(I'm not blaming the flute!)

I've been learning flute for about 6 months and have been making slow progress - learning how to get a note out, learning tonguing, able to play the first two octaves (well B5, C6 eludes me) and simple pieces like some Christmas carols or Grade 1 pieces.

But my ability to play is so variable from day to day and minute to minute. Some days I'll be able to play a piece all the way through and think "wow it actually sounds like I'm playing the flute". The next day, like today, I'll barely be able to get a sound out at all - or I'll be able to play notes but the moment I start a piece it all stops working.

Is this normal and part of the 'joy' of learning flute is that you spend 1/2 the time wanting to smack the flute against a wall?! Are there any common things I can do, or things I might be doing that I shouldn't be, when it just doesn't want to play? When I have an off day, am I best to accept that and put the flute away, or should I try and 'force' it somehow, keep relentlessly blowing the thing until I've done my 15min practice?

I have a tutor by the way but when I have lessons, generally I play well so it's hard to demonstrate!

  • I broke like 3 bows learning violin as a child when my practice was not going well, much to my not-very-well-off parents' chagrin, so I'd resist the urge to smack it against the wall :) Apr 23, 2015 at 10:32
  • My exact experience with flute. From what I know, it's related to embouchure (or aperture size rather) and whether or not the instrument has leaks. But the notes you describe as problematic are when most of the tone holes are open (I'm assuming B5 is middle B and C6 is high C), so I'm voting embouchure. And your teacher should have been able to identify problems with that, provided they're a good teacher.
    – Pyromonk
    Oct 13, 2020 at 21:36

3 Answers 3


It's one of the joys of being human! We can't always switch on and be whatever we want. Mental and physical states have a lot to do with it. Some of my pupils play fantastically at some lessons, but if they come, say, after playing a football match or a couple of hours maths coaching, they might at well go straight home!

Try to be able to play at any time you feel will be productive. If you have to go out to work, in the morning, prior, may be good - you're fresh. Straight after a day's slog isn't the best time, and if you have to do it quietly after 8, when the kids are in bed, it's not conducive either. When I'm learning a new instrument, I try to leave it handy, so at any time I can pick it up. It may be 5 mins or it may turn into an hour, but when I've had enough, or it's not particularly happening, there's always next time.

I think, as adults, lessons focus the playing. After all, we're paying for it!! It's not like when we were kids and someone else financed it.Put a pound into a jar every time you feel you've played well. Take one out if it's rubbish. Use that to pay for the next lesson. Just a thought!

  • Ha, good advice I think. I find flute way mmore frustrating than guitar/piano - I might find a piece hard on piano if I'm tired but I don't forget how to hit the key :)
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 19, 2015 at 17:08
  • If it's any comfort, I play flute from time to time, and alternate it with clarinet and Eb sax - they have the same basic fingering, but completely different embouchures, obviously. If one's not behaving, there's always an alternative to get my teeth into - literally! with two at least.
    – Tim
    Jan 19, 2015 at 17:13

I've been learning flute for 11 months, and I have only very partial control over the 2nd octave. If you are comfortable in the first two octaves after just 6 months, I'd say you're doing better than me. To your question, I also have times when nothing is working right, and I can't tell whether it's the flute or me that has gone haywire. Personally, I tend to think it must somehow be me, and I try to be patient with myself and work through the problem by slowing everything way down and repeating each music phrase over and over, until it sounds better. And if it never does sound better, well, as the heroine of Gone With the Wind said, Tomorrow is Another Day.


Indeed, humanity can truly add to our ability to play flute, as well as its ability to take away our ability to play flute ;-).

Sometimes, simple temperature changes (Is the lip plate cold and the flute head joint cold while the air is warm? Am I playing my flute in a room that has rapidly-changing humidity and temperature ?) can wreak havoc on one's ability to play in a consistent fashion. In winter parades, we used to keep our head joints warmed up when we weren't playing, for example.

To the specific question of "should I push on or put it down?" That's a great question that actually can be pretty simple for me. When I warm up and then practice/play (guitar, flute, bass, oboe, keyboards), it becomes apparent very quickly whether or not I am "gelling" with my music. When things go great, great! When things just don't work and I find myself struggling, I put my instrument down and walk a way for a few minutes. I walk, or do a chore, or do something different for a while. Take lots of deep breaths, and pick the instrument up again. Start with something -different- to do: if scales were crazy, do etudes or pieces; if the piece I'm practicing is crazy, I will stop and do etudes or even improvise to some recorded music...

Your heart will tell you. Just don't give up!

As musicians, we --->learn<--- to practice. Yes, practicing practice makes it easier.

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