Just like any other musical instrument, learning the flute takes as much time as the effort you put in. Your reasons for learning the flute, deciding to get a teacher or not, and other factors will influence how long it takes you to learn the flute.
It can take a few months up to a couple of years to learn the flute. Even though it is not an especially difficult instrument to learn, there are physical and technical aspects of playing the flute that you will need to master like breath control, mouth shape, and finger placement.
The time it takes you to grasp the basics of this woodwind will depend on how long and how often you practice as well as the role a teacher plays in your learning journey. In this article, we will cover these factors to help you gauge how long it may take you to learn the flute.
What Challenges Will You face?
Learning something new always has its challenges. There are several things that you will have to learn, and these are very likely to be things you have never done before.
Compare going to the gym for the first time or learning a new language. At first, your movements and actions might feel awkward, uncomfortable, and even frustrating but, with practice, you will learn.
When you learn to play the flute, you not only use your breath to push air through the flute to create the music, but you also use your mouth, fingers, and upper body to play this melodious instrument.
Time and Effort
Just as with other instruments, the only way to master it is to practice it. With real dedication, practicing 45 minutes to an hour a day, you could master the basics within a few months (source).
So it is important to take the time and schedule it in your diary.
Music practice is usually the first item that gets canceled or postponed, but if you want to learn to play the flute, you will have to be diligent and disciplined. Every minute not practicing is a minute further away from your goal.
Even though the flute is not that difficult to learn, it does entail specific techniques and physical requirements to create the desired sound and play music in tune and on tempo.
So, practicing the correct techniques is the other side of this coin. By learning techniques and posture the wrong way, you will only frustrate yourself and possibly injure yourself.
It is not just about the time, but also the effort of learning the correct technique and applying it every day.
These basic techniques are just the beginning, but you will have to learn them and love them to play the flute.
Without mastering these, your flute playing days will be numbered. The only way to learn them is to practice them correctly, so you must get it right from the start (source).
For you to push air through the flute, you need to learn to breathe deeply and exhale slowly. It would help if you stretched out your breath so that it flows through the length of the flute.
This will take practice because it is our default to take shallow breaths when we are nervous or excited.
Controlling your breath is also directly linked to your posture because it is easier to breathe deeply when you are standing up straight and relaxing your shoulders. It just goes to show how vital technique and posture is.
The specific shape you need to make with your mouth to direct the airstream into the head joint is called embouchure.
It is vital to get the hang of this technique because the shape of your mouth and the way you blow into the flute directly influences the sound produced.
You can practice this by blowing on uncapped bottles, but experienced flute players advise finding out precisely what you desire to achieve before going out and blowing over bottle rims willy-nilly.
Yes, your tongue also plays a role in the music from a flute! When you learn to read flute music, there will be accent marks that indicate the tonguing that is necessary.
Flutists tap their tongues against the top of their teeth to produce different notes by cutting off the air they are blowing into the instrument rhythmically.
As a beginner, you can start with single tonguing, but you can also look forward to double and even triple tonguing when you start getting the hang of this fascinating technique (source).
Even though you probably only need seven fingers to play, some of your fingers have very specific jobs to do. It is essential to learn where each finger goes and how to press the keys to play that beautiful melody and avoid cramping.
Almost like playing the violin, a flute player needs to balance their instrument at the shoulder level, except that you need to hold the flute with both hands and use your fingers to create the melody.
This can be very tiring at first, but it will get easier with practice as you get stronger.
It is crucial to practice the correct posture so that you do not hurt yourself and cause long term damage in your neck and shoulders.
How Does the Flute Actually Work?
In a nutshell, when we blow air into the embouchure hole of a flute, the air vibrates through the tube. Our fingers then create a pitch by closing the keys or holes along the tube.
This controlled vibration of air produces the sound that you hear as the sound comes out of the end hole and the open holes on the tube of the flute.
The quantity of air that flows through the tube also impacts the pitch. High volume creates a low pitch, and low volume creates a high pitch.
It sounds backward, but the volume or amount of air influences the frequency of vibration; the more air there is in the tube, the slower the vibrations (source).
This principle explains why breath control is so important. You will not only control the pitch with your fingers but also with your breath.
Do You Need A Teacher?
In today’s digital world, you would be able to master the flute without a teacher. Many tutorials and videos show you how to hold the flute, how to form the embouchure, what tonguing is, and how to do it, and you can even find finger charts online.
So, you do not necessarily need a teacher to teach you the techniques or show you how to read music, but you might need a spotter. It’s like dancing with mirrors to see how you are doing.
For you to see where you are going wrong, you probably need an extra pair of expert eyes that can show you where you might be holding the flute wrong or not breathing correctly.
Otherwise, you could be practicing the wrong thing, as mentioned before, and open yourself up to frustration and pain.
A good flute teacher, who has gone through the journey you are about to embark on, will have excellent advice on technique, posture, music as well as insider secrets that can only benefit you in the long run.
Learning something new is an investment, not just the money you spend, but also the sacrifice of your time and sometimes your sanity. So, think about getting an expert in your corner. A teacher will only help you learn faster.
Finding the Right Teacher
When you are looking for a flute teacher, you want to find someone who you will get along with. Otherwise, it eats away at your motivation, and you will end up resenting the activity as much as the teacher.
You also want to find an expert that not only has experience as a teacher but is (or was) also a professional flute player.
Teaching needs to come from someone that knows the subject in-depth so that they can show you what to do, explain what can go wrong, and identify ways to avoid mistakes, injuries, and overcome challenges.
If you are cash-strapped and cannot afford a full-time teacher, find someone that you can see once a month, just to give you pointers to improve your technique.
The support and guidance will go a long way in the success of your musical investment.
It can take you just a few months, or it can take years to learn to play the flute. How long it takes ultimately depends on your own dedication and commitment.
There are various techniques that you need to learn, using your breath, mouth, tongue, and fingers. Maintaining the correct posture when holding and playing the flute is also essential, and you need to become strong in your upper body.
The issue of getting a teacher or not will also impact the duration of your training. Ultimately, it is really up to you how much time you will have to spend to learn to play the flute,