How to Play a Bamboo Flute
We hope you find our simple instructions on how to play a side blown bamboo flute helpful. It is gleaned from over 45 years of making and selling bamboo flutes. If you have any questions please call us at 413-298-3759 (10AM-10PM EST) and sak for Linda.
Playing a Transverse (side blown) bamboo flute is basically the same technique used in sounding a tone on the end of a glass soda bottle. To create a tone you must blow a stream of air over the outer edge of the mouth hole, splitting the air stream in two. The stream of air entering the mouth hole vibrates within the bamboo flute producing a tone.
Unlike other flutes, a Transverse Flute does not have a mouthpiece. Your lips form the mouthpiece. Using the muscles in your lips to develop an Embouchure is essential to good flute playing.
It is not difficult to learn these techniques but it does take a little practice. Follow the instructions below and each time you play you will be perfecting your embouchure. Do not use any fingers in the beginning! It will pay off later.
How to Hold the Bamboo Flute
Before you learn how to play a bamboo flute, you’ll need to know how to hold one properly. A transverse flute is played with the open end of the flute (or the end with the rubber tip for walking stick flutes) pointing to the right. It does not matter if you are left handed or right handed.
The correct way to hold a transverse flute is to place your left hand on the outside of the flute so that your palm is facing you. The first three fingers of your left hand will work the top three finger holes closest to the mouth hole.
Your right hand is placed below the left hand with the back of your palm facing you. The first three fingers of your right hand work the bottom three holes.
Balance the flute using the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and the thumb and little finger of your right hand. When you place the bamboo flute against your lip, this will also aid in holding the flute in placs.
Sounding a Tone on the Bamboo Flute
Do not place any fingers down on the holes quite yet. It is important be able to get a strong, sustained tone with all the holes open before adding fingers. I can not emphasize this enough. It is much easier to play the lower tones once you can sound a strong, clear tone with no fingers down.
Place the mouth hole of the bamboo flute, flat on your bottom lip while you’re smiling! With your lips loosely closed, form a smile (grin) slowly blow a thin but strong stream of air across the mouth hole while slowly rotating the bamboo flute away from your lip. It’s as if you’re spitting an imaginary seed over the edge of the flute.
As you slowly rotate the flute the tone should become clearer and stronger. If you rotate the flute to far the tone will sound airy. The spot that gives you the strongest clearest tone is the one you want. On average, your lower lip should cover about half of the bamboo flute blowhole when placed properly.
Practice this simple exercise over and over until the tone is quite strong. After a short while you should be able to produce a clear tone by just bringing the bamboo flute to you lips.
Once you can produce a clear, strong tone on the flute consistently, you will be ready to add your fingers.
Adding the Fingers to the Bamboo Flute
With all the finger holes on the bamboo flute open, sound a tone as described above. While playing this note cover the top finger hole (the one nearest the mouth hole) of the bamboo flute with the index finger of your left hand.
Put your left thumb on the back of the flute directly opposite your index finger and gently squeeze. Squeezing will insure that the hole is air tight. Use the pad of your finger to cover the hole, not the tip.
Move your finger up and down to change between the two notes. The two notes you are playing are #7 (all open) and #6 (index finger down) as in our instructions.
It is very important that your finger pad cover the entire hole. If there are any air leaks it will affect the quality of the note.
When you can sound a strong tone on your bamboo flute with your first finger down, add the second finger of your left hand to the next hole while still holding down your first finger and sounding the tone. With this finger down, you are now playing note #5 as in our instructions.
Slowly work your way down the bamboo flute until you can sound the bottom note with all your fingers down. This note is also the key that your bamboo flute is in ('A', 'G', etc). Don't rush it! Take your time and wait until your can play a strong clear tone before proceeding to the next lower note.
As you proceed to the lower tones be sure that the pads of your fingers are completely covering the holes. If there are any leaks it will be very hard to sound the lower notes.
Tonguing Exercise for Side-Blown Bamboo Flutes
Every note played on the side blown bamboo flutes should be tongued. To do this, whisper the sound 'toooooo' into the instrument as you play each note. Tonguing gives each note a nice crisp beginning.
Practice tonguing the bamboo flute over and over. Remember; whisper the sound 'toooooo' at the beginning of each note, while maintaining the smile position with your lips.
Play the following exercise over and over until you can do it perfectly. There are only two different numbers in this exercise, it's very easy. Be sure to tongue (say 'toooooo") each note. Remember that number 5 means that the top two holes are covered.
6 - 5 - 6 - 5 - 6 - 5 - 6 - 5 - 6 - 5 - 6