I teach a lot of flute lessons, and I have seen many flutes in my days.
I know that when a flute is in proper condition it plays beautifully. And, I know first-hand that the opposite (improper condition) means that your flute will hamper your ability to play well or at all.
…when a flute is in proper condition it plays beautifully
Here are some hints and tips you can use to check the condition of your flute:
The best hint I can give you is to take your flute to a reputable flute technician. If you do not know where to find one look in the business section of a phone book under “instrument repair” or “band instruments” or “music instruments”.
Call to find out if there is a flute specialist available. Sorry, but your average junior-high band teacher will not do, no matter what they say.
BUT… if you want to check it all yourself to get started, then here is a great self-guide.
1. Study the flute closely for nicks, dings, scratches and dents.
These don’t necessarily mean the flute won’t play great, but big dents in the wrong places (especially on the head joint) can mess up your tone if they’re too deep.
2. Turn the flute over and look at the pads (under the keys). Do not touch the pads with anything!
Look for fraying, peeling, puffing, or tears in the “skin” of the pads. If you see any of these, your flute can limp along for a while, but probably needs repair depending on the severity of the tears. Some bubbling or dirtiness is possibly okay.
Look for fraying, peeling, puffing, or tears in the “skin” of the flute pads.
3. Check your cork. Maybe you didn’t even know there was a cork in your flute. It’s at the top of the head joint. Unscrew the top cap of the flute and look in there. See it? It has a metal plate top with a long screw-looking thing coming out of it. Don’t touch it. Just know it’s there and that you don’t need to touch it.
You can make sure your cork is properly sealing off the end of your head joint by:
Placing the palm of your hand over the opposite end so it makes a tight seal. Next, place your mouth completely over the embouchure hole (where your lips go) and start sucking the air out. Gross, I know.
Once you have sucked all of the air out your mouth will be vacuum-stuck on there. You can wait a few seconds and then pull off. “Pop” the seal will be broken. If this doesn’t happen, you possibly have a nasty leak. This is a problem that will not allow you to sound at all good while learning to play the flute. Take your flute to a flute technician.
4. Look at all of the screws on the ends of the long rods of your flute. DON’T TOUCH. They should all be screwed in. BUT, if you start screwing them in and out for fun, you really WILL mess the mechanism up pretty bad. Just look at the screws. You can visibly see if they are poking out. Gently screw them back in until they stop turning if so.
5. There are also tiny little screws behind the keys and under the rods on your flute. REALLY DON’T TOUCH THESE. They are for adjusting tension between multiple parts of the flute. Messing with these is a not smart thing to do. You’ll be off to repair-land if you don’t heed this warning.
6. Probably the most common problem I see with flutes that haven’t been properly cared for or is getting on in age, is when the pads (under the keys) are not sealing properly. There is nothing you can do to fix this yourself. The flute needs to be seen by a flute technician. It will not play well at all unless all of the pads seal properly.
The last thing I can say in this article is that a flute in great condition also plays great. Be nice to your flute and it will be nice back.
Remember to clean it (another article for another day) and put it away safely in its case daily. Although it is pretty to look at and you may be tempted to leave it out so you can look at it and pick it up often – please don’t. It needs to stay protected from dust and tarnishing.
Have a great day!