Making your initial sounds on the flute can be daunting, but in your first beginner flute lesson, I’ll give you some tips that will help you make your first sounds in no time!
Making your first sounds on the flute can be daunting. Unlike other instruments, we don’t have a mouthpiece, a reed or a bow to help us produce sound. So where do you even begin?!
Don’t worry, I’ve got you! I’m going to share a handful of tips and tricks that can help you make your first sounds on the flute in no time!
But first, a small disclaimer: Some students will pick this up in two seconds. Some may take weeks to get their first sound. Neither is right or wrong! How we produce sound on the flute is unlike any other instrument – it’s a very strange set of muscles and concepts that we don’t use anywhere else in our daily lives. So if it takes you a bit longer to get used to this and find your first sound, that’s totally fine! Just keep with it and I promise you’ll crack it soon!
Step One: Find the right embouchure shape
Let’s start without the flute. Hold your finger up towards your face, placing it horizontally under your lip as if it was our flute. The top of the finger should touch the place where your bottom lip and skin meet.
Now we need to make the right shape for our embouchure (that’s the fancy word for the shape of our mouth). You should try this exercise in front of a mirror to make sure you’ve got the right shape. Your lips should rest very naturally on your finger, with your bottom lip in a tiny bit of a pout.
Try not to pull your lips back into a smile, curl your lips under your teeth or purse your lips too far away from your teeth.
Now, imagine you’re trying to say the word “pooh.” Notice how your lips part just in the middle of your lips. The rounder that shape (our aperture) is, the better.
Blow through that round “pooh” shape onto the palm of your hand. The air should feel like a strong, round, concentrated stream in the middle of your palm.
If you feel the air across the width of your palm (see the middle picture above), that means the aperture is too wide. See if you can make the aperture rounder without falling into one of the bad embouchure shapes. If you can feel the air on most of your palm, the aperture is too large, so try bringing your lips closer together.
If you can’t feel the air strongly, you may need to blow harder. We need a lot more air than you think to make a sound on the flute. Imagine you’re trying to quickly blow out a candle.
Now, let’s try a little experiment. While blowing down (so allowing our top lip to come out in front of the bottom lip), balance a small, crumbled up piece of paper on your hand and hold it slightly below your head in front of you. Try to knock the paper off your hand forcefully while using that excellent “poo” embouchure shape.
For an even more challenging exercise, line three small crumbled pieces of paper in a line (using a flat surface like a book or table). Try blowing only the middle piece. If you blow all three, your air stream is too wide. As you master isolating only the middle paper ball, start moving them closer together.
Step Two: Learn to change air direction
Now we need to learn how to how to change the direction of that air stream without moving our head.
While still blowing at your palm with your lovely embouchure shape, try moving the airstream up towards the top of your fingers. If you have trouble figuring out how to do this, imagine a butterfly has landed on your nose. How would you blow it off? And what about if it landed on your chin?
To get my air to move up I’m going to stick my bottom lip out, and to get it to move down, I’m going to tuck my bottom lip in. The movements we need are much more subtle than my butterfly example, but that sort of helps you get a sense of what we’re doing.
Notice in the above image how my head does not tilt up or down to help with the movement. If you struggle to keep your head still, trying balancing a big book on your head as you try this exercise and don’t let it fall off!
Step Three: With the headjoint
Now that you’ve got the right shape, let’s get you making your first sounds on the headjoint!
Here’s a quick look at the various parts of the flute:
Taking only the headjoint, place the lip plate on your chin, just like you did with your finger. The open end of the headjoint should be to your right!
You want to place the centre of the headjoint’s embouchure hole at the centre of your aperture (for many of you, that will be at the centre of your lips, but some people have slightly off-centre apertures, and that’s totally cool too! Just make sure that the centre of your aperture lines up with the centre of the embouchure hole).
Your bottom lip should cover a tiny bit of the embouchure hole. (The rule of thumb is that 2/3 of the hole should be still open, so don’t cover too much!) You should be able to feel the inside edge of the embouchure hole against your bottom lip.
Now, with your excellent embouchure from Step One, blow through that “poo” aperture, aiming slightly downwards.
Notice how much of the bottom lip rests on the lip plate in the above examples. If we place the headjoint too high, we can struggle to make a sound.
Did you get a sound? Awesome! Well done! If not, check your embouchure in the mirror and try again. You’ve got this! Just keep playing around with it to see if you can find what works.
Step Four: Experiment with different sounds
Now that you make your first sound, let’s try some other pitches. Try blowing SUPER fast air across the flute and change the angle so that you’re blowing a bit higher (just like we did in step two, you’ll want your bottom lip to come out a bit to send the air higher). You should hopefully get a much higher sound.
This air almost always needs to go faster than you think! So if you don’t get it the first time, use your abdominal muscles to really kick the air out. Also try to make your aperture a bit smaller (but don’t squash it flat and loose that lovely round shape!).
Now, try covering the open end of the headjoint with your right palm and blow slower air, which should give you a fun low sound. You can also try blowing faster air with the end covered for a higher version of that closed sound.
Also play around with sticking your finger in end of the headjoint to make different pitches. Notice how the sound changes – does it go higher or lower as your finger goes in? Can you play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’? Try composing a piece using these new flute sounds.
Step Five: Tonguing
Now that you can make several different sounds on the flute, let’s add in some tonguing!
Flute players use their tongue to help start their sound with a crisp, clean beginning. To practice this, pick your favourite sound and let’s start the sound with ‘breath articulation’, which is just a fancy way of saying start the sound by saying ‘ha’ or ‘hoo’. Really use your stomach muscles as if you’re laughing.
Now, find your excellent embouchure and say ‘too too too’ out loud. What’s happening inside your mouth when you do that? The tip of your tongue should be hitting the back of your top teeth. Can you feel how, for a very split second, the air pressure builds up in your mouth as your tongue stops the air from coming out. When you release your tongue there’s a tiny explosion of air that makes the ‘t’ sound.
Now try adding this ‘too’ movement (without the vocalisation) to your breath articulation. Your stomach muscles should work just as hard, but now our tongue helps us build a bit of pressure by stopping the air.
Step Six: Get creative!
Congratulations! You’ve now made your first sound on the flute. And this is the hardest part of playing the flute! Everything else will feel like a breeze from here! (More or less… 🤪)
But before we put the flute together, its best to play around with these sounds on the headjoint until you feel super confident in producing all of these sounds.
But don’t let that stop you from being creative. Experiment with all these sounds and have fun. What happens when you use different consonants for tonguing like “doo”, “koo”, “goo” or “thoo”. How confidently can you move back and forth between the low and high sounds? What other fun experiments can you think of? The point is to have fun as you get more and more comfortable making a sound.
Share your progress
Why not let me know how you’re getting on in the comments? If you’re struggling, let me know what’s happening and maybe we can try some other tricks. Or get in touch if you think you might be interested in some one-to-one lessons to help get you started!
Once you’ve got the knack of making your first sounds, it’s time to go onto Lesson #2: How to hold a flute, where we’ll talk about finding a comfortable posture and balance.
Or check out my extensive guide all the other beginner essential information – from tips on breathing to buying a flute.