“How do I hold this thing? Am I going to break it before I even learn how to play a note? Am I going to break it while playing a note?”
If this is or has ever been you, read on!
My name is Michael Conklin and I am the woodwinds instructor at Sage Music in NYC. Thanks for checking out this tutorial on assembling, disassembling and cleaning your flute. Because you are taking the time to read this, you care about doing things the right way, and you will know how to handle your instrument like a true professional. After reading this tutorial, you will know how to safely handle your instrument, allowing for more time spent playing music. While it is important that you spend the majority of your time practicing, performing, and enjoying music, the time spent caring for your instrument before and after playing will have a direct impact on your ability to do so.
Why it is important to assemble your flute the right way
Besides convincing others that you have even the slightest clue what you are doing, taking the care to learn how to do this the right way will ensure that you won’t damage your instrument, and you will have more time to play the music that you want to play as a result.
The Parts of Your Flute
Before assembling your instrument, be familiar with the three main parts:
The parts of the headjoint include:
The Crown: The crown is the cap located at the end of the flute near the embouchure hole, and the crown is screwed into a cork with a metal plate on the other end. This crown-cork assembly redirects air flow down the flute past the keys. By changing the placement of the cork-crown assembly, you can adjust the tuning of your flute.
Lip Plate: The lip plate is a curved piece of metal located on the headjoint of the flute. When you play, your lower lip rests against the lip plate, creating embouchure stability as you blow into the embouchure hole.
Embouchure Hole: The embouchure hole is a small hole centered on the lip plate of the flute’s head joint. This is the small hole where the player blows air into the instrument. You’ll rest your bottom lip on the lip plate and blow air at an angle, causing the air stream to split in half, resulting in vibration of the air column within the instrument and producing a beautiful flute tone. This works in exactly the same way your annoying little cousin Timmy might loudly blow into a coke bottle at your next family outing.
The parts of the body include:
The Barrel: The barrel serves as a connecting point for the body and headjoint of the flute. It is typically engraved with the manufacturer’s logo, and often decorated with additional engraving.
Rod: The rods are the long round, metal bars that travel down the length of the instrument. The rods serve as mounts for the keys which rotate to allow for the keys move up and down.
Keys: Energy from your fingers and the springs on the flute move the keys up and down. This energy is carried down the length of the flute by the rods, so you can move multiple keys or move keys located far away from your fingers.
Your flute may have an in-line or offset g key. An in-line G is a g key that is arranged in a straight line with all the other keys. An offset g is a g key that is slightly farther away from your body, no longer in line with the other keys. The style of G you choose should be based off of your comfort and preference. There is no “better” option, other than the one that works best for you and your physicality.
Keys may also be open holed or closed holed, meaning that there are literally holes in the middle of each key. Open hole keys allow for greater expression through extended technique (non-standard ways of playing), like the ability to bend pitches. Open hole keys also promote better fingering technique, and your fingers must be properly placed to seal the holes of these keys. When moving keys up and down in different combinations to cover and uncover holes, this effectively changes the length of the tube of the flute, resulting in different pitches, and allowing you to play more than one note. This makes for higher functionality and versatility than the aforementioned coke bottle. Who’s laughing now, Timmy?
Like the body, the parts of the foot joint include rods and keys but also sometimes include:
Low B: The low B foot joints include one extra note a half step lower than a low C flute. This requires additional tubing, and additional keys. These are standard on intermediate and professional level flutes.
The Gizmo key: Only flutes with a low B include a gizmo key. The gizmo key closes the low B key without closing the low C or C sharp, better facilitating the performance of the fourth octave C.
Accessories for your flute
1. Cleaning rod: A high-quality wooden cleaning rod is best, as other materials can scratch or dent the inside of your flute. This can affect intonation and overall sound production.
2. Gauze: You want a high-quality lint-free cotton or bamboo-fiber gauze. Do not use paper towels to wipe down or clean the inside of your flute, as they are too abrasive and can cause scratches.
Pro-tip: Keep your gauze in a small plastic bag or container in between cleaning, so that it does not attract dirt or other particulates that threaten to scratch your flute.
