Can We Learn Flute on Our Own? Yes—With Caveats

can we learn flute on our own

Photo by Toby / CC BY

For most of human history, people have been playing the flute. The oldest known flutes date back more than 35,000 years—well before the age of formalized music education.

Of course, these ancient versions of the instrument were a bit simpler than modern models. Just because today’s flutes have more keys and parts, though, this doesn’t mean you need professional training to play one. It’s absolutely possible to teach yourself to play the flute, even if you’ve never played a musical instrument before.

Benefits of a Private Instructor for Flute

If it’s possible to learn the flute on your own, why would anyone pay for a private instructor? Here are some reasons you may want to consider taking flute lessons rather than going it on your own:

  • You’re less likely to develop bad habits. Issues with your technique aren’t always obvious when you’re just beginning, but they could cause problems as you work into more advanced material. Taking lessons makes it more likely you’ll have the correct embouchure and fingering technique from the start, sparing you the need to un-learn bad habits later on.
  • Accountability. Some people are self-motivated and have no problem sticking to a regular practice routine. For others, having lessons to prepare for is the extra motivation they need to stick with the instrument. If you have a closet full of half-finished projects and abandoned hobbies, private lessons can make the difference between actually learning the flute and it ending up on a shelf collecting dust.
  • You’ll learn faster. A certain amount of trial and error is inevitable when you’re teaching yourself a new skill. A private teacher can guide your learning to help you avoid common mistakes and build skill sets in the right order for fast progress. If you want to learn the flute quickly, you’ll be more likely to do so with a teacher.

Private lessons don’t need to be a huge expense or time commitment. Most beginner lessons are a half-hour a week and cost around $25-$40, depending on where you live and the experience level of the instructor.

For those looking to learn flute for free, there are other resources you can take advantage of, too. Here are some alternatives to hiring a private instructor:

  • Join a community band. Volunteer community bands are a great place to interact with other flute players who can give you tips and tricks, and preparing for a concert can help you hold yourself accountable and keep to your practice schedule.
  • Utilize the free trial of online flute courses. Along with their paid courses, many websites aimed at learning flute have a free trial option or offer a few lessons free of charge. One example is The Flute Coach, which has a blog with tips and videos as well as giving new users 5 free lessons.
  • Watch flute players on YouTube. Seeing a technique executed properly can make it easier to understand and replicate. YouTube has a plethora of instructional and how-to videos to watch, listen to, and play along with.
Flute Lesson - Are Private Lessons Needed?

How Long Will It Take to Learn Flute On Your Own?

The timeline for learning any musical instrument isn’t set in stone. If you already know how to read music or have played other instruments, you may be performance-ready in a few months. Complete beginners will likely have a longer learning journey, especially busy adult learners who don’t have much time to practice.

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll probably be able to play basic melodies within 2-4 weeks, assuming you’re practicing regularly—roughly 20-30 minutes a day on average. Reaching an intermediate level, where you can play full songs from the sheet music, will probably take around 1-2 years at that rate of practice.

While natural talent can help you learn faster, there’s no substitute for regular practice when you’re learning a musical instrument. How often you practice is the most important factor in how quickly you learn. Especially when you’re first starting out, you’ll make more progress practicing for even 15 minutes a day than trying to cram it all into a single longer session one day a week.

Adult Flute Beginner - Flute Progress in First Year

Things You’ll Need to Learn the Flute

#1: A well-made and well-maintained instrument.

Most people don’t want to spend too much on a flute when they’re just starting, especially if you’re just learning as a hobby. The problem is, if you buy an instrument that’s cheaply made or in severe disrepair, it’s going to be more difficult (if not impossible) to play. A lot of beginning flautists end up quitting out of frustration, thinking they’re bad at playing flute when, in reality, a bad instrument is sabotaging their efforts.

Reputable brands for flute include Yamaha, Gemeinhardt, and Pearl. All of these have a student or beginner model in the $400-$600 range. If this is more than you were hoping to spend, head to a local music shop and check out their used instruments. This is a more reliable way to find a good used flute than a marketplace like eBay or Craigslist, which are more of a crapshoot when it comes to maintenance and repair. Many music shops also rent instruments, which can be a smart option if you’re not sure whether you plan to play long-term.

#2: A tuner and metronome.

Before you can play with other people, you need to be able to keep your flute in tune and stick to a rhythm. Combination tuner/metronomes help you do both in one compact tool, and you can get one for about $20-$30 from any music store.

#3: A decent quality audio recorder.

If you’re teaching yourself an instrument, the ability to record yourself is crucial. There’s no instructor listening to your playing and giving feedback, so you need to step into that role yourself. It’s hard to do this in the moment as a beginner—you’re focused on too many other things, like putting down the right fingers and controlling your air. Recording yourself is the best way to troubleshoot issues with your tone and technique.

The audio recorder on your phone is a great tool. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the microphone on most phones, so if you plan to use your phone for this it’s smart to get an external microphone designed for recording music, which you can get in a similar price range to tuners (about $20-$30 for a basic mic).

What’s the Bottom Line?

Learning to play a musical instrument can be very rewarding, but the adage “you get out what you put in” definitely applies. Write a practice schedule that fits into your life and stick to it. The more you play, the sooner you’ll be able to call yourself a flute player. Good luck!

10 LEVELS OF FLUTE PLAYING (Noob VS Pro)

  • Jess Simms earned their B.M. from BGSU, where they studied jazz and contemporary classical saxophone. Their specialty is bari sax, though they'll play anything with a single reed (and, begrudgingly, flute). A fiction writer as well as musician, their creative work has been published in more than a dozen journals and anthologies. On the non-fiction side, they write about their biggest passions: music, travel, and coffee.

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