Flute Basics Overview

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the fingering on a flute the same as a tin whistle?
Yes, the fingering doesn’t change except for some harmonic notes and cross-fingerings which are not essential.
Do you need to have keys on the flute?

I’d say that 90% of Irish music doesn’t need keys to play. Most of the tunes are in G Major, A Mixolydian, A Dorian, E minor, D Major, B Minor. For the occasional A Major tune or D minor (Us flute players tend to avoid these anyways), half holing is an option.

However, if you really want to get keys – here is the order you should get them in – from most used to least used:

Long F natural
Short F natural
C natural (although there is a crossed finger version of this. The keyed version is a bit better intonation)
G sharp
B flat
E flat

Two F natural keys are necessary – depending on the musical passage, for example if the next note after the F natural is a D, it’s impossible to use the short one first.

Kirsten

I often hear about flutes cracking. How do I avoid this?
Wooden flutes are very susceptible to changing temperatures (especially extreme heat and cold). As such, they need to be treated regularly in the early years with oils (linseed, almond). As the wood matures, there is less regular maintenance required but oiling should always be a routine measure. This keeps the wood in good condition to avoid cracking but, in any case, caution should always be taken when travelling to very hot or very cold climates.
Some older generation players used a pint of Guinness to fix cracks. Should I do the same?
Please don’t. In their endearing ignorance those musicians would spill Guinness into the instrument and, yes, it would seal the crack temporarily. However, once the Guinness had dried out of it, the crack would reappear even bigger. They would continue to use the same remedy without realising that, gradually, they were destroying their instrument beyond repair. The same applies for putting the flute into a sink of water.
I've been trying to get a tone for weeks and still nothing! Am I doomed?
The flute is a particularly demotivating instrument because if you can’t get a tone from it, you can’t play music in any capacity whatsoever. But fear not. It has taken some of our tutors at OAIM weeks on end trying to get a tone before ever succeeding and our tutors will share their varied methods on how to approach your embouchure. The flute is a very personal instrument as it is connected directly to your face muscles and breath. As such, everybody has a unique way of finding the tone. If you persevere, you WILL succeed.
I play Boehm flute. Can I use that for Irish traditional music?
Technically, yes but, ideally, no. The tone of a silver Boehm flute that one finds in classical music is not suited to the timbre of Irish traditional music. There have been a handful of practictioners who use a silver flute (best known in, perhaps, Joannie Madden of Cherish the Ladies) but she grew up in a household steeped in the Irish tradition which paved a pathway for her endeavours. Most people are not so fortunate. Other musicians like East Galway’s Paddy Carty and Peter Broderick utilised the Radcliffe system which had Boehm-like keys fitted to a wooden bore. This allowed the musician to play in the many unusual, un-flutelike keys while still producing a pleasing tone (albeit still different to a simple-system flute). There’s really no point in short-cutting, learning the Irish flute demands that you do so on a simple-system instrument (i.e. open holes). If you would like to play chromatically, you can always get a fully-keyed, simple-system instrument (i.e. open holes with added levers for chromatic notes).
What is a concert flute? Is it a classical instrument?
This is a common misnomer. A concert flute, in the context of Irish traditional music, refers to concert pitch i.e. 440hz. This simply means that the flute is in the key of D. However, the term has widened it’s usage to refer to an Irish, open-holed, simple-system flute. It has nothing to do with a reference to classical concerts.

Detailed questions and discussion on the course can be found in the Community Forum, available to paying members only.

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Flute Basics Lessons

Level

Hand, Finger and Lip Positioning

Flute Basics Lesson 1

  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Hand, finger and lip positioning (embouchure) and the scale of D Major.

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Scale of G

Flute Basics Lesson 2

  • Level 1
  • Melody
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The Scale of G Major

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Tripping to the Well

Flute Basics Lesson 3

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Exercises on the scale of G Major

Polka

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Breathing & Articulation

Flute Basics Lesson 4

  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Breathing and Articulation

Focus on Technique

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Clarity of Tone

Flute Basics Lesson 5

  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Clarity of Tone for Low Notes and High Notes

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The Rattling Bog

Flute Basics Lesson 6

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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In this lesson, Steph will teach a simple tune in the key of D major called ‘The Rattlin’ Bog’.

Polka

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Báidiín Fheilimí

Flute Basics Lesson 7

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Slurring Notes

Waltz

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Buachaill Ón Éirne

Flute Basics Lesson 8

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Slurring Notes

Waltz

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The Foggy Dew

Flute Basics Lesson 9

  • E Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Cuts

March

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The Glenside Polka

Flute Basics Lesson 10

  • E Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Polka

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The Rakes Of Mallow

Flute Basics Lesson 11

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Slurring notes

Set Dance

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Gander In The Pratie Hole

Flute Basics Lesson 12

  • D Mixolydian
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Left hand Dexterity Cuts

Jig

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The Rocky Road To Dublin

Flute Basics Lesson 13

  • A Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Breathing

Slip Jig

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Danny Ab’s

Flute Basics Lesson 14

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Slurring

Slide

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The Butcher’s March

Flute Basics Lesson 15

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Phrasing and Breathing

Jig

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The Rambling Pitchfork

Flute Basics Lesson 16

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Rolls Throat Articulation

Slip Jig

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O’Keefe’s Slide #1

Flute Basics Lesson 17

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Clarity of Tone for Low Notes and High Notes

Slide

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O’Keefe’s Slide #2

Flute Basics Lesson 18

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Jig / Slide Rhythm Throat Articulation

Slide

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The Boys of Bluehill

Flute Basics Lesson 19

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: The Triplet

Hornpipe

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Humours of Whiskey

Flute Basics Lesson 20

  • B Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Throat Articulation

Slip Jig

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The Sunny Banks

Flute Basics Lesson 21

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Tone: The Low D!

Reel

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Jimmy Duffy’s #2

Flute Basics Lesson 22

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Tone: The Higher Register

Barndance

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The Munster Buttermilk

Flute Basics Lesson 23

  • G Major
  • Level 2
  • Melody
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Jig Rhythm and Basic Ornamentation

Jig

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The Heathery Breeze

Flute Basics Lesson 24

  • G Major
  • Level 2
  • Melody
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Left hand dexterity

Reel

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Brendan Tonroe’s

Flute Basics Lesson 25

  • D Major
  • Level 2
  • Melody
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Approaching tunes that fall below low D on the flute

Jig

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McGivney’s Fancy

Flute Basics Lesson 26

  • E Minor
  • Level 2
  • Melody
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Creating Rhythm using Throat Articulation and Cuts

Hornpipe

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The Crosses Of Annagh

Flute Basics Lesson 27

  • A Minor
  • Level 2
  • Melody
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In this lesson, Steph will teach the reel ‘The Crosses of Annagh’. In it, she will introduce the G roll…

Reel

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O’Gorman’s Reel

Flute Basics Lesson 28

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Rolls

Reel

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Instrument Maintenance

Flute Basics Lesson 29

  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Instrument Maintenance

Focus on Technique

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