How to begin the flute
Greenwich Music School tutor and flautist Helen Mantente writes a letter to parents of children considering the flute.
Advice to parents of children wanting to begin flute lessons:
The flute is a wonderful instrument! Its warmth and breadth of tone, virtuosic ability and relatively straightforward fingering system (not to mention that a good quality beginner flute is very affordable) mean that it is an immensely popular choice for students wanting to begin learning a musical instrument. But there are a few things to consider before signing your son/daughter up for lessons…
1. The size of the student. Flutes do not come in half or eighth sizes, as do string instruments. A full length flute is 67cm long, so the student will need to be physically able to hold the instrument in the correct position in order to play. There is an option for the headjoint (mouthpiece section) to come curved, which reduces the length a bit, but if the student’s fingers do not fit the keys, this won’t help!
2. The student will also need good lung capacity. The amount of air needed to play more than one or two notes at a time is considerable and requires the student to be able to control their breath in quite a complex way. I have often found that younger students struggle with this aspect of their playing, and this can be very frustrating for them.
3. The age of the student. In the same way that a parent wouldn’t expect a three year old to concentrate on maths problems for half an hour at a time, it is equally unrealistic to expect it in a one to one music lesson! Learning how to play an instrument is so much fun, but it takes a lot of hard work and an attention span that can cope with concentrating for the whole lesson.
I have given lessons to students as young as 6, with mixed success. Some take to it straight away and find ways around the physical issues. We work very steadily during these lessons, as there are many different techniques and skills to learn between beginning and achieving Grade 1 standard. I find in general, that the older the student, the quicker they are to pick up and perfect these techniques. I picked up the flute at the age of 12, and had done my Grade 8 within three years!
My advice would be to bring your son or daughter along for a consultation lesson, and we can decide together whether the flute is right for them, and whether it’s the right time to start.