Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Hello there! Welcome back to the blog! What's that? You noticed I haven't posted since last October? Hahahahah. Oops. That happens sometimes, doesn't it? I'll admit I haven't felt inspired to sit down and write a full blog post since then, and I really don't know why. But thankfully this week, the motivation came back and I'm here to share some flute content with you!
Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'm doing everything right but this darn metal tube won't cooperate with my body!"? Yeah. That's me, like, every day. Well, today I'm sharing 3 flute hacks that will actually help you play the flute (apart from, you know, practicing effectively 😉). They might not be super fancy, but they work :)
Tip #1: Put Vaseline on your lips every night before bed
I warned you these wouldn't be glamorous! This tip comes from my friend Lucy, a fellow flutist. Back in the fall of 2017, I was close to giving up on the flute entirely. My performance anxiety wasn't going away, my confidence was up and down, but most annoyingly, I could not produce a consistently beautiful sound on the flute. Some days it would be all airy and lacking resonance, other days it would be the best sound possible!
[ Before I continue, I do want to say that this Vaseline tip does not itself produce a beautiful flute sound! That comes from actually learning how to play the flute hehe :) ]
One night, I went for a run with Lucy and vented to her about my flute problems. When I mentioned the inconsistency of my flute tone, she suggested this Vaseline tip. She found that the state of our lips really does affect the tone we produce on the flute, regardless of how amazing a flutist we might be. I was instantly sold, hoping for a miracle cure to my troubles.
Of course, there is no miracle cure to playing the flute beautifully :) But ever since 2017, I have used Vaseline on my lips every single night before going to bed (skipping maybe one or two nights since then), and it has definitely helped my flute game.
Why? Because it keeps my lips consistently moisturized. I know people tend to use chapstick in the dead of winter, when the air is super dry, but I suggest a year-round approach. My lips are always in a smooth state, and I've found it truly helps me produce a beautiful sound when playing the flute. I don't know if you've ever played flute with dry/chapped lips, but if you have, then you'll know how much that affects our playing!! So trust me when I say: use Vaseline (or a similar, safe product) every single night :)
[ Another little disclaimer: I am not a scientist/doctor. I don't think this has any negative affects on our bodies, but I can't be sure, so please take this tip with a grain of salt and/or consult your doctor before doing this. ]
Tip #2: Apply "pinky grease" when playing low note passages
Still not fancy, sorry! But you know that feeling when you're eyeing a piece of music and notice you have a bunch of notes below the staff, meaning your pinky is about to suffer? Not fun, right?
Well, in line with my Vaseline tip, I suggest rubbing the edge of your pinky on your face (close to your nose) to get some natural grease/oil on it, so that you can then slide your pinky around the different keys instead of lifting it or rigidly moving it around.
(Look, I'm nothing if not honest. Is this kinda gross? Mmyeah. Is it free and safe and does it help? Triple yup!!)
This tip was given to me by my former teacher Ariane Brisson and let me tell you, I listen to everything that amazing flutist and woman says because it - you guessed it - WORKS. I can't tell you how many fumbles I've avoided by using this hack, though you have to plan for it! Those pesky low notes might only occur later on in your piece, so make use of your pencil and write down "pinky grease" or some other shorthand as close to that passage as possible, usually when you have a long enough rest.
The wild thing is, we wouldn't even have to use this tip if all flutes came with a D# roller key on the footjoint. Like, who decided that not all flutes/flutists need that?! I only know one or two flutists who have this feature on their flute, so that's why this tip is super useful for the rest of us.
Tip #3: Use moleskin on your lip plate and thumbport (if necessary)
Okay, so this one is more optional, in my opinion. I use moleskin on my lip plate if it's super hot when I have to play, and I use it all the time on my thumbport to cushion it out.
I actually started to use moleskin first on my thumbport before I realized it helped with sweaty lip plates as well. I've used a thumbport since 2018 and really love it. But over time, I realized the material was much too hard and rigid for me. I didn't want to stop using it, so I had to improvise. Somehow, I came up with the idea of sticking small pieces of moleskin on and around it to soften how it felt.
It truly looks awful (hence why I added it to this list) but it helps my thumb feel comfortable while playing the flute. Nowadays, I use about three layers to feel 100% happy, and I simply purchase a pack of Dr Scholl's Moleskin Plus Padding, cut it up into smaller chunks, and lay it on my thumbport. I replace the pads every few months but I'll probably purchase a new thumbport soon just to freshen up the product itself 😂
Okay, on to how I use it on my lip plate! I absolutely hate playing outside and when it's super, super hot. I mean, I don't know anyone who enjoys that to begin with, but still. All throughout my flute-playing life, I kept asking my teachers and peers how they dealt with the sweat that accumulates on your lip plate and makes your flute start slipping left, right, and upside down?!
Some of them didn't deal with that at all (how????) but the ones who did told me to use tape or a stamp or other such sticky things to reduce the slipping. For many years, I would put a piece of masking tape (I actually don't know if that's the correct tape type, but hey I said I'm not a scientist) for such situations, but it honestly didn't seem to improve things all that much.
Finally, a few months after using moleskin on my thumbport, I realized I could apply it to my lip plate to help with sweating! Now, I only use this in the summer on unbearingly hot days. I don't keep it on my lip plate at any other time, and I only use one layer.
What I like about it is that the material is soft but still coarse enough to limit the slipping around that happens when you sweat profusely. It has really helped me keep my chin/lips placed exactly where I wanted them in these situations.
The only downside to this hack is that the sticky moleskin material is actually kind of thick. Of course, in everyday situations, it's not thick at all, but for the purposes of flute playing, I find it's just a few millimetres too thick to resemble your normal direction of air. You'll feel a bit destabilized the first time you use it because it raises your chin just a tiny bit, thus changing how your air hits the opening. It's nothing too drastic, but make sure you practice with it at least once before performing so that you know exactly how you need to adjust yourself to keep playing your best.
Well, there you have it, folks! Three really strange flute hacks that will still totally improve your flute experience. As I mentioned already, these are not magic tricks and they will not make you play well on their own. They are simply inexpensive/free and simple aids that will lessen some of the annoying body-related things we experience as flutists.
And because I'm feeling generous, here's an extra little hack that's not quite as unglamorous as the others: if you're having trouble beginning phrases on low notes (specifically low D and under), coordinate smacking your left hand ring/fourth finger down with the beginning of your airstream. So basically, set your fingers up for the note you're about to play. As you breathe in, lift your left hand ring finger, and then smack it down at the same time as you release your air into the flute.
Yes, it definitely takes a few tries to manage the coordination, but it helps so much. I rarely, if ever, begin low notes without doing this. The smacking of just one key really propulses your air much faster down the tube, which is what we want for attacking low notes! My former teacher, Ariane, also suggests not using your tongue to attack low notes (depending on the context/situation) because it usually just gets in our way. So, test out no tongue + smack your LH ring finger to begin your low notes!
I hope these tips help! Please let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to add on to this not-so-glamorous list at any time! We want to ensure we give ourselves the best chance possible to utilize all of our flute skills and kick some serious butt on that stage!!!
Until next time,
Want some more basic flute tips like these? Sign up for the virtual Flute Fundamentals workshop on July 30th! I'll be guiding you through the building blocks of producing a beautiful sound on the flute through a glorified warm-up session. We'll talk posture, breathing, long tones, and vocalises, and there will a be Q&A session at the end.
Any flutist is eligible to audit and play along (while muted) in the comfort of their own home! Simply donate minimum $1 or more to JAMS via PayPal and we'll send you the Zoom info on July 29th. For more information, please visit the workshop webpage.