The benefits of playing a musical instrument are well documented for both young and old. At the Flute Coach, I want to help you discover a passion for playing!
If you're considering playing the flute, but still have some hesitations, here are 7 practical ways to help you make your decision. They'll help to keep you playing for the long term, avoid the frustration and cost of switching to another instrument later on or prevent dropping out of music altogether.
Consider renting or buying a flute second-hand.
A good quality new student flute can cost anywhere from approximately $400 to over $1000. Luckily, there are now so many options to get your hands on a student flute without spending a small fortune. For school students, most schools offer affordable rental programs for use of an instrument for a year (fees depend on the school).
If your school doesn’t have a rental scheme or if you are an adult student, there are many musical retailers who hire out new or used instruments. They charge a monthly fee, typically for terms of 3 to 12 months which often includes servicing. Depending on whether the flute is new or used, the level of the flute (student versus intermediate), and the contract length, monthly fees can range from approximately $15 to $150 per month. For more advanced players who are looking to upgrade to an intermediate (prices start from around $2000), renting for several months to get a real feel for a specific flute is an invaluable investment. (Just think - you wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first!)
If you are a parent of a music student, use the purchase of a new flute instead as an incentive for persistent practice or for performance and examination achievements. By this stage you will feel more assured about investing in an instrument when playing skill and motivation have already been established.
Attend in-store demonstrations or have your teacher demonstrate playing the flute to you.
Music store personnel are great resources - most are talented musicians who are familiar with the brands and special features of the instruments they are selling.
They will allow you to hold, feel and test a range of instruments before you buy or rent. The quality of the tone can be distinctly different between different flutes, depending on the material it’s made of and in particular, the type of head joint in use. That’s why it’s so important to hear these subtle differences for yourself. Very cheap low quality flutes can be difficult to play and may actually be detrimental to your learning, as you struggle against an unresponsive instrument. As you hear and try different flutes, do you like the way they sound? Your timbre preference might be telling you that playing the flute is for you!
For young and small musicians, a flute-alternative may overcome difficulties with physical size.
Teachers may sometimes exclude certain instruments from the selection process (for a number of reasons), but most often based on the physical size of the student versus their desired instrument. Whilst this may seem slightly unfair, there is a very practical need for arms and fingers to reach the most distant keys on an instrument to succeed in playing. But don’t despair if size is your biggest barrier to playing – there are some great options for budding flute players to begin on before upgrading to a full sized flute when the time is right.
Fifes and recorders
The fife and recorder are simplistic versions of the flute, share many of the same note fingerings and are easy to play. Like the flute, the fife is held across the body and air is blown across the lip hole, meaning you get a head start at forming the mouth position also needed for playing the flute. The pitch is more like that of a piccolo. The recorder is held in front of the body and air is blown directly into the instrument. There are many types of recorders, however most people would be familiar with the soprano which is commonly introduced during primary school music lessons. Both instruments lack keys, and require players to cover a series of holes with their fingers instead. The good news is they are very cheap (prices start from around $15 new for plastic models)
Another alternative may be a flute with a curved head joint which may assist the littlest flute players until they can handle the length and weight of a full size instrument. The benefit of playing an actual flute is that students can practice their embouchure (the shape of your mouth needed to produce a sound). This is often considered one of the most difficult aspects to nail for beginners. The cost of these ‘recurve’ flutes are in a similar range as standard student flutes and the straight head joint is included so the student can upgrade as soon as they are ready.
Listen to lots of different kinds of flute music.
Jump on YouTube for flute performances that vary in cultural background, time period (such as classical or 20st century) as well as group or orchestral performances. (Here's a list of amazing flute players to explore)
If you don’t enjoy listening to it, it’s unlikely you will enjoy playing it! Even better, try and get along to some live performances. Really soak up the atmosphere and watch how players interact with their audience as well as the other players on stage. Local eisteddfods, live music in cafes and amateur performances at local markets are generally free and showcase hidden local talent. If you have the opportunity, the opera and ballet have live orchestras playing in the pit which are fascinating to watch as well!
Mix it up!
A Canadian survey found that we all associate musical instruments with being either feminine or masculine. The flute is considered one of the most feminine. Encourage prospective flute students (particularly males) to watch videos of both male and female flute players. This will help to demonstrate that it's acceptable to play any instrument, regardless of gender. In fact, many of the world’s best flute players are males! Ian Anderson and James Galway are incredible male players, who are sure to inspire and encourage potential students.
Parents, really listen to your child’s musical preferences.
Is your child protesting against a particular instrument or from learning music altogether? It could be for a number of reasons (see my last blog). Forcing your child to play often leads to disappointing examination results and a total reluctance to practice and perform. Talk to your child to get to the root cause of their resistance. It could be as simple as low self-confidence or performance anxiety (stage fright). Many of these fears can be overcome with lots of encouragement from parents and teachers. Participation of friends is also a great motivator, so encourage your students to join a school band. For adults, join a social playing group. With school and university aged learners, there so many opportunities for travel to extracurricular competitions and performances. In my own experience, bus trips to music events were highlights of my schooling years!
Got the time?
School aged students often need parents to be actively involved in monitoring practice time several times per week. Adult students – do you study or work full time? Allocating enough time to practice in your week is necessary to build momentum in your learning. If you work unusual hours can you attend traditional lessons? Or would the flexibility of online learning options suit your situation better?
I hope these tips help you to have greater confidence in moving forward with a decision to begin playing the flute. Get excited about playing! Let me know if you have other questions you need answered before you begin playing in the comments section below!
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