Whether you’re just starting lessons or have been playing a while and need a refresher, here are some tips for ensuring that your flute lasts as long as possible before needing expensive repairs, and plays beautifully for you without unnecessary interruption! Flute care is pretty quick, and it’s a good idea for a beginner to get in the right habits right off the bat! The pads are one critical element to care for. Be aware that a re-pad costs around $300 these days, in addition to the inconvenience of being without your flute for a while. So many of the tips below will help make it more likely that your pads will last 10 years or so before needing a re-pad.
I will be adding photos to this blog entry soon! I’m hoping to also get full instructions on video. Please check back.
First: Make sure you brush your teeth and wash your hands (and maybe face) before you play! Blowing sticky moisture into your flute will affect the longevity of the pads, as will grime from dirty and sweaty hands.
Putting your flute together:
- For younger kids: make sure the flute is on the floor on a soft carpeted area. Let’s minimize the risk of damage before you even start!
- Make sure your flute is right side up! With young children (and – well let’s just say – sometimes people a little less young), it’s important to really make a conscious point of this. Notice where the company logo is. Notice that the handle is attached to the bottom half. Notice that the clasps undo from the bottom up. Taking conscious note of each of these details the first few times you put the flute together, on a softly carpeted floor, is likely to prevent mishaps that might put your flute in the shop before you start!
- Notice the 3 parts of your flute – the body (the largest section), the foot joint, and the head joint. Young children’s flutes will have a curved head joint and probably also a straight head joint to grow into (with the exception of the “Prodigy” model of Jupiter brand flutes, intended for the very youngest kids – normally 3-6ish years old, which have only the curved head, and do not have a separate foot joint).
- Take the body – the largest section – out of the case. Now take the foot joint out of the case with the other hand. Carefully screw the foot joint onto the body. If it’s difficult, it’s probably out of alignment – so remove at the first sign of difficulty (unless someone has confirmed that your foot joint is particularly tight) and start over again. If it’s lined up correctly, it should go on fairly easily and smoothly, and should be able to gently screw all one direction – never use force! The joint on the body, connecting to the foot joint, is somewhat delicate – vigorous back and forth motion will create friction that may shorten its life, and trying to force it into place will not work and may lead to a trip to the repair shop. Line up the rod of the foot joint with the center of the last key of the body. (A common mistake is to line up the keys of the body with the keys of the foot joint – this will not work, since the pinky is shorter than the other fingers).
- Next, screw the head joint into the body. I won’t get into head joint placement here – there are many opinions on this! Suffice it to say that if you’re my student you’ll have nail polish dots on your flute – one on the head joint and one on the body – line them up together.
- You’re good to go! Just make sure you note the comments about cleaning below.
If you typically practice more than 30 minutes or so at a time, swab out your flute (directions below) after about 5 minutes (the initial contrast between warm breath and cold flute will create condensation initially, which creates water, which the pads absorb if not wiped away). Then swab again every 30-60 minutes – try to swab BEFORE you notice water dripping out the end. (You may wish to consider a double long cleaning stick that screws together and apart – this allows you to swab without taking apart your flute – and is made by Yamaha).
When finished with your practice, take the whole flute apart and swab out right away. Waiting until you get home, or even 5 minutes or so, means that the pads will absorb the water. This WILL affect their functioning, particularly if it happens frequently – both in the long term and possibly also in the shorter term.
First, take your flute apart one step at a time, nestling each part safely in the case before you begin the cleaning. For young children I recommend placing the case directly on a carpeted floor – you DON’T want the flute tumbling off onto a stone or hardwood floor while cleaning! Once each part is safely in the case, remove the body – the largest part. Thread the corner of the cleaning cloth (perhaps a 100% cotton men’s size handkerchief, a scrap of old white T-shirt cut the right size is also good, or my repair guy says he uses paper towels – unscented, soft, etc), through the eye of the cleaning stick. Wrap the cloth around the stick to ensure full coverage and pass through the barrel end of the body. Push through until the stick and cloth come out the other end. If the cloth is the right size, it will be a snug fit and you’ll see the cloth puffing slightly up into the tone hole. This ensures that the moisture closest to your pads will be wiped away.
I often like to suggest the image of a bathing suit. You swim, you change, you put your wet suit in a box and leave it there until tomorrow. Tomorrow, you take it out briefly, swim for a half hour or so, and put the suit back in the box. Let’s think – what will happen after a few days, a week, a month, a year, to that suit? Now, let’s say that instead of putting it in the box right away, you rinse it, hang it out to dry, and THEN put it in the box. Well you get the idea – I won’t get any more gory with my description. But I find the image can be helpful in remembering to care for your flute.
Once you’ve cleaned the body – yes, just a quick one swipe through – do the same for the foot joint.
Finally, for the head joint, wrap the small end of the cloth around the tip of the cleaning cloth to ensure you’ll get the moisture at the end of the flute. Then gently swab the head joint – go to the end BUT gently so as not to disturb the cork. Give a quick turn to catch extra drips. Then it’s a nice idea to take the extra cloth that’s hanging out the end and wrap it around and give a little rub down, particularly on the lip plate. If you should get any dirt (or a bit of your snack that you forgot to wash away before you practiced, which I won’t ask you to fess up to…), a little bit of rubbing alcohol can help get that off.
Rubbing alcohol can be a good thing to use for most parts of the flute (adults only) – but stay away from the pads! Do NOT worry about black stuff between the keys – that’s normal over time, and the repair tech will take it off when it does go in for it’s annual tune-up. If your foot joint is tight, giving a little extra rub can help it go on smoothly – first try a dry cloth, but a little rubbing alcohol can really help. This isn’t normally necessary, but again, if your foot joint is tight it can often really help. A bit of rubbing alcohol on the head joint is also fine.
I’m hoping this will help keep your flute playing beautifully without interruption for many years!