Developing a good relationship with your instrument repair technician is so important to getting the most mileage out of your instrument. As a result, you can become aware of the tendencies of your particular instrument (what is the first thing to go out of alignment? What little things should you be taking note of that could lead to bigger issues?), how to preserve your instrument (ie. brushing your teeth/rinsing out your mouth before playing), and what cleaning tools are helpful or harmful to your instruments.


The Beginning

Like most beginning flutist, I started with the cleaning rod that came in my flute case and an interior cloth to swab through the flute. . . That was it.

At the basic level, that is all you really need to keep the flute from rapidly becoming worn out. HOWEVER, you must not leave the cloth and rod INSIDE the flute.

Why? Because leaving the rod and cloth inside the flute – the moisture that your just swabbed out (with the rod and cloth) will be sitting in the flute as if you didn’t even both to swab which is problematic for the flute’s pads which will – as a result – collect moisture and start to stick and deteriorate. Likewise, you do not want to take the interior cloth and place it OVER the flute for the same reasons. So what do you do with it?

SOLUTION! If you are working with a standard student flute case – that would be one that does not have a separate case cover or exterior pocket – this is one smart way to store your rod and interior cloth. The rod already has a spot in the flute case (typically this is at the bottom edge adjacent to the case latches).
If you take the interior cloth and tie it around the case handle – the cloth will be able to dry much faster than it would in the case and it will not be damaging the flute.

It is also IMPORTANT to note that for the interior swab there are two options that DO NOT work well with the flute. Avoid these swabs types with your flute:

  1. A weighted swab – these work well with instruments like the clarinet or saxophone – however, given the thin diameter of the flute and delicate keys: the string and weight can cause damage to the flute.
  2. The caterpillar or fuzzy swabs (you’ll know them when you see them) – these are problematic for two reasons.
    1. The fuzzy fibers can pill off and get stuck on the pads or within the mechanism (causing it to become worn down).
    2. The tendency with these swabs is to just leave them inside the instrument. As mentioned earlier, this will allow moisture to collect and can cause damage to the pads.

A good interior cloth will not have any frayed or loose edges that can get caught on the small parts of the flute. Likewise, the material should be able to absorb any moisture inside the cloth with 1-2 pass throughs; and should be thin enough that it is not getting stuck in the instrument. Interior swab suggestions:


Moving On Up

These are cleaning supplies I found useful as I started to play more.

Pad Paper

Pad paper was the first addition to my cleaning accessories – if you do not have a case with storage or a case cover, I would recommend keeping these in a separate bag. Pad paper does not need to be used after every playing – if you hear a sticky key or feel like key is leaking you can place the paper under the key, press down for several sections (DO NOT PULL THE PAPER OUT WHILE THE KEY IS DOWN) and then lift the key and remove the paper. Repeat on a different area of the paper becomes soaked.

Things to be aware of:

  • NO DOLLAR BILLS!!!! You may of heard of band directors using dollar bills as a quick fix… it would be better off if you did nothing at all than use a dollar bill. Ask your repair tech, a dollar bill may absorb some of the liquid, but can very easily add gunk (dust, bacteria) to your pads.
  • You CAN use cigarette paper though.
  • I will say it again, DO NO pull the paper out while the key is pressed down – this can tear your pads (to replace your pads can get expensive real fast, ask your tech what their rate is for pad replacement and the number will amaze you how much those tiny things cost).
  • Be wary of powdered pad paper, sometimes okay – I prefer to er on the side of caution and avoid it.
Anti-Tarnish Strips

Look at the body of your flute – particularly where you place your right hand (behind those three keys). What do you notice? Overtime, you may see what appears to be dust and gunk build up. Whatever you do DO NOT attempt to clean it with Q-tips or even think of sticking anything near the rods. Ask your repair technician and they will warn you to proceed at your own detriment. So if you can’t go in and clean it – what are you meant to do?

In this case, there are 2 solutions you can use in tandem:
(1) You can blow a quick stream of air to loosen or remove the visible dust. You don’t want to spit on your flute, but using your air to dislodge the dust is the first step.
(2) This is a preventative step. What you are most likely noticing is tarnish, hence, placing anti-tarnish strips somewhere in your case – usually underneath the flute. Please know, there is not anything you can do to fix it on your own (please DO NOT try to DIY this at home), you would need to bring your flute in to get a full COA to remove the tarnish – do not worry so much about tarnish because it is a cosmetic issue that in most cases does not effect the mechanism.

Anti-tarnish strips can be placed in the case with your flute. Read and follow the directions for the specific strips you buy – typically, they will need to be changed out every 6 months (and one pack of anti-tarnish strips will be more than enough; especially if you end up cutting the strips to fit into the flute case).

Exterior Cloth

Exterior cloths are like pad paper – they do not have to be done after every use. Although with the exterior cleaning cloth, many of us may prefer to wipe down the flute to get rid of finger prints.

Microfiber is the standard material for cleaning cloths. The wonderful thing about these exterior microfiber cloths is that you only need ONE because you can just wash it once it starts to get dirty and it can last you years!

