Flute/Flute Maintenance

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Basic Flute Method
Method book for those begining to learn flute.

Introduction
IntroductionMaintenance

Getting started
Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Lesson 5Lesson 6

Playing the flute
Lesson 7Lesson 8Lesson 9Lesson 10Lesson 11Lesson 12Lesson 13Lesson 14

Building on skills
Lesson 15Lesson 16Lesson 17Lesson 18Lesson 19Lesson 20Lesson 21Lesson 22Culmination

Appendicies
LinksLearning a piece of music

Related books
SaxophoneMusic TheoryBaroque Flute HandbookWestern Music History

There are several levels of maintenance required to keep your flute in good working condition.

Daily flute Maintenance for dummies[edit]

As the flute is played, moisture builds up inside the tube. Whilst the instrument is designed to cope with this, it is best to wipe out the instrument after each use, in order to prevent decay of pads, corrosion of the instrument, and a bad smell.

Several items are needed as part of the daily cleaning kit.

  • Cleaning Rod

The cleaning rod, which should have been supplied with the instrument, is a long rod (approximately the length of the body of the flute), with a hole in one end. Rods are commonly made from plastic or metal, but wood is best, as it prevents scratches on the inside of the instrument. The cleaning rod is commonly kept in a special compartment inside the flute case.

  • Cleaning cloth

The cloth you use for cleaning the inside of your flute should be lint-free, soft, and quite absorbent. Some flute manufacturers provide a loose-woven gauze-style cloth. Ensure that the cloth is of a reasonable size, so that it can adequately clean the flute.

  • Polishing cloth

This is a soft lint-free cloth that is used exclusively for gently removing fingerprints from the surface of the instrument after use. Do not use a designated "silver polishing cloth", as the chemicals in these cloths will damage the surface of the instrument.

Routine[edit]

When you have finished playing the instrument, disassemble it, placing each piece carefully into the case. Take your cleaning rod and your cleaning cloth, and insert one corner of the cloth into the hole in the rod, and pull through approximately 2-3 inches. Begin twisting the rod so that the cloth winds around, covering the entire length of the rod. Gently push the cloth-covered rod through each segment of the flute, checking to see if all moisture has been removed. If you have difficulty removing the moisture from the headjoint, experiment with wrapping a small amount of the cloth around the bare end of the stick before inserting it. You may need to wrap the cloth more tightly in order to swab the flute completely, and conversely, you may find that the cloth is simply too bulky to fit into the flute. If this is the case, try wrapping it thinly, or perhaps using a smaller cloth. Do not force the cloth into the flute - this can be costly to repair if it becomes lodged. This procedure should be performed after each use of the flute, before the instrument has had a chance to dry out.

Once the inside of the flute is dry, take your polishing cloth, and gently remove all marks from the surface of the instrument. Place all pieces back into the case, and close the lid, ensuring the instrument is positioned correctly. Cleaning cloths should be stored somewhere other than inside the flute case, as this can squash the keys and cause unnecessary stress. Consider tying them around the handle of your case, or folding them neatly and keeping them in a case pocket.

Professional servicing[edit]

Your flute should be serviced every 6-12 months. In a routine service, the technician should complete tasks such as:

  • removing any dents from the body of the flute.
  • check all pads for wear, and make necessary replacements.
  • a small amount of shimming.
  • a full clean of the flute, including under the mechanism, removing most dust and tarnish.
  • inspection of the case, to ensure it is adequately protecting the flute.
  • cleaning and oiling of the mechanism, to keep it running smoothly.
  • inspection and necessary replacement of any worn or missing felts or corks.
  • inspection of the instrument for air leaks, and make necessary adjustments.

Specialized Tasks[edit]

Various further tasks may be required to bring your flute to full working order. Often this would be to treat damage inflicted upon the flute, such as a bent key or a snapped spring. These things can be costly to repair, so you are best advised to take good care of your instrument in the first place!

Looking after your flute[edit]

Do not leave your flute sitting in the open air for extended periods (and NEVER on a chair!)

  • This will encourage silver flutes to tarnish.
  • There is a greater opportunity for dust to collect on the mechanism.
  • There is greater potential for your flute to be knocked over (or sat on!) by an unsuspecting passer-by.

Do not allow non-flute players to fool around on your flute.

Always wash your hands before you begin to play, and if possible, clean your teeth. Dental hygiene (especially after eating) helps to prevent sticky pads.

