Saturday, October 04, 2014

How to Warm-Up to practice flute

Question: What do you do to "warm-up"?

I have played flute for a few years, on my own, and the more I read on the internet about flute practice, the more I realize that I'm supposed to be "warming up", but I don't fully understand what that means. I'm doing more like what this fellow in the painting above is doing; I'm sitting down, playing through my pieces; just sort of blasting through them until my tone clears.
I know I play better after awhile, but am I wasting my time if I'm not doing a "warm-up" on flute?
And what do more advanced players do when they warm-up? Where should I be heading?
Thanks for your suggestions.

Jen replies:
Here are some flute warm-ups that I would recommend:

For Beginners:
A typical warmup might consist of 5-10 minutes very simple, plain, single tones or very simple songs.
Because the tone is often airy and the method of blowing not very developed, the simpler the warm up the better. The low register is an easy way to start as it does not take much co-ordination to sound

Low Longtones and warmups: free printable pdf.

The flute's middle register can be gradually incorporated to get the  air speed moving and the sound quality more full toward the end of the warmup. I like to do this with melodies.

I fill in the wide leaps in the melodies with relaxed scales (chromatic or diatonic; take your pick).
I play the melodies very slowly like a cadenza, and put pauses everwhere. I relax into them.

All the while, I reference back to how I feel, and how it looks in a mirror when I'm relaxed, poised, and co-ordinated (which believe me is an endless wandering...hahhahaa.)

Yes, the most important focus for the student warming up likely is POSTURE, as the holding of the flute  easily.
Getting used to that, and to then add the lung action are key at this stage of learning to co-ordinate. I suggest standing while practicing the flute, and of course, having a coach (a flute teacher) really truly helps (even if you only have five lessons, at least you'll have a coach at the beginning to spot you!)

Warmup with your teacher at the start of a lesson. They'll help you in no time.

See video on posture called: Easy Posture - Pure Tone

As the beginner progresses with the improvements of the lung action, along with their ease of holding the flute, the hand position is also to be noticed when changing between two notes. A mirror in the practice area and/or a flute coach (during a lesson) are both very useful here.

 I add frequent pauses (play three notes and then hold the fourth, or play two and hold the third note with a great tone....) to any warm-up, so the student can observed their  posture, hands, and listen carefully to the sound without becoming out of breath. Anything can be played in these tiny note groupings.

 This means pausing on any note, and holding it briefly, listening, observing, then stopping, resting every muscle in the body so that no tension is maintained, and then, after a relaxing moment of regular breathing, breathing deeply and restarting on the same note that you just paused on.  Relaxing every few seconds is something that should be emphasized from the very beginning of every practice session.

Typically, trying to play high notes too soon is a frequent human failing. :>)
I like to remind flute students to ease gradually into a fuller sound, and not to blast out high notes until their lower notes sound more clear and full, which may take ten minutes of low register playing.

I think that the longtones in the low register from B natural to B-flat, as slow whole notes is the quickest beginner warmup.
Hand position and posture can both be easily observed when playing such simple two-note slurs.
These two note "Longtones for pure tone warmups" will be mentioned throughout this blog post.

Read about warmups and longtones with pictures:

Low Longtones and warmups: free printable pdf.

Slow, low and lovely melodies can be played in between the longtones. It's never boring when you can apply your tone to beautiful tunes!
I use slow easy solos, bits of Bach, Celtic tunes, and low register melodies from easy flute books, or even famous melodies from great Operas etc. Suit yourself, enjoy yourself, and don't play complex things too soon in your practice session. Warm up to them. :>)
Novices (Played flute 1-2 years or more):

Novices who are studying with a flute teacher will have used beginner warmups for a year or more, and so will know to warm-up the low longtones and play around with low melodies before their sound quality naturally improves after ten minutes or so.

Novices will also have learned to play longtones in the low and then middle register.

Read about warmups and longtones with pictures:

Low-Medium Longtones and warmups: free printable pdf.

When these are familiar, they can be sped up, so that the pairs of notes can be slurred through quite quickly and fluidly. The student will advance to playing three slurred chromatic notes in a row (B-Bb-A with a pause on the final note, breathe, and repeat) in a relaxed way, waiting for their co-ordination and sound quality to improve.