Like interior cleaning cloths you want a cloth that does not have any frayed or loose edges that can get stuck on the flute. Be aware that a cut up shirt or piece of old fabric WILL NOT BE EFFECTIVE because this material tends to unravel (making it very easy to get snag on the flute) and usually can’t fully remove grime.

Here are some exterior polishing cloths:

When using the exterior cloth be sure to avoid going near the pads and rods. When cleaning the body and foot joint with the cloth: just stick to the top of the keys, and parts of metal that are easily accessible. You DO NOT to stick the edge of a cloth into the mechanism and risk moving something out of alignment or tearing a pad!

Isopropyl / Cotton Ball

The days before COVID-19 when conventions and fairs were safe and instrument vendors brought dozens of flutes to try – isopropyl and cotton ball/pad where used on the lip plate to disinfect between players. Of course, currently, instrument sharing is not happening, but it is good to have these on hand. For example, when I get sick, I’ll clean around the lip plate just out of precaution.

REMEMBER you do not want to submerge the head joint because there is a cork that will need to be replaced if submerged (the cork should be replaced annually anyway), but you DO NOT need to apply the isopropyl INSIDE the flute, only apply it (if you feel so inclined) to the lip plate/exterior of the head joint.


Finally…

Flute Flag (Interior Swab)

If you own a case cover or have a case with a separate pocket, I have found the Valentino Cleaning Flag to be an efficient way to swab my flute during and after practice sessions. First, it’s only one piece so I don’t have to worry about threading a cloth through a cleaning rod. It’s easy to just grab and go. And like the exterior microfiber cloths you only need ONE – these are very easy to clean (I usually just do soap and hot water, and let it dry for 1-2 days).


What do you use to clean your flute? Has it changed since you started playing? Do you use any of these tools? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Unpopular opinion: I love flute warmups… if that was not abundantly clear by my extensive collection of flute warmup resources.

I think quarantine is a great time for people who normally don’t prioritize warmups to step away from repertoire, and find something that resonates with them. My philosophy regarding warmups are that they are not a one-size fits all plan – everyone lives different lives. Some people have more time to practice than others, some people having certain restrictions regarding space and time they can play, etc. I am here to share what my current resources and warmup plan are – DO NOT feel less than or pressured to have a warmup that is exactly like mine. I will also take the time here (as this is my first post about warmups) to discuss HOW I got to this plan.

What you need to keep in mind regarding practice planning:

  • Time – both how much time you have AND the amount of time it takes for you to learn and process material.
  • Introspection – you need to reflect and BE HONEST with yourself that is the only way to improve. You must be active, not passive, during practicing. And you are only competing with yourself and no one else, don’t feel like you are racing against anyone else.
  • Practicality – know your limits and what you are capable of. Like any goal or plan, don’t set yourself up for failure; and this also goes with time, you will learn what works for you. Experiment, trial and error, and don’t give up when you fail.

What Is My Current Warmup?

Breaking down what resources I am currently using*:

  • George and Avidan Louke – The Flute Scale Book
    • Harmonics
    • Variations on scale patterns
  • Paul Robison – Flute Warmups
    • Singers Warmup – tone and resonance in scales
    • Radiating Arpeggios – arpeggios with extended range and varied rhythm
    • Bells Warmup – long tones
    • Nightingale Trills – coordination and balance
  • Kujala – The Flutist’s Vade Mecum
    • Extending technique
  • Moyse – 24 Little Melodic Etudes
    • Simple melodies focusing on honing techniques (dynamics, articulation…)
  • Moyse – Scales and Arpeggios
    • Variations on scale and arpeggio patterns
  • Taffanel and Gaubert – 17 Daily Exercises
    • Versatile simple scalar patterns

*I DO NOT practice all of these every day, I vary my warmup (following a general plan) to avoid injury and to tailor to what I need to work on depending on the day.


My warmup plan – what do I practice and why do I practice?

  • Harmonics – Tone/Focus
    • Control – being able to get a clear pitch (on whichever partial I play) and move with ease
    • Resonance – being aware of what I’m using to get a particular sound (regarding my nose, chest, tongue, vowel, etc.)
    • Lips/Apperture – finding and experimenting what works and what doesn’t.
  • Contrast
    • Dynamics, articulations, etc.
    • Being active in my warmup and having to assess whether something sounds different or the same.
  • Scales
    • To move air, get it spinning.
    • Get fingers and mind coordinated.
  • Range
    • Experimenting with what I need to do to make all registers sound even – tone quality; as well as balance and blend.
    • Finger coordination for extreme registers.
  • Coordination/Balance
    • Stability and consistency – make playing seem as effortless as possible.
    • Challenge myself with tricky finger changes while maintaining balance.

How I got to this point of structuring my warmup?

When I was in high school I was a violinist that started flute on a whim to be in the marching band with my friends. I didn’t start taking lessons until a year after I started playing when I knew I was going to take college auditions for music. During this early period, I mainly focused on scales (Major and minor) and maybe arpeggios. The book I picked up from my local music shop was actually the “Foundations For Superior Performance” book for wind band.