Avoid leaving musical instruments in vehicles. Temperatures inside vehicles reach extremes of hot and cold, causing glues to melt, or lubricants to become quite sticky. In addition, instruments are generally not covered by motor vehicle insurance, and are a prime candidate for theft.

Have your flute professionally serviced regularly.

What tasks can you complete yourself, between services?[edit]

Occasionally your flute may develop minor problems, which can be easily remedied between services; a selection of them is outlined below.

Adjustment Screws

Many student and semi-professional flutes are equipped with tiny adjustment screws, which allow easy adjustment of the mechanism. Occasionally these may work themselves loose - or perhaps you need to counter-act a leak that has developed in one of the keys. Bear in mind that fixing one leak may cause another, so these adjustments should be approached with caution. Do not learn how to do this on you best flute! Instead, ask someone with experience to demonstrate. It will take some practice before you can confidently locate the screw that affects the leaky key, but once you do, you can use a tiny jeweller's screwdriver to adjust it. Avoid being too extreme with this - attempt to move the screw no more than 1/4 of a turn at any time, constantly checking to see if it has fixed the leak. It is possible to adjust these screws too far, so do not screw them up until they feel 'tight'. It is easy for a beginner to misadjust the wrong screws and make a mess of things. If this happens, don't panic - it's easilly corrected. However, frequent turning of these screws will often cause them to become loose - and the flute unreliable. This can be corrected with a tiny drop of fingernail polish.

'Other screws' The other screws on your flute are the ones at the end of each rod, holding the mechanism onto the body. These screws are notorious for working themselves loose, and if your flute is in good repair, you should be able to tighten the screw - but don't force it. Once the screw is back in place, you may consider using a small dab of nail polish over the top of the screw, to try and persuade it not to unscrew itself again. Mention this to your repairer next time you have it serviced. Better flutes have screws with heads (or shoulders) which limit travel. These can be tightened and will not work loose. However, many less expensive sflutes heve "headless" screws with no limit on travel. Tightening these will cause the mechanism to bind! The procedure here is to then losen them slowly, until the mechanism just begins to move freely, then dab a tiny drop of fingernail polist on the head of the screw ( and adjacent post) to keep it from working loose. Be very careful not to get fingernail polish anywhere else.

Sticky Pads

If you have a sticky pad, (that is, a pad that makes a sticky clicking sound as you play - NOT a key that is stuck shut), you can easily remove the stickyness by placing a piece of cigarette paper under the key, and gently closing it. This gives the paper an opportunity to absorb the stickyness. Release the key and remove the paper, and test to see whether it has worked. If it has not worked, you should try it again with a fresh piece of paper, but failing that, you may wish to hold the key closed whilst pulling the paper out. Flute repairists cringe at the thought of this, as it damages the pad. If this has still not worked adequately, some musicians even go to the extreme of adding a small amount of talcum powder to the cigarette paper, before placing it under the pad. Obviously, each of these is a less-than-ideal situation, and should generally be employed in emergency situations only. A better technique is to moisten the cigarette paper with alcohol (ethanol), let it sit, then open the key and remove. It should be noted that some companies manufacture their cigarette paper with a small strip of glue down one side - simply fold the paper in half, joining the glued edges, to prevent transferring this glue to your flute. Bear in mind that any cleaning of a pad shortens it's life.

Springs

The flute mechanism usually relies on a number of steel (or other metal) springs, which are designed to flick the keys back into the open or closed position after the key has been used. These springs are usually attached to the mechanism at one end, and simply "hooked" on to the mechanism at the other end. It is very common for these springs to become unhooked, and it can be a very distressing problem for those who cannot recognise the symptoms. If a spring becomes unhooked, simply use a skinny blunt object to push it back where it belongs. Some books recommend the use of a crochet hook with a specially carved groove in the end. Some musicians simply use a blunt pencil. Be careful not to bend the spring beyond its regular position, as it may affect the responsiveness of the key.

Stiff Joints

If you are having difficulty assembling or disassembling the flute, the joints may need cleaning. Firstly, take a clean dry cloth and wipe the joints to remove excess grease and dust. Reassemble the flute and see whether this has helped. If not, see a professional flute specialist. Under no circumstances add cork grease, petroleum jelly or any other lubricant. While these may appear to help, the joints on metal flutes are designed to work best when clean and dry. All lubricants attract dust, which acts as an abrasive. If you doubt this, ask any flutemaker.