I love watching my 5th graders go off to middle school and learn to play instruments or join the choir; it’s the culmination of all their hard work.
But when it comes to picking instruments, a lot of them are nervous the one they’ll pick to learn is too tough.
For most band instruments, this isn’t a concern, but where the flute is concerned, we need to take a look at the challenges and ease associated with it.
The flute is a medium difficulty instrument to learn. The flute fingerings and care of the instrument are easy to handle. Producing sound and playing the more challenging music associated with the flute, however, is a challenge for some. Fortunately, it’s easy to work around these with the right help.
As we go forward with this article, we’ll look at all elements of the flute and why you may find it difficult but rewarding.
What Makes The Flute Easy
First, let’s stay on the positive side of things.
Here are some of the elements of flute playing you may find easier than other instruments.
Flute fingerings look complicated but are quite simple in reality.
Yes, there seem to be a lot of keys to press, but the truth is this:
The flute also uses the same fingering structure as the soprano recorder.
When it came time for me to learn the flute, it was easy to learn the fingerings because I had already learned to play the recorder.
For my students, this makes this woodwind instrument a lot easier to learn.
Even if you haven’t played before, the fingerings are one of the easiest parts of the flute.
Caring For The Flute
All instruments need to be cared for.
This keeps them clean and working well for you.
Nothing is more frustrating than watching a student struggle and feel like a failure when it’s their instrument holding them back and not their talent or hard work.
Poor instrument care leads to a broken instrument, usually with issues around sticking keys and loose pads.
At this point, you probably are losing money too because you’ll need to send it in to get repaired at a music store.
On top of all this, you’ll make your musical instrument a breeding ground for bacteria.
While you won’t need to worry about issues like you will the sax, you don’t want to have your lips against something gross all the time.
Fortunately, cleaning the flute and taking care of it is simple.
For the most part, all you’ll need is some rubbing alcohol and maybe some finger pad paper.
Read more in our quick but detailed article on how to clean a flute with rubbing alcohol.
One of the greatest strengths of the flute is its popularity.
Unlike some other melodic instruments with little to no options out there (or poor options), the flute has a ton of great stuff if you know where to look.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Rubank book series (these are gold!)
- Learn to Play The Flute by Music Professor Online (through Udemy)
- The Flute Channel on YouTube
Disclaimer: Links may be affiliate in nature, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you click and buy. Thanks for supporting us!
One of the biggest challenges of learning any instrument is staying motivated.
With the flute, there are easier ways around this.
For one, the music in typical band groups is much more fun to play.
You do a lot more than other instruments; the flute is a melody instrument, after all.
Again, due to the flute’s popularity, there are always interesting flute things to watch, see, or try for your own playing.
My students, in particular, love this video, and it always motivates them to get into their practice.
The progress on the flute is pretty steady too.
Yes, there are challenges, but you’ll always be able to feel like you’re improving.
And, of course, there are always several flute players in any group you play in.
In my experience playing and teaching for many (many) years, flutists often end up being great friends.
What Makes The Flute Hard
It’s not all sunshine and roses; I put the flute in the medium-difficulty category for several reasons.
Fortunately, most of these are only big problems at the beginning of learning the instrument.
Let’s take a look.
Getting Your Mouth Shape Right
The mouth shape or flute embouchure shape for playing the flute is unlike any other wind instrument out there.
Brass instruments need to buzz their lips; it’s silly but simple.
Reed instruments such as the saxophone or clarinet need to close their lips around a mouthpiece and blow.
The flute is something different.
The exact shape of the lips depends on the shape of your mouth and the thickness of your lips.
Usually, you make a tight circle with the lower lip stuck on slightly farther than the upper.
Then, you blow a column of air across the embouchure hole aimed toward the lip plate on the head joint.
When you hit the air stream in the right spot, the air splits in half, causing a vibration which is then altered in pitch and tone by the body of the flute.
Sounds complex, right? It is.
And it’s tough to get right at the beginning.
Producing Consistent Tone
If you do manage to get over the initial mouth shape and sound production hurdle (which you will with practice), now you have to deal with consistent tone quality.
Not only do you need to practice, so you hit the right mouth shape consistently, but you also need to alter the shape as you play higher and lower notes.
This adds another layer to the difficulty of this musical instrument.
Again, it’s overcome with time and practice, but it’s tougher in the early stages.
The Music Is Usually More Challenging
The sheet music you play in ensembles such as band and orchestra is a lot more fun, but it’s also a lot more challenging.
Often, the flute plays the melody or the tune of the piece.
This may be challenging but isn’t usually too bad.
But it also plays a lot of ornamentation or highlighting of the melody or direction of the piece.
With some pieces, this is a beautiful, soaring counter-melody.
