A guide to choosing a second instrument. Part 1: The Flute

Hello! I’m Barry Sullivan, and I’m a professional woodwind teacher and performer, working in South East London.

First of all, I’d like to thank Lorraine Liyanage for allowing me to post to her blog : I hope my words will prove entertaining and occasionally enlightening – do feel free to leave me comments!

The piano, by any measure, is a good instrument. There isn’t any other instrument that, in my opinion, can combine melody and harmony in one package quite like the piano can. And that’s before you get to the extensive amount of music that is out there : if you like jazz, classical or chart hits, there’s piano music that will suit.

There is, however, more, much more to the musical world than just piano, glorious instrument though it is, and I hope to be able to introduce you to the wonderful world of woodwind : beginning with the characteristics and other basics in taking up the flute, clarinet and saxophone : I will go into more details in future blog entries.

First of all, the flute.

Jupiter: JFL-FLUTEMS C Flute Outfit, click for more info.

There are few instruments with the extensive history of the flute. Its history goes back to way before the piano, though the modern flute is a more recent (1800s) creation. Despite being a woodwind instrument, it’s usually nowadays made of metal, and certainly virtually all student instruments are made of metal alloy.

Stagg: C Flute With Curved And Straight Headjoints

Stagg: C Flute With Curved And Straight Headjoints, £229

Normal flutes are 23 inches long, which can make them hard to hold for small customers, but happily there exists curved head flutes, which means that children of about age 6 and upwards can take up the flute with little difficulty. As most of my initial readers are likely to be piano students, or parents of piano students, I can reassure you that playing more than one instrument should cause little in the way of problems, and indeed it should make students much more diverse in their musical studies, which is a good thing : but do make sure that there’s enough spare leisure time to do a second instrument justice : I’d recommend for the flute starting with about 10-15 minutes a day, increasing to 20 minutes a day by about grade 1 level.

You produce a sound on the flute by blowing across, not into, a small hole on the headjoint of the flute. My students always begin by using just the headjoint to produce a really clear, beautiful sound, before moving on to using the whole flute : it helps to build a strong technique. Most students do move onto playing tunes very rapidly on the flute, and I often find that grade 1 level is achieved very quickly, often within 9-12 months of starting to play : there is only one clef used on the flute (treble clef), and one line of music to read – so with work and dedication, progress can, and often is, rapid.

As far as tutor books are concerned, most of my younger beginners start with the excellent ‘Funky Flute’ by Heather Hammond : lots of good tunes and bright pictures, with a CD to go with it. My older beginners usually begin with Sally Adams’ ‘Flute Basics’, which again has lots of good tunes in it, and builds technique and note knowledge gradually. I supplement this with tunes from other books, like ‘Abracadabra Flute’, and the ABRSM’s Time Pieces series.

It’s always worth listening to top flute players, to get an idea of what good flute music sounds like : names to look out for include Sir James Galway, Mike Mower, Ian Clarke, Lisa Nelsen, Clare Southworth and Ian Anderson (leader of progressive rock band Jethro Tull, and a top flautist).

Jonathan Myall, in South End, Croydon, do arguably one of the most extensive ranges of flutes in all price ranges in the country, and all their instruments are of a high quality : flutes are their specialism. Expect new student flute prices to start from around £300-350, though there are cheaper around. The second hand flute market is however buoyant, and there are bargains to be had. Myall’s will be able to help with the purchase of both new and secondhand instruments : with used flutes, what a flute looks like isn’t that important (even very tarnished flutes may play very well), but pads ought to be in good order, keywork needs to be checked for play/wear, and check the headjoint for damage. An excessive amount of dents is also a sign that the flute hasn’t been looked after.

My next entry will cover the clarinet in much the same way, in the meantime, here are three flute performances to listen to. Both very different, but outstanding in their own ways.

Video 1  –  A flute that changes colour, as played by Trevor Wye – who’s written many excellent books on flute technique.

Video 2  – The Clasen Koehler quartet with some nifty jazz fluting.

Video 3 – Beatbox fluting : the Inspector Gadget theme!

Enjoy, and don’t forget : feel free to leave me lots of comments and questions!

Barry can be contacted by email: barry8000@hotmail.com


About Lorraine

Music & Kimchi
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