Music Study – The Flute

The natural qualifications that are especially favorable to the practice of the flute are : rather thin lips, regular teeth, sound lungs and supple and delicate fingers. The most necessary requirement for playing well is a good embouchure, ” that is to say, a certain arrangement of the lips suitable for putting into the instrument all the breath that comes through the mouth,” without losing any of it, and that will not allow a kind of hiss that precedes the tone to be heard,—a very disagreeable thing which occurs in the playing of all faulty flutists. A slightly projecting upper lip is not a disadvantage, quite the contrary. The detached notes being made on this instrument by means of an articulation called tonguing, it is indispensable that the artist should possess great volubility in the organ of speech in order to execute rapid pas-sages with cleanness, and above all, he must accustom himself to form a perfect agreement between the movements of his tongue and those of his fingers.

For a long time, flutes were made out of wood, then of ebony and granadilla wood ; now they are made almost exclusively of silver, which does not pre-vent this instrument from remaining classed with the family of Wood-wind, to which it owes its origin. Moreover, it is demonstrated by the laws of acoustics, and verified by the experience of skilful makers, that the material of which the tube of wind instruments is formed has no influence, or next to none upon their timbre. Flutes have even been made of crystal and there is nothing to prevent their being made of gold.

Of whatever wood or metal the instrument held in the hand may be constructed, the sound that we must try to get out of it remains the same, and the numerous adjectives that writers and poets so frequently use regarding it may guide us in this task. The tone of the flute should be pure, sweet, velvety, suave, silvery, crystalline, limpid and ethereal, otherwise, its very nature is changed and it loses all ifs charm. Effects that are violent and dramatic are scarcely suited to it ; a nasal, heavy or hollow quality of tone is a great defect. Apart from this question of timbre, the principal qualities to be acquired are rapidity in the execution of passages, delicacy in accentuation, lightness, suppleness, extreme agility and the art of skilfully managing the breath.

It does not appear advantageous to begin the flute before the age of ten or twelve years; before that age, it is somewhat difficult to manage the action of the lungs and some fatigue injurious to the health might even be caused.

The maximum of work should not exceed four hours a day, here, as always, wisely divided, and considerably reduced during the first months.

The Piccolo demands no particular study. It is simply an ordinary flute reduced one half in all its proportions, and consequently it produces tones an octave higher ; it requires the same fingering and the same embouchure. However, in this case, very fat fingers would be an inconvenience. The qualities of sweetness and suavity that belong to the flute are not to be sought in the piccolo ; the latter should be particularly biting, incisive and strident ; any excess, a hard and shrill tone, is a fault however.