In my undergrad I was exposed to A LOT of warmups… I was given warmup after warmup (because I really had and still have this love for doing them – so much so that, during my undergrad, I would actually spend more time on warmups than on actual repertoire), but for the warmups I did in my studio I was rarely every told WHAT I was actually working on when given a PDF. I have filled in the gaps now as a Masters student, so here is the wide range of things I worked on in my studio as an undergraduate Music Education flute student:

  • Taffanel and Gaubert*
  • Moyse Exercise Journaliers*
  • Moyse De La Sonorite
  • Paula Robison Warmup Book
  • The Flute Scale Book
  • Andersen Op. 33
  • Berbiguier 18 Etudes
  • Karg-Elert Caprices

*These first two were the STAPLE books for our studio – our technique class really hinged on the patterns from these books.

Now in graduate school, I have a lot more (if you can believe it) books that I have used. I tend to cycle through books to keep things interesting. This is what I have studied on my own and with my teacher as a Master of Music Performance student:

  • All of the above
  • Moyse 24 Little Melodic Studies
  • Maquarre
  • Andersen Op. 15
  • Paul-Edmund Davies 28 Days Warmup Book
  • Kujala Vade Mecum
  • Trevor Wye Omnibus Edition

An example of a typical warmup (July 2020):

Every time I take my flute out I do the same thing: I get my KORG tuner/metronome and set it to A440 drone. I take a moment to listen to the A, and try to match my first notes to that drone. I’ll play that same A4, the As above it, and then a bit of noodling until I feel like my ears are discerning where I am for that day. By that I am referring to intonation (am I sharp or flat today?), resonance (am I playing too forward and shallow or am I supporting the sound?), and focus (do the notes speak and what am I doing to get them to speak).

This takes no more than 2 minutes, there are good days and bad days – I do this drone every day I practice as a gauge to figure what I will need to focus on for that day. So for this example of a typical warmup let’s say I am having a bad day – my pitch was very flat, I am playing too forward and tense, and the notes are not speaking right away. I move onto 2 exercises (the order can be reversed, as I use these exercises for the same reason):

(1) Harmonics – this can be stacking harmonics (C4, C#4, D4) or following the patterns in the “Flute Scale Book”. Here I am focusing on getting that deeper resonance and support. I reflect on what I am doing internally and externally with my body to get sound – usually my shoulders need to come down and I need to unarch my back when my resonance is too forward and shallow. By making these adjustments, the harmonics begin to sound more focused, in tune and come from a better place.

(2) A 5 note stepwise patterns – examples of this would be Taffanel and Gaubert “17 Daily Exercises” #1 and 2; or the Singers Warmup in the “Paula Robison Flute Warmups Book”. Again, I am focusing on achieving that deeper resonance and support. Here I may hum while playing the 5 note pattern to bring my resonance backwards in my mouth and nose. The 5 note patterns are great because they are taking out the complications of registers (particularly evenness) so I can focus on getting small groups of notes to all have one sound.

This part can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Say that after all of that work I have only slightly improved my tone quality, still playing forward and tense, I will move onto to a full register or full scale exercise and will do chromatic, Major and minor (depending on how much time I have – I will either play all forms or if I do not have much time I will just do harmonic) scale patterns:

Examples include the Moyse “Exercise Journaliers” extended Major and minor scales; a B3-D7 chromatic scale; Taffanel and Gaubert #3 or 5; “The Flute Scale Book” Major and minor scale patterns; the Maquarre chromatic exercise; or the “Paula Robison Flute Warmups Book” Orange Juice warmup. This is usually where the most improvement happens (in my own experience – my learning style is understanding a concept but it taking awhile for my body to catch up) because I am now mostly in the right mindset; and focusing finger coordination distracts my mind enough that the issues with tone quality will resolve themselves.

The scales can take 5-10 minutes. By this point, I will switch to a short easy piece or etude. Examples include “Andersen Op. 15”; Moyse “24 Little Melodic Pieces”; or duets from the Voxman books. I take this time to enjoy the sound and be less critical than I had been in my earlier warmup. Here I focus on dynamics, articulation patterns and musicality – looking more at contrast rather than trying to be ‘perfect‘.

The piece or etude will take another 5-10 minutes depending if there are variations or if I want to isolate any part of the exercise. The final part of my warmup is technique – I will focus on more precise or tricky articulation patterns, extreme dynamics especially with register, or tricky fingering patterns. Examples include Kujala’s “Vade Mecum”; Moyse “Scales and Arpeggios”; and or Taffanel and Gaubert #4, 10, 12. This final part of the warmup taking anywhere from 15-25 minutes.

This quarantine warmup can take about an hour, whereas, before quarantine I might not have had a full hour to spent just warming up I can take advantage of this time to focus on my weaker areas.

Let me know in the comments how you warmup, has it changed significantly since quarantine started? And what resources are you using in your warmup?