Five Simple Techniques to Help You Play Native American-Style Flute Like a Pro (You Wish You Had Heard the First Time You Picked Up Your Instrument)

Five Expert Tips & Techniques for Beginners

It’s never too late to learn to play a new musical instrument and the masters are masters because they understand that there is always more to learn. You are a good flute player and just have to think of yourself as a good flute player, even as a beginner. Whether you plan to be a performance player or to play for your own enjoyment, your journey is a personal one, so acknowledge where you are now and do not compare. Simply strive to be better than you were yesterday and you will find our own voice through your flutes.

Weekly music lessons are not always an option. If this is true for you, coming in for a “tune up” is a great alternative, no matter where you are on your path. I advocate the evaluation process for professional feedback, to affirm and reinforce good techniques, or to assist with technical and musicianship skills that need work.

Here are 5 simple secrets to success I wish every beginner could learn for a firm foundation and instant gratification…

  1. Breathe into your flute gently, as if making a sigh or a whisper. There is no need to blow hard, resulting in a squeak, as the slow air chamber (SAC) of this instrument is designed to do the work for you by stabilizing and compressing the air.
  2. Begin with the “ooooh,” mouth formation instead of “aaaah.” Your mouth formation can help focus the air through the blow hole. Try mouthing “who” for each single tone and listen to how long you can sustain a steady note with a strong energy. This will help help to feel dynamic control and to relax into a more natural vibrato.
  3. Play only three notes, or fingerings, at a time and play the rests as if they are part of the song. Start with the middle three notes on your flute because those notes are strongest and easiest to sound. (Often beginners have trouble stretching fingers to cover the bottom hole resulting in air leaks/squeaks, or reaching the highest notes because of breath pressure.) Really love the tones your are sounding and add each new note one at a time, playing a new set of three. Once you master the fingerings for the beginner scale, try skipping a note or two and listen to the intervals you are sounding.
  4. Make the silence between phrases longer than you normally would think – two or three times, even four times longer. The wait time will always seem longer to you, but not to the listener. Silence gives both the listener and player time to soak up the sound vibration. Try not to think about your next notes as you are playing. This may take a bit of practice. The trick is to use the silence for inspiration so that the next notes come automatically, flowing effortlessly from the heart.
  5. When creating a song, think of a word or message you would normally speak, but breathe the words through your flute instead. It could be a prayer, a poem, song lyrics, a quotation or something you make up spontaneously. This technique allows you to create complete musical phrases. It can be as simple as “my name is _____________; I love playing my flute.” And remember to connect your phrases/sentences/thoughts/intentions to make grammatical sense. If there is a comma or a period, ellipsis or a dash, etc., express this punctuation and phrasing by playing a long silence.

Try one technique at a time to find out which tip works best for you. At home or at your next flute circle, ask your audience for feedback and you will get a sense for which direction you are to concentrate your efforts. Play on!