3. Pad Saver: A pad saver is used to wick up the extra moisture left behind after you’ve meticulously swabbed out your flute with gauze. It’s a flexible piece of plastic covered in fibers and oftentimes stuffed with a desiccant. Its appearance is that of a large, often vibrant-colored pipe cleaner, the kind you would associate with the crafts section in your local arts-supply store. Please don’t try to craft a pipe-cleaner peacock with these, as they aren’t quite flexible enough for the task, are too expensive to buy in bulk, and most horrifyingly, it would be soaked in your spit…
4. Flute Case: The case typically comes with your instrument when you purchase it. If you are buying a new one, make sure you get one with the correct dimensions. This means that you know whether or not you have a C of B foot joint. (A B foot joint requires extra space inside the flute case, so you definitely wouldn’t want to purchase a case designed for a C foot joint, and not have enough space in your case for your instrument.)
You can purchase hard-shelled plastic cases or wooden framed cases encased in nylon. You can also get case covers with pockets for additional storage space for your cleaning supplies and flute accessories. These sometimes come with shoulder strap attachments that make it easier to keep your flute on your person when traveling. Additionally, there are also step-up cases you can buy with storage for multiple flutes, and/or accessory storage compartments. Protec cases are always a good choice.
5. Tarnish Strips: You can place a tarnish strip inside of a flute case, replacing every 3-6 months. The tarnish strips work by absorbing the sulphur that turns silver black. They are sold as 3M Anti-Tarnish Paper Silver Protector. These are very affordable and a pack of 25 should last you 12.5 years.
Assemble the Flute
1. Hold the headjoint in your left hand, close to where the open end is.
2. Pick up the body of the flute (the longest section with all the keys). Hold the flute by the end that has no keys. Pressure on the keys can damage the flute. You want to carefully, but firmly, hold this section of the flute in your right hand.
3. Attach the headjoint to the body of the flute by lining up the barrel end of the body to the open hole end of the headjoint and gently twisting back and forth until the two components are completely connected.
4. Next, line up the embouchure hole with the line of keys on the body of the flute. Bring the crown of the headjoint to eye-level, and look down at the embouchure hole and keys, and align them by gently twisting the two flute components.
5. Take the footjoint and locate the keys closest to the edge of it. This is where the footjoint will connect to the body of the flute. Use your right hand and firmly (but gently) grasp the footjoint. Twist gently back and forth to attach the footjoint to the body.
6. Align the footjoint rod with the middle of the bottom key of the body.
Disassemble the Flute
1. Disconnect the headjoint and body with a twisting motion.
2. Similarly disconnect the footjoint and body.
Clean the Flute
It’s imperative that you regularly clean your flute. I’ve known students who didn’t clean their flutes; one student in particular spent $225.00 getting many pads replaced on her student-level instrument. Much of that money could have been saved by cleaning the instrument regularly, therefore keeping the pads in good condition.
You can prevent these kinds of repair visits for free by cleaning your instrument after each play and practice session. Additionally, it’s possible to contract diseases and develop allergic reactions as a result of not cleaning the instrument, and allowing for mold to grow. The condition has quite unfairly, been called “Saxophone Lung”, despite it being possible to have this condition develop while inhaling from any moldy wind instrument. A clarinet player was the victim of “Saxophone Lung.”
1. Take the cleaning rod and thread your cloth through partway. Ensure the end of the cleaning rod is covered by some cloth so as to not scratch the inside of the flute. Scratching the lip plate, or the inside of the flute could make it difficult or impossible to produce a tone on the flute, or could alter the acoustics of your flute in unpredictable ways.
2. Grip the rod in your left hand and take the headjoint in your right. Gently insert the rod until it stops, and gently spin the headjoint around the cleaning rod. Slowly remove while spinning.
3. Repeat the same process for the body, and do this from both open ends. Remember to grip the area of the body with no keys. If you grip the keys, you risk bending the fragile mechanisms that move the keys of the flute up and down, which are expensive to repair, and can make it difficult to play well.
4. Like step 2, grip the cleaning rod in your left hand and take the foot joint in your right. Gently insert the rod until it stops, and gently spin the foot joint around the cleaning rod. Slowly remove while spinning.
5. Place a pad-saver into the flute body
6. Place flute components into the case and close
In conclusion, handling your flute takes a lot of care, but it’s really very easy! Remember these important pieces of information: Always handle the flute by the area without keys, and gently twist the components together and apart. Now that you know how to assemble and take care of your instrument, you can go on to learning your first note!