What are the first notes you teach your beginning flute students? F Eb D or B (Bb) A G? Which octave do you start them in, low or middle register?
Whenever I have the opportunity to start a beginner, I always start with B A G in the low register. Why? Because the basis for tone development on the flute is in the low register. Second and third octaves are essentially harmonics of the fundamental in the low register. And because the fingering on the flute is easiest to assimilate if the student understands from the start that fingering is sequential. B is thumb and 1st finger, A adds the middle finger, G adds the ring finger, F add first finger right hand, E add middle finger right hand. Bb (see the post on Bb fingerings) can be added after the student knows down to F and E at the bottom of the staff. Next I teach the middle register of E, F and G (see the octave exercise below) and finally I teach middle D and Eb.
Why wait so long to introduce D and Eb? They are very long notes on the flute, with a lot of tube to activate. These notes may make it easy to hold the instrument but getting a brand new flute player to activate that much tube is extremely difficult for them. It is the equivalent of starting a trumpet player on low C#. A beginner hasn’t developed the air speed and breath pressure necessary to push the air through all that tubing yet.
If you are not able start your flute students as outlined above because the band method you use in your program, how can you help them base their tone in the low register? The number one thing you can do to help your students is teach them the octave exercise as soon as they learn F, G, A, Bb. Get and use the Pneumo Pro to help them understand how they change the direction of the air. As they learn new notes, expand the exercise to include the notes they are learning. It is entirely possible to expect beginners to be able to play chromatically through two octaves in the first year of study with good tone.
Finally, there are a couple band methods that have the right idea about the very first notes for flute. These are Tradition of Excellence and Standard of Excellence methods. Both of these series have some preliminary material that teaches B or Bb, A and G before introducing middle D, Eb and F.
If you find these entries helpful, please subscribe, share with your colleagues and come back next week for another flute tip. Your comments and questions are always welcome. Find me on Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about clinics and workshops click here.