“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 and I am the woodwinds instructor and Faculty Trainer at Sage Music. 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.
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.
Before assembling your instrument, be familiar with the three main parts:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!