The most common fault of novices is to shorten their warm-up, so that their tone is still fuzzy or unclear, and to right away start playing pieces.
The most important focus for the novice student warming up is tone quality. The tone will gradually become more focussed and more rich in quality. If it is not improving they will need to review their posture and lung action. A quick check list of key points that lead to improvement during the warmup will be something their teacher can help them with in lessons.

Example questions:
Are your feet equally balanced? (you are standing)
Are you creating a long distance between your hips and your shoulders?
Does your head feel relaxed on your neck?
Is your throat open and free?
Is your sound steady and pure?

By checking themselves during the warmup, they can eliminate typical problems that may hinder their best sound quality.

Middle register Longtones (starting with an octave leap from B1 to B2) are the quickest warmup.
Melodies that sustain in the middle register and become gradually more rich in tone as they descend are the most interesting warmups.

High Register could be warmed up and experimented with for up to ten minutes for a novice.
See the last few pages of this pdf:
Low and Middle Longtones and warmups: free printable pdf.

And then over many months, gradually ease your way higher on the flute.
Medium and High Longtones: free pdf

Additional warmups can be added that loosen the fingers, such as slow trills that gradually speed up.
But only do a few moments of this, and really go deeply into what you're doing when it is light, easy and tension-free.

Intermediates: (2-7 years of playing steadily).

Intermediates would warmup the following skills:
- tone quality in low register & then tone quality in middle register free printable pdf.

Depending on resting in between, the intermediate would then go on to warming up their tone quality in high register. free pdf

Posture is, as always, important to self-check.
See video on posture called: Easy Posture - Pure Tone

One of the fastest ways of balancing the body when playing intermediate warm-ups is to walk slowly from one side of the room to the other, in order not to "hold" the body static at the start of
If you don't need the music stand for your warmup, then move freely away from it.
Walk around, sense your balance, listen closely. Loosen up and explore. There's no need to stare vacantly at your music. :>)

High register can also be left for the 2nd half of the warmup, as it  is often demanding on the embouchure at first. You can warmup again later on high notes, dividing it into your second 20 minute practice session. That's the best way to not tire yourself out in the first 20 minutes. :>)
Slow, low and middle register melodies can be played to solidify the  tone quality before continuing with more skilled warmups.

Lung warmups:
Intermediates might be looking to increase their air speed on command.
One of the quickest warmups for this is saying slow and deliberate "HA!HA! Haaaaaaa's" on various long tones.

 Finger action warmups
Intermediates may use chromatic scales or trills to warmup each individual finger.
 Trills, Chromatics free pdfs:

During these trills or scales the flutist can:
- walk around the room to get better body balance
- check hand position for ease by placing pinky fingers first, and repositioning  their thumbs
- play a simple warmups for fingers (short chromatic scales) while looking at hands in mirror

Much of the above is covered in this free article on how to practice the flute:

The most common problem is playing finger exercises with poor tone  quality. The opposite is recommended; never play anything else that's more complex until your tone quality is beautiful.

The second most common fault is avoiding the high register longtones  because they don't sound beautiful at first. This leads to the student  trying to play high notes later in their practice session without any embouchure skills.
The solution is to set aside a skill building 10-20 minutes of high longtones practice in every second daily practice session.
It may not take place in the warmup, but it can be a separate area of focus prior to playing in the highest octave in pieces.

Embouchure experiments may be used in the above, and successes noted.

Read about warmups and longtones with pictures:
Advanced Intermediate:

An advanced intermediate likely practices every day and does not "lose their tone" very often.
If they do lose their tone, looking at the embouchure in the mirror usually shows them how their lips have just slightly changed since yesterday, and seeing it the mirror and changing it back only takes a moment or two.
The more advanced flutist's warmup may be much quicker than less adept students because their basic tone is often already in place from the day before.

Here are the areas that can be quickly warmed up:

1. Tone plus Posture, hand position, body balance - quick longtones in groups (three notes at a time, four notes at a time, one octave at a time, descending chromatically to set the embouchure as in De La Sonorite by Moyse.)

