#13 -Go Home and Practice

Good Practice Techniques for Wooden / Irish Flute

First off, I would like to welcome all of the new members that we have on the Skip's Tips list. At the moment, we have nearly 450 people from ten different countries who apparently have nothing better to do, but read my nonsense. Welcome!

We've gone over a lot of the various aspects contained in playing the flute. But one of my frequent e mailers pointed out to me, we haven't covered what I think is contained in a good practice session. I just finished my first season as the flute instructor for the Boston, MA Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. One of the things we covered was what makes up a good practice session. This is a rather lengthy topic, so we'll cover it in two tips. First, we will warm up the flute and the player. So, here we go.

I always think it's a good idea to practice in an area where your flute has a good sound. This could be a room in your house, a stairway leading from one floor to the next, or what is usually the best sounding room--the bathroom. Why do I say this? If you like the sound you hear coming from your flute, you are more encouraged with your performance at that moment and this will make you more open to improvement.

Okay. Now we have found the perfect spot to practice. What do we do next? Some people have flutes with keys, some don't, but they ALL have headjoints. One of the most important factors in your flute producing good tone is the headjoint being warmed up. I suggest that the first thing you do is to take your headjoint and lightly block the lower end. Take a deep breath and slowly blow directly into the headjoint. Relax the pressure on the hand blocking the end of the headjoint just enough to let the air slowly escape. It's very important that you have to blow strongly into the headjoint, so be sure not to let the air escape too quickly.

Do this in a deliberate manner. By this I mean don't pass too quickly over this warm up period. The way you breath when you play the flute is different from the way you breathe normally. Use this time to switch your breathing pattern into "flute" mode.

Different headjoints will take different periods of time to warm up. Lined headjoints will take longer than unlined headjoints. If you have an unlined headjoint, it should warm up within two or three minutes using this method. It can take a couple of minutes more with a lined headjoint. During the winter months, it is a VERY good idea to warm up your headjoint this way when coming into the session from colder temperatures outside.

Now that the headjoint is warmed up, assemble your flute and start off by playing some long tones. I suggest starting on the first octave of G and working your way down to low D. People with keyed flutes will sometimes need an extra few minutes now to warm up the flute body itself. Not so much for the wood, but the pads. If they are leaking a little bit, they will benefit from the condensation that forms a gasket between the pad and the tone hole seat. People sometimes pour water-or various potent potables--down their flute saying it sounds better afterwards. DON'T DO THIS! Spend the extra five or ten minutes warming yourself and your instrument up correctly. Give the water to your designated driver and drink the potables yourself.

So let's all spend some time blowing into our headjoints now, the body comes next...