THE FLUTE NERD blog

Learning the Flute as an Adult

It can be challenging to learn a new skill as an adult, but here are a few tips to help make your flute journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible!

Learning an instrument as an adult can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Every one can learn – I promise! All you need is access to the right resources, guidance and of course your enthusiasm! Whether you want to become a master musician or just enjoy playing for fun, I’d like to share a few tips to help adult learners get started. From assessing your goals to finding the right teacher, I’ll cover everything you need to know about learning flute as an adult so that you can start making beautiful music today!

Assess your goals for learning the flute

Before you get started, it’s important to take some time to think about what your motivation and goals are. Ask yourself three very important questions: why, what and how much?

Why do you want to learn the flute? What drives you? Do you love the sound of the flute? Or maybe you just want to learn a new skill and happened to have an unused flute lying around?

What do you want to learn? Do you want to take the ABRSM exams? Do you want to learn pretty melodic stuff for fun? Do you just love jazz music and want to learn how to improvise? Or maybe you just want to learn how to read music?

How much time do you have to practice? Have you recently retired and realise you have loads of free time for practicing? Do you have young children which means your free time is limited (and precious)? Have you just started a new job and not quite sure how much time you’ll have yet?

Don’t worry, there are no right or wrong answers! Everyone’s goals, motivations and available time are extremely individual! But knowing the answers to these questions will help give you build your own personal practice plan. For more tips on how to develop a practice plan, check out my other blog here.

Find a teacher who can help you reach those goals

While everyone can make their own practice plan, you may find it helpful to have a teacher that can help you build and work through this plan.

Do you need a teacher? No. But they can be a valuable resource that can help you learn much quicker. A good teacher should be able to recognise your individual strengths and weaknesses and help you work with them.

It’s worth taking some time to find the right teacher for you. Not only should they be knowledgable, but you should also enjoy working with them, which means you need someone who matches your goals. If you just want to play for fun, you’re not going to enjoy working with someone whose focus is no-nonsense, hard-core technique. And similarly, if you want to learn lots of difficult technique very fast, you’ll want someone who can help keep you to task.

When looking for teachers, try to find someone who has experience teaching adults. Be sure to have a look at reviews from previous students and read the teacher’s bio – these will often give you a good sense of whether their personality might be a good fit for you or not. Listen to them play if you can find videos or audio, do you find their playing inspiring? See if they offer trial lessons, this can be a good way to test the waters before investing too much.

This research will help you feel confident that you’ve made an informed decision about your teacher. But don’t stress too much about it – you can ALWAYS change teachers if it’s not working for you! Your learning and enjoyment should always be your priority.

Make sure you have the right equipment to get you started

It should go without saying that you’ll need a flute, but it’s worth making sure that the flute is in good condition – especially if it’s an old one that hasn’t been touched for a while! If you already have a flute, take it in to a woodwind technician for a bit of TLC to make sure it’s in good working condition. It would be a silly waste to have your progress held back by leaky keys!

If you don’t have a flute, it’s worth visiting a flute specialist (like Just Flutes or All Flutes Plus in London). They will help you find an instrument that matches both your goals and your budget.

Beyond the flute, it’s a good idea to have a music stand. This will allow you to practice without bending over to read the music – which is so bad for your back! A metronome and tuner are good investments – though there are countless cheap or free phone and tablet apps that work just well!

You might also notice that there are soooo many fancy-pantsy flute gadgets and accessories out there – everything from thumbports that assist your posture to brightly coloured cleaning cloths – but none of these are essential to getting started. All you really need it a flute and music stand. There will be plenty of time to collect all the other flute accessories… trust me. 😉

Schedule in regular time for practicing – and learn to value that time!

The word ‘practice’ tends to conjure negative gut reactions – it can feel like having homework all over again! But your flute practice time should be something to look forward to – it’s quality time spent with a hobby you enjoy!

Try to set aside regular time to pick up your instrument. The more often you practice – even if only for a few minutes a day – the more you’ll retain the skills you learn. Playing the flute is weird: we hold it in a super unnatural way and use muscles in our lips that we don’t really use for anything else. The more often we practice, the more we can build up the muscles needed and recall positions and skills quicker.

Obviously as adults, our lives can get crazy and it can be harder and harder to find time for a hobby like playing the flute. So it’s important to take time for yourself and schedule practice into your week. It doesn’t even have to be for a long time, 15 minutes here and there can make a huge difference – just like exercise or eating healthy, regular small steps are the way to go!

One trick I used to (and still sometimes do find helpful) is to use my flute practice as an outlet. When I’m having a really rough day and feeling really angry or sad about something, I pull out some music that sounds angry or sad and channel all my emotion into that music. This allows me to process my emotions, practice my flute, and usually helps me tap into my musicality… and all that while doing something that makes me happy! It’s a Win-Win-Win-Win situation!

Make sure you spend time focusing on proper posture, embouchure and breathing

Proper posture, embouchure (the shape of our mouth) and breathing are the keystones of great flute playing. But these can be the aspects that we pay the least amount of attention to when we get started as adult flute students, because unlike when we were kids, we have an idea of what we ‘should‘ sound like in our head… We have heard loads of pro flute players and expect ourselves to sound like them. This means adult learners can sometime be adverse to the in-depth sort of work on these cornerstones, which often include playing around with rubbish sounds. But I promise, the more time you spend focusing your attention on these basics, the quicker you’ll improve and the closer you’ll get to that sound you have in your head.

Listen, listen and listen some more!

Listening is almost as important as physical practice. The more we listen, the more we get inspired and the more we understand the nuances of performance practice.

Hopefully you enjoy listening to flute music – otherwise, perhaps the flute is not the right instrument for you – so this should be fun as well as educational. There are so many incredible flute players, and so much music available at your fingertips on streaming services or on YouTube.

When you’re listen, also try paying close attention to the detail – how do the performers phrase the music? How do they use dynamics to elicit different moods? By focusing on these details and trying to incorporate what we hear into our own playing, we can gain a deeper understanding of the music we love.

And don’t constrict yourself to one genre. If you want to learn classical music, it’s important to listen to loads of it, but listening to jazz, folk or world music can be just as informative. This is the same for instruments – obviously listen to lots of flute music (because it’s the best instrument), but explore the repertoire of different instruments. You can learn from just about any music.

Build a community of fellow adult flute students for support and encouragement

Practicing and learning a new instrument can be an isolating activity with all those hours of solo practice. Joining or building a community of other flute enthusiasts can help remind you that you’re not alone and it’s a great way to stay motivated. Connecting with other flutists can boost creativity and even provide moral support on your learning journey. It’s always nice to know there are other people out there just like you!

If you have a flute teacher, they should be able to help you build this community, either by pointing you in the right direction for various ensembles and groups or by connecting you to other students their own studios. If you don’t have a teacher, try Googling local flute choirs and/or join some Facebook groups (the Etude of the Week Facebook group is one of my favs!)

Have fun and be kind to yourself!

Learning the flute, no matter what age you are, should be all about having fun. Don’t get stuck on trying to be perfect or worrying about whether you’re “good enough”. Good enough for who? Learning is a journey, not a destination. Sometimes it’s hard to hear our own progress. It’s a gradual process, so try periodically recording yourself. If you listen back to recordings from 2 months ago, 6 months ago, or 2 years ago, you’ll be amazed to hear how much you’ve improved!

But my main point is to try to enjoy yourself and have a good time while learning something new. You’ll have more fun, and you’ll get better faster if you do! I promise!

Happy practicing everyone! 🙂

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