With others, it’s a grueling flurry of notes.
A lot of people also say this woodwind instrument is quite tiring.
As a tuba player by heart, I was a little skeptical at first, but I get it.
Though the weight of the flute isn’t a lot, you have to hold it up to the side of your body, using muscles you don’t typically use.
On top of this, if you sag or droop, you’re introducing tension in your body.
Check out how to hold a flute without pain.
Flute Difficulty Compared To Other Common Instruments
When it comes time to learn to play an instrument, it may be a little tricky to narrow down your options.
Use this table of difficulty comparisons to help you decide which may be right for you.
Remember, this is a brief list, and these are generalizations.
Everyone’s experience with an instrument will be different.
|Musical Instrument||Overall Difficulty||What Makes It Easy||What Makes It Hard|
|Flute||Medium||Fingerings, care, available resources||Producing sound consistently|
|Clarinet||Easy-Medium||Making a sound||Fingerings, back pressure|
|Saxophone||Easy||Making and sound and fingerings||Advanced techniques for advanced players|
|Trumpet||Easy||Sound production, fingering||High range playing is harder|
|French Horn||Medium-Hard||Only play one note at a time||Hard to accurately play notes even at high levels, to fingering systems, sometimes difficulty rhythms in music|
|Trombone||Easy-Medium||Sound production, music is easier||Using the slide requires a good ear|
|Tuba||Easy-Medium||Fingering and reading the music||Lots of air|
|Violin||Hard||Lots of resources||Requires a good ear to make the notes, sounds bad for a long time|
|Cello||Hard||Same as violin||Same as violin|
|Ukulele||Easy||Easy on the fingers, easy to reach chords, only 4 strings||Learning chords|
|Guitar||Medium||Lots of resources, very motivating||6 strings, hard on fingers at first, complex chords and solos|
|Piano||Easy-Medium||Easy to make a good sound, lots of resources||Many notes to learn, some fingerings are difficult at higher levels|
Tips For Working Around Flute Challenges
The challenges do exist on this instrument, but as with all challenges, there are ways to work around them and turn them to your advantage.
I’m no master flutist, so I asked around to my friends who are to develop this list of tips to help you with the early stages (and later stages of learning the flute):
- Always take the time to check your posture
- Stop when you get too tired
- Don’t be afraid to roll the flute up every time you start playing for a while
- Put a weight on the end of your flute to build muscle; then take it away
- Go slow and give yourself grace; even the pros had to put in years of practice
- Motivate yourself by watching and listening to great flute players
- Practice often, but for shorter sessions
- Find a teacher you like but who pushes you
- Connect with other flutists to stay motivated and share tips
- When a part is tough, slow it down and repeat, repeat, repeat
How Long Will It Take To Learn The Flute?
As with any instrument or complex skill, the prevailing knowledge is that it takes 4,000 hours to master any skill.
If you practice a half-hour per day, every day, it will take you 22 years to master the flute!
But this is only if you want to be a master of your instrument.
If you want to develop a decent level of proficiency, you only need to get around 500 hours of practice.
This closer to 3 years.
Remember, this assumes the only playing you do is a half-hour of practice every day.
If you practice more often or join ensembles where you play more, the number gets down much faster.
Which flute is good for beginners? – There are many good options for beginner flutes, and the best ones balance price, reliability, durability, and great sound.
If I had to pick one, it would be the Yamaha YFL-222.
It ticks all the boxes on the list and doesn’t break the bank either.
Can I learn flute online? – With the prevalence of online courses and the push for in-home learning, there are many options for learning flute online.
The two best options are to meet with a virtual lesson instructor or go through a video course.
A music teacher will always be able to help you specifically with what you need, but they cost more.
Video courses will be cheaper, but you’ll get less specific information.
And some are pretty bad.
As I said before, the Learn to Play the Flute on Udemy is the one I recommend for newer players.
Keep in mind, professional flute players or aspiring pros need more than what online lessons can provide.
How much does a decent flute cost? – A decent flute needs to at least be in tune and work reliably.
You won’t find many beginners or intermediate options fitting the bill for less than $500.
On average, I’d expect you to spend between $600-1000 for a decent flute at most levels.
Be careful about spending less as the instrument may not work well at all and hold you back from learning this fun woodwind instrument.
Expensive flutes may be scary, but they sound great and play nicer than a student model flute.
Do flutes need to be tuned? – Standard flutes need to be tuned every time you play it, but it’s a personal thing, so you can’t just pay someone to do it.
Check out our guide on how to tune a flute.
How much do flute private lessons cost? – The average cost of an hour private flute lesson is between $40-65 per hour.
Even beginner flute lessons cost quite a bit, but at this stage, group lessons or joining a band for beginners may be the best option.