is irish flute hard to learn

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Is Irish flute hard to learn?

This is one of the first question every beginner asks: is it hard to learn Irish flute? How long will it take to play a few tunes at home without feeling dizzy? Or play in a session? Or play my first concert.

The answer, as you may have guessed, isn’t as easy as a yes or no. Just like anything, it depends on a lot of factors. But here are a few pointers to help you decide whether or not Irish Flute is for you.

But first things first, let’s make things crystal clear. Irish flute is a term that sometimes covers different instruments, and this article applies to the Irish wooden flute (or transverse flute), unlike the Irish penny whistle that most people refer to as an “irish flute“. Click here to read our article on the differences.

Ergonomics

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the Irish Flute is the ergonomics (or in our case, un-ergonomics). How do you feel comfy with this weird instrument? How am I supposed to hold it?

After some trial and error (and some reading on this blog), you should catch the correct position, and it will quickly become easier and feel more natural.

Matt Molloy playing his flute with a relaxed posture

Is Irish flute hard to learn? No, clearly, that part is easy.

Finger spacing

Another thing you’ll notice when you start is the finger spacing that may feel like a stretch. This is just a start, once you start exploring other keys, you’ll get to meet other beasts (enter the Bb flutes world).

Finger spacing on the Irish flute depends a lot on your hands, but you can always train your muscles to stretch. Just like any workout, though, you won’t see the results in a day or two. So take your time, you may struggle at first, but the reward comes quickly and once you’ve passed that point, you have it forever.

Is Irish flute hard to learn? No, it takes time but you’ll get there quickly too.

Breathing

Do you feel dizzy when you play? Out of breath? Find it hard to finish the lines? It’s all good, we’ve all been there, nothing to worry about.

Breathing plays an important role in Irish flute, but it doesn’t take a marathon gold-medal to play a tune, au contraire! You just need to adapt your style to your capacities.

When watching older flute players, you’ll see most of them play shorter lines to catch their breath more often, giving them a very distinct rhythmic style: breathing can make or break your rhythm.

Point is: you’ll stop being dizzy once you get more experienced. It goes away usually after a few months. You’ll also learn to be more efficient with a more focused embouchure, requiring less air to produce the same notes, and you will learn to breathe at the right time to serve a purpose in the rhythm. So breathing will take you a little longer, but again, it isn’t hard. Keep at it!

Ornaments

Let me be clear here: ornaments should be your least concern at this point. When you start playing the flute, those rolls and fast cuts and taps and bounces are the “shine” that look really cool and every flute player starts by nailing them down. STOP! Ornaments are the cherry on the cake, the tip of the iceberg, the roof on the house, and you should not start the Irish flute with ornaments but with the foundations that make ornaments pop out: good rhythm, controlled breathing, and good tone.

So this part will come later, and most ornaments are actually quite easy (remember, Irish traditional music is the music of the people).

Embouchure

I kept the best for last: embouchure. There’s a lot to say about the embouchure (exactly 14851 matches on Chiff & Fipple forum at the time of writing).

Embouchure will probably be your holy grail quest for the next… 15 years (if not more). This one it hard. Embouchure is a muscle that takes time and regular practice to work consistently. There is no way to show you exactly how to use your muscles to make it work, and it depends on your flute too. So finding the right embouchure is probably the hardest thing on the Irish flute, but also the most rewarding once you get that nice, laser-focused, powerful tone you’ve been seeking for several weeks.

Some great resources available on how to build up your embouchure. You may find some free contents on YouTube, like the video above.

It doesn’t stop there: it heavily depends on how tired you are (or how many beers you’ve had at the session), although that factor tends to disappear over time. And every flute is different and may not react the same way to your embouchure.

Let’s sum it up this way: your embouchure is like riding a bike. You test and learn until you figure it out, and then you keep looking for your balance to keep rolling. When you try a different bike, you can still ride a bike, but it feels a little different, and you have to get used to the breaks etc.

So, is Irish flute hard to learn?

Yes! The embouchure might be the hardest thing to master on the Irish flute, making this instrument disappointing one day and very rewarding the next day. So if you’re just a beginner on the Irish flute, hang in there, you’re in for some serious work… and some serious fun!

Should you learn another instrument? No, like every instrument, it takes time and patience, but once you get a nice embouchure and clean ornaments, the Irish flute offers endless possibilities and lots of control on the sound, so brace yourself.

How can I make it easier to learn Irish flute?

Now that you know what you’re in for, how do you make things as easy as possible? See our 3 tips below:

Practice every day

It sounds trivial, but seriously: take out the flute every single day, even if you only play for 20 minutes after lunch or before dinner. Playing every day will ensure that you properly build up your embouchure and will keep your flute humidity level high enough so it doesn’t crack (more on that later).

Get a proper instrument

When you start Irish flute, it can be tempting to buy an Irish flute with a low price tag. It is not a good strategy for several reasons:

  • A cheap instrument will probably feature a bad embouchure, considerably slowing you down if not completely unusable.
  • A cheap instrument may be out of tune, throwing you off.
  • A cheap instrument will be impossible to resell on the market. There are a few forums and platforms where you can sell Irish flutes, but only a decent flute will find a buyer.

The best way to get a proper flute without breaking the bank is buying it second hand. See our article here on where to find an Irish flute second hand.

Accept to fail

You’ll see that some days, your embouchure is not there, or your ornaments are not as crisp. Or it’s cold in the room and you can’t find your sound. The best way to not get discouraged is to accept that some days are off. Put the flute away, and try again the next day. And don’t forget to have fun!