Here are the equivalent exercises that have been linked to all levels of flutists, above:
- tone quality in low register & tone quality in middle register free printable pdf.
- tone quality in the middle to high register. free pdf

2.Easy finger motion - Trills done with each finger in turn, concentrating on lightness.
  and easy Chromatic scales ascending, in groups of notes, turning around and
descending, all while keeping clear tone. Free pdf.

3. Articuation warmups - All articulations studied as a separate skill in lessons and in practice sessions can be warmed up by short "Tu-Tu-Tu" and "Du-Du-Du" passages on single notes.
If double tonguing is being warmed up, "Tu-Ku-Tu-Ku" and Du-Gu-Du-Gu" can be used on single notes. Any piece of music can be multiple-tongued by just saying "Du-Du-Du" while holding a longer note.

Skill builders that can also be warmups:


4. Downward smeared octaves and overblowing harmonics are fantastic at this point.
The simplest possible wide interval leaping is a skill that could be used  as a warm-up.
These are the BEST!

i) Werner Richter Basic Embouchure Placement exercise (video on embouchure flexibility)

ii) and Leone Buyse "Magic Carpet" overblowing harmonics in three octaves

Click on picture to enlarge.

Notes about the book/source:
 Richter's book is called: Conditioning Training for the Flute Embouchure - see sample of Basic Exercise).

Buyse's Warmup is called "The Magic Carpet" and she demonstrates it on her video online. It was given as a "Super Duper Zen Yoga Warmups" by H.B." handout at the NFA convention some years ago.
The above jpg is a screen shot from page 1 of the handout. Click on it to view the exercise.

 I personally play it by adding the sound of the real fingering at both the beginning and end of each series of harmomic overblowing, to set my lips in their optimal position for relaxed, flexible ease during warm-up.

Also incredibly fast warm-ups seem to always happen using these two techniques:

5. Spit-buzzing by Keith Underwood. This technique brings your upper lip into co-ordinated placement. See video (scroll down) at:

6. Singing while playing by Robert Dick. This technique brings your lung resonance and throat tuning into play. See video:

Lastly, for the very warmed up:

7. Dynamic warmups - crescendos (and not that many diminuendos)

The standard tone development book "De La Sonorite" by Moyse has a great "Fullness of Tone" exercise where the player crescendos to their maximum relaxation and open, big full sound at fortissimo.

"The Physical Flute" by Fiona Wilkinson has some good basic crescendo-diminuendo exercises that are skill building.  Link to the Wilkinson book is here: It's a darn fine basic all around thinking warmup book. Excellent, concise, worth buying:

Great melodies from Moyse's book "Tone Development Through Interpretation" are also useful here. This famous book has melodies in all registers with all dynamics. They are advanced. They take a deep soul and alot of listening and lessening, and increasing.

Or write your own, or play famous violin works, or opera arias. Very fun.
The main thing is to listen to them closely as you warmup, and to create creative cadenzas out of the skills you're warming up.

Only one caveat: don't drill diminuendos. Seriously.

 Remember when diminuendo-ing: 

Tapers and diminuendos can be (don't do this!) tension producing when repeated as an exercise. So never go longer than five minutes without completely relaxing and finding out how you can do even LESS when tapering the sound.

Honestly; another great human error is over-doing it; using too much increased tension to do something "tiny".

Don't add tension. Always release tension when practicing.

Read Whone's great words from his book here. They're edited down for flutists fast reads.

8. Embouchure placement exercises for advanced flutists would then be utilized in all the above, gradually over time:


____________________end warmup ideas

For free pdfs for flutists use these links:

Fast Easy Fingers:
How do I get faster fingers?
Easy trill lifting and chromatic scales: 20 pages
Download pdf including trill chart:

Read about how to use with hand pictures to help relax hands:

Also see, free at my blog:
Longtones and Warmups: (equivalent to De La Sororite first excercise).

Low Longtones and warmups: free printable pdf.

Medium and High Longtones: free pdf

Read about warmups and longtones with pictures:

Additional Practice Materials: Scales and Arpeggios for Daily Exercises (novice to intermediate):

Moyse's Daily Exercises made easier:
Download pdfs of Moyse's work at these three blog posts:
It makes a full book of everything from major/minor/whole-tone andscales in thirds.


If you want to look at some practice plans (how to practice to cover all basic skills), have a read here:
What should I be doing in my practice time?

Hope this helps,
Best, Jen