Common Flute Problems

Every flutist faces common problems related to tone, intonation and technique. After your next audition or tryout, ask for observations about your performance and compare them to the following problems and solutions. Improving your next performance will be easy with a bit of practice in these key areas.

Problem 1: Airy Tone. The embouchure hole is too large, creating a slow air column that lacks support and direction. Focusing the lips with a rounder, smaller opening helps direct the air into the flute and eliminates extra air in the tone. Mechanical issues, such as bent keys or worn, leaky pads also affect tone quality. Regular maintenance keeps your flute in good working order.

Problem 2: Small, Covered Tone. Too much of the tone hole is covered, with the headjoint rolled in too far and the head ducked forward. The embouchure may also be pulled tightly in the shape of a smile, with lips stretched back against the teeth, limiting air speed and affecting direction of the air column.

Problem 3: Sharp Intonation. Your headjoint may be rolled out too far and/or the headjoint is pushed in too far, causing the flute’s length to be too short. The embouchure hole may also be too large, and sharp intonation often goes hand-in-hand with an airy tone.

Problem 4: Flat Intonation. Your headjoint may be rolled in too far and/or the headjoint is pulled out too far, causing the flute’s length to be too long. Lack of breath support and slow air speed also causes flat intonation. A tight embouchure may also contribute to this issue.

Problem 5: Technical Isues. Most technical problems result from inconsistent practice, incorrect hand position and a lack of scales and arpeggios in daily practice. Always begin practice with the fundamentals, establishing a musical framework before launching into difficult passages. Slow practice is key to smooth, confident technique.

About the Author

Mary Karen Clardy, professor of flute at University of North Texas in Denton, appears as soloist, chamber artist and teacher throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America. A renowned author, Mary’s current volumes include more than 10 books from European American Music, Leduc, Schott and Universal Edition. Her students are consistent prizewinners in international competitions and occupy prominent orchestral and faculty positions throughout the world. For more information, visit

A photo of Jeff Queen.

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