Flute Tip of the Week – Spring Cleaning

It’s Spring Cleaning time! I’m sure you take care to swab out your flute, wipe off the tenons, maybe gently wipe the lip plate and keys, but have you looked at the inside of your case lately? Might be time for a good de-linting! You can gently vacuum the inside of your case to remove lint, dust, and loose fibers that otherwise could get into your flute’s mechanism. Just make sure you take your flute out of the case first!

Don’t Practice Tired

“Don’t practice when you are overtired.” Easier said than done for most of us! I am sure that every flutist has felt the need to practice when they were really too tired to get any good out of it. Besides being unproductive because you can’t concentrate well, you run the risk of physical injury when you practice under strain. If you are truly too tired, stop, get some rest, and get up a little earlier tomorrow so you can practice when you are fresh.

Flute Swabs

Are you swabbing out your flute before you put it away? Hopefully so, it is critical that you keep your flute clean inside and out. But what are you using to swab out your flute?

I advocate using a simple, 100% cotton handkerchief or bandanna. They are absorbant and nonabrasive, readily available and inexpensive. Cotton works great for wiping off the tenons so the joints go together smoothly, too. Cotton is also washable so when it gets grubby, just throw it in with the regular laundry (using fabric softeners may not be a great idea, though). Very practical!

A silk swab is nice, but it can be fragile and tends to flatten out after a couple of uses. A 10″ or 12″ bandanna or kerchief will stay full enough to clean the whole tube for several uses. You could just use a strip of cotton or a square piece of cotton, but I think the edges should be finished so stray threads don’t get caught in the mechanism.

As for the fuzzy flute swabs that are so popular, I do not recommend them. They are supposed to “wick the moisture away from the pads”. Great! But what do you do after you have done that? You stick it right back into the flute! Where is the moisture supposed to go? I live in Florida and any moisture that is allowed to sit around leads to one thing, mildew. While I haven’t heard of too many cases of “flute mildew”, I do know that once you get the moisture off the pads, you should keep it away from them. If you feel you have to use the fuzzy things to swab out your instrument, fine, but do not store them in your flute or inside your case. Besides, you will still need a soft cloth to wipe off the joints and the fingerprints, so why not just get a cotton cloth or two and leave the fuzzy things alone. I also suggest that your flute cleaning cloth not be stored inside the case with your freshly swabbed out flute.

This is all part of good flute maintenance, which results in better flute performance. It’s easy, it’s practical and it’s cheap. Besides, you can create a collection of cool “flute” bandannas that will make you the most stylish and hip flutist around!

Language is important

Whether we are talking with teachers or students, fellow musicians, conductors, etc. we are constantly talking about playing. The language that we use is extremely important to how we think and feel about playing. I’m not talking about terminology here; what I’m talking about is much more subjective.

The words we use when talking about our playing can have a huge impact in how we think about what we are doing. We all know the effect that using judgmental language, especially negative words, can have on a player’s attitude. This is actually pretty simple to address by just avoiding negative words “no”, “not”, “bad”, “wrong”, etc. Other words have a more subtle, sinister, effect, and while they do not sound like negative words, they can have negative effects. For me one of those words is “control”.

I have spent years working on breath “control”, “controlling the air stream”, etc. and, while I have had some success, in general this practice ties me up in knots. To “control” something really means to inhibit it in some way, keep a tight rein on, or hold it in check. These ideas are all antithetical to what we need to do to make any sound at all on the flute. The air has to get out before we can make any sound, so why am I trying to restrict it? I now substitute the word “manage” for the word “control” and immediately the air flows more freely and I am able to accomplish the things I wanted to do when I was trying to “control” the air. Neat, huh?

Different words affect different people differently, and maybe this example doesn’t do anything for you, but unless you are the most positive, balanced person on the planet, it is likely that there are words that affect you negatively as well. Take a look at your practice journal, listen to your conversations about playing, and pay attention when a word causes you to tense up or groan a little, anything that is less than positive. A teacher at a masterclass I attended made a similar point with this little test. She asked us to notice what happened to our bodies when she said different words, like ‘ice cream’, ‘sunshine’, then she said the word ‘flute’. Immediately everyone in the class gasped and some even groaned a little. (What reaction did you just have?) We all had an ah-ha moment when we were made aware of the tension that one little word could cause in us. And this word represented something we loved! Many of us had come to associate the word ‘flute’ with tension and strain. For me, working on ‘control’ magnifies that tension, so I don’t try to do it. Rather than trying to hold things in, I work on managing them as they are happening.

Of course, some things are just wrong, terrible even, and it’s OK to acknowledge that. Just make sure your approach to fixing what’s wrong is as benign and productively oriented as possible.

Flute Tip of the Week: Protect your flute from your cats

For those of you with cats, you probably already know that they do not always mix. Here are a few things you can do to safeguard your flute from your beloved pets.

1. Cats have a tendency to want to knock things off shelves, desks, or tables so if you must leave your flute out in between practice sessions, make sure you put it somewhere that the cat cannot lie on it, try to play with it, or knock it onto the floor.

2. Open cases are also tempting to kitties to use as impromptu kitty beds. I know, it doesn’t look all that comfortable, but they don’t seem to care. You don’t want them leaving their fur in your flute case where it can get into your flute’s mechanism, so keep your case closed.

3. Don’t use your flute as a toy to tempt your cat with. If you provoke your cat into batting at your flute with his paw, you may end up with some new scratches on your flute, or worse, a claw could hook and tear a pad.

4. Even in its case, your flute can be vulnerable. The best thing to do is to always keep your flute somewhere that is inaccessible to your cats, whether that is on the highest shelf possible (still risky int my opinion), in a drawer, or behind a securely closed and latched door.

If your cat is drawn to your flute or your music paraphernalia, it is probably because he has observed how important it is to you. That seems to make cats want to be on your stuff, whether it is in an effort to be closer to you, to get your attention, or just to be in the way, who knows? Taking some common sense steps to keep your flute safe will keep things harmonious between you and your cat.