To begin you must understand how a flute works. A transverse (side blown) flute is closed at one end and open at the other. Near the closed end is the hole that you blow across to generate the tone, this is called the blow hole.
The principle of how a flute works can be demonstrated in a fast moving car. If you open the window and try to hold your arm out straight you'll find that your arm moves up and down or vibrates. The same thing happens when you blow across the blow hole. A vibration is set up in the column of air contained by the flute. The frequency of that vibration is determined by the length of the column of air.
As well as the blow hole the flute has a series of holes along it's length. These are the finger holes. If you blow over the hole with none of these finger holes covered the flute is effectively only as long as the distance from the closed end to the open hole closest to that end. If you cut the flute with a saw at that point you would get the same sound (please don't do that, just trust me).
If you put a finger over this first hole then you make the flute a little longer. It is now as long as the distance between the closed end and the next open hole. If you put a piece of tape over that first hole and cut the flute at the second hole you would get the same tone. Now if you cover both of the holes closest to the blow hole with two fingers the flute is now as long as the distance between the closed end and third hole.
You continue this process until all of the holes are covered. At that point the flute is as long as it can get and produces the lowest tone that it is capable of making.
Blowing across the blow hole to make a tone is not difficult but it can be hard to do at first. The hardest part is understanding that you blow across the hole. Beginners inevitably think that they must blow into the hole. Getting back to the car window analogy this would be equivalent to pointing your arm in the direction that the car is going. No vibration of your arm will occur.
To begin, hold the flute extending to your right. This is true even if you are left handed. The modern standard flute must be played in this fashion. Place the edge of the blow hole just above the edge of your lower lip. A mirror may be a good aid in the beginning but you do need to feel this as well. DO NOT cover any of the finger holes at first. Now place your lips together and blow straight ahead. You should purse your lips as if you were saying the word putt or just the letter 'p'. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't make a sound right away.
To assure that you are blowing straight ahead
hold your free hand in front of your face a few inches away from your mouth.
Your hand should be open with the palm toward your face . You will now be able
to tell if you are blowing straight ahead. If you are, you should produce a
tone. If not then rotate the blow hole inward a bit more.
Your hands should be positioned so that your left hand faces toward you and the index, middle and third fingers covers the first three holes. These are the ones closest to the blow hole. Remember that the flute extends to the right. Your right hand faces away from you and the index and middle fingers cover the next two holes. You can cover the last hole with either the third finger or the little finger.
Playing A Scale
Now place the flute to your lips and take all fingers off the holes. You'll figure out how to do this without dropping the flute. Blow across the hole like you did before and when you get a tone (this is the note we will later call 7.) Cover the first hole with the index finger of your left hand. The tone will change to a lower pitch(note 6). Practice changing the tone by lifting and closing just that first hole until it is easy to do.
The next step is to cover that first hole and blow the note and then cover the next hole with the middle finger of your left hand. This will produce note 5. You can now play three notes and can even try a simple song. "Mary had a Little Lamb" can be played with just those two fingers. The sequence is:
7 6 5 6 7 7 7 6 6 6 7 7 7 7 6 5 6 7 7 7 7 6 6 7 6 5
Go ahead and learn to play this simple tune before we go on. Now we will add the next note in the scale by covering the third hole to produce the note 4.
You are learning the scale backwards. This is the easiest way to learn it on the flute. After you can play the four notes with your left hand cover the next hole with the index finger of your right hand, note 3. You should have the idea by now. Continue the process until you can play the final note. This is note 1 with all of the holes covered. If at any point you can't play a note start over or least back up to a place where you can make a pleasant sound.
If you get a shrill high pitch instead of a lower pitch as you put down a finger try blowing more softly. This sound is a valid note in the upper octave which you will learn about later. Practice going up and down the scale until you can play any note by itself.
You have now learned to play the diatonic scale. A great many songs can be played using this simple scale. Here is the sequence for Beethovens "Ode to Joy":
3345 5432 11 233 22 33 45 5432 11 232 11 22 31 23431 234321 52 33 45 5432 11 232 11
The song book that accompanies our flutes contain this and sixteen additional
songs by this simple songs-by-number method called tablature.
If you know anything about music you'll notice that so far you are missing a note of the scale. This is the high "do" of the do-re-me scale, we will call it 8.
You can produce this note in two ways on a simple six hole flute. The easiest way is to cover all of the holes except the one closest to the blow hole. Knowing this practice the scale again but add this note at the top of the scale. That is go from 1 to 8 and from 8 to 1 until you can do this easily.The time it takes to learn how to do this varies widely from person to person.
The second way to play the eighth note of the scale is to cover all of the holes and "overblow" the flute. That is blow harder until the note becomes higher. In fact any of the notes you have learned can be overblown to produce a second scale that is higher in pitch than the first one you learned.
This second scale is called the upper octave or second register. This not easy to do however
and I suggest you master the lower octave first. You learn to play the high 1 then the high
2 etc. Work your way up the scale and return to a lower note if you have
So far you have learned that a simple flute with only six holes can play fifteen separate tones. You may be surprised that it can play ten more. These are the half tones or sharps or flats of the chromatic scale. This is pretty advanced. Use the fingering chart below to practice playing these notes by covering certain holes half way or covering a few holes below some holes to produce notes that are between some of the notes of the diatonic scale.