some players are lucky to produce a focused and round sound quickly, most take weeks to months, truly — and it must be maintained for a lifetime. I’m a flutist and educator. I once had a student who produced no sound at all for 2 weeks. She persisted, and 6 years later she was selected for “All-State Band.”

      Working with a teacher is quite helpful; even professionals attend “master classes” to improve their tone. Regular practice is a must. Once a person produces a nice sound, they can gradually increase their practice time.

      For tone production, a carefully “regulated” flute mechanism is necessary. Flutes are delicate and need at least a yearly visit to a flute repair person for a “COA” (clean, oil, and adjustment.” Be sure that has been done recently.

      Best wishes. Keep persisting and gradually increasing the time you play — especially on long tones. I found in my teaching that when a student began practicing 2 or longer each day, their tone sounded bigger and more full—like magic.

    {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Struggling with airy flute tone? 

    This free video will help you find your sound, avoid common embouchure mistakes, and produce consistently clear flute tone. Simple and fast.