This popular instrument was originally made out of wood, but today most are manufactured from metal. The instrument is a very popular choice for learning at school, particularly among girls. As a child flautist gets older, there may be some competition within a school for places in a band or orchestra because of it’s popularity although this should not be a serious consideration for a beginner.
Other instruments in the Flute Family
The piccolo, a smaller, higher pitched version of the flute, used by orchestral composers to provide particularly high notes, is not a beginner’s instrument. The flute family also includes alto and bass instruments to which players may extend their expertise having mastered the flute. These are used principally in flute choirs or for particular effects in the orchestral scoring.
Flute parts are written for orchestra, windbands, wind quintets and jazz ensembles, and the instrument’s huge repertoire covers many styles of music. It can feature as a solo instrument and be accompanied by piano.
How is it played?
The player holds the instrument to one side of the head and blows air across the mouthpiece, a hole near one end of the instrument, in order to make a sound. Keys are lifted and depressed to play notes of different pitches. The modern transverse flute began to replace the recorder as the orchestral instrument of choice in the times of Bach and Handel at the beginning of the 18th Century.
Learning the Flute
The flute is ideal for children aged 8 onwards. Some teachers encourage younger children to begin on the fife before graduating to the flute. Flutes with curved head joints allow younger players with a shorter reach to start on the instrument. Once a sound has been established, the player must get used to holding the flute to one side of the head. Most models of flute use plateau keywork, in which the player’s fingers press keys which in turn cover the holes. This means the player’s fingers don’t have to be particularly big to make notes.
Aptitude and temperament
Although few find it impossible to make a sound on a flute, children occasionally find it initially difficult to do so. To some extent, this depends on physical make-up ie. the shape of the mouth and jaw combined with the position and development of teeth. An experienced teacher can usually tell by looking at a potential pupil whether or not they are likely to find the instrument easy or more difficult.
Cost and maintenance
The purchase price is relatively modest and the second-hand market is good. Running costs include occasional maintenance, which is best left to a professionl repairer or flute teacher. Parents and children should not attempt to tighten or loosen the many small visible screws that adjust or hold parts of the instrument in place.
Size and Weight
Flutes are light and easy to carry and the cases are unobtrusive. Flutes are available with a curved head joint which reduces the total length. The benefit for younger children is that they can reach out far enough to hold the instrument (this may be difficult with a regular flute).
Article contributed by Dr Christobel Llewellyn
by Dr Christobel Llewellyn
ATCL, LRAM, BA,LLB, M.Mus, PhD
Founder of Kinderjazz