Thursday, July 20, 2006

How to learn flute scales

Hi, I'm a highschool student, and I've played flute in the band for three years, and I have an all-state audition coming up where I have to play scales as part of the audition. I've never played scales before. Where should I start?

Learning scales for the first time

If you've never studied scales before, a good place to start is with the help of a private flute teacher. What many band students don't at first realize is that it's not just a question of knowing scales and being able to whip them off; it's a question of playing them absolutely breathtakingly beautifully, just as though they are a piece of real music.

Why? Because real music is chock a block full of beautiful scales (not ugly horrible ones ;>), and if you play the scales wonderfully, you'll play at lest 75% of any piece of music wonderfully.

Have a look at the PDF free version of the Mozart Concerto in C+ for flute and harp;, or at any piece by Haydn, Bach or, even more modern composers. What do you see? Tons and tons of scales that make the music beautiful and flowing and emotive.

Think to yourself: If I already knew these scales by heart, and played them beautifully, I could SIGHT-READ these pieces of music much much faster without so much hard work learning note-by-note.

So, where to start?
First, download a PDF of either easy major scales in one octave or two octaves, or some basic highschool level scales.

Start working these few scales very carefully by first warming up your longtones (while you're waiting for the download and printer) and then concientiously apply your best tone to learning these few scales by heart.

Play these scales slowly, stopping and pausing on any note just when you're just starting to feel out of breath, then breathing and restarting on the note you stopped on. It's not important to go fast or to get to the top note your very first time.
It's also very important not to feel strained or massively out of breath.

One Inch Chunks are EASIEST: Instead of feeling frustrated or tired, make your work ridiculously easy:
Break each scale into easy one-inch chunks, and play each one-inch chunk ALL-SLURRED (very important; tonguing can tend to wreck the tone if added to quickly.)

Working slowly on bite-sized portions of each scale gives your body many more chances to memorize the scale, too. It gives it more time to make the connections it needs to in order to OWN the scale, eventually.
Going too quickly and making poor sound quality and slamming fingers makes more work in the longrun for you. It'll cause you to have to un-do all that bad work you did.
Don't teach your body how to play badly! :>)
As one teacher said to me: Let your "computer" take its time to download the scale into its "hardrive". Don't break the computer by breathlessly pounding away at it.

As you're working one inch chunks of a scale, only proceed if your tone remains fabulous as you go up or down a scale. If your tone goes wonky at any point, back-track to where your tone was fabulous,longtone around, and hang out there for a minute or two going up and down over the rought spot in careful longtones (all-slurred) going right through the notes where the tone seems to get worse, and fixing the tone. Improve the tone before you continue upwards or downwards.

Another way to work scale chunks, if the tone is already pretty good, is for fleetness and lightness of fingers. Fast and agile fingers aren't learned by pounding the flute, or racing up scads of notes; fast fingers come from a well-balanced flute in the hands, and very precise and easy finger motions where the fingers don't lift too high.

Trilling for fun:
A great way to improve finger technique (and to lighten the heart when you're climbing up what might seem like a mountain of scale chunks) is to stop and trill very delicately and precisely between only two notes that you're looking at in the scale.
ie: FGFGFGFGFG. Start the trill very very very slowly (half-note F, half-note G) and only speed it up very gradually, lightening the finger and making its position very accurate and with the easiest motion possible.

You can stop and delicately trill slowly, and then more gradually faster on any two notes in any scale.
This is a great way to break up your work into different skill areas, and never get bored too. :>)

After you've played each scale for at least 10 minutes a day, move on to learning a new one. The first few should go easily (C Major, G Major etc.) and the last few with the zillion sharps and flats may need a week of ten minutes or more a day just for each complexly sharped-flatted scale.
Don't let that bother you. Take the time to learn B-Major or F#- Major a few minutes a day for a week. Afterall, you only need to learn them by heart ONCE, and after that you'll have each one for LIFE!! :>)

Once you've taught yourself about ten scales by heart, all other scales are much much much easier, and you can rest assured that you'll find ALL music much much easier.
It's like learning to speed-read a book; now that you have the alphabet learned, and you are starting to recognize words and sentences (scales), you will get faster and faster and faster at reading.

Just make sure you get specialized help from your flute teacher for any areas that you have questions about (Tone, Breathing, adding pauses to scales when they're slow, Finger venness, Tricky finger-switches, Keeping the right-hand pinky on the Eb key, or raising the left-hand index finger when required, Tuning, Whether to play one-octave or two-octaves, Tonguing, Slurring, Arpeggios that go with scales etc....)

When the basic scales are fully learned, add one new scale every few days.

Some really great resources are below:
Part one of a basic flute technique book by Herbert
Lindholm (in PDF).

See pg. 1 and 2 for the basic one octave scales, and proceed on in the book for two octave scales and forms for practicing them in for the future.

After you've memorized all the major scales (with the help of your private teacher who will assist with tone, fingerings, and fleetness of fingers etc.) begin the three forms of minor scales:

1) Natural Minor is a simple minor scale. Take any major scale and count up to the sixth note; ex: CDEFGA...."A" is the 6th note.
Start the natural minor scale on that 6th note, and go up to the "A" one octave higher. Descend again (all-slurred up and down.)
ABCDEFGA = a natural minor scale.

2) Harmonic Minor is a natural minor scale with the 7th note raised by a semi-tone.
Ex: ABCDEFG....G is the 7th note. Add a sharp to it to raise it a semi-tone:
ABCDEF[G#]A. This is A harmonic minor.

3) Melodic Minor is a natural minor scale with both the 6th and 7th notes raised by a semi-tone on the way up, but lowered back to their natural position on the way down.
Ex: ABCDE [F#] [G#] A and back down: AGFEDCBA

If this all seems like greek to you, check with your private teacher or at the theory links below.
For flute scale pages that show the different forms of
minor scales: Harmonic and Melodic, see:

For a copy of these scales, two octaves, in a fun top-to-bottom format see:

Harmonic Minor scales for flute, the way Galway practices them (in PDF)

Melodic Minor Scales for flute, the way Galway practices them (in PDF)

For theory (explains the difference between harmonic
and melodic minor scales) see:

Minor scales in three forms: easy music theory lessons online for beginners.

Scale theory for intermediate level flute players.

More "how to" information on flute scales from Jen's webpage.

Samples of how to teach scales to young beginners.

Good luck with your audition!

Jen Cluff
Comments (28)
Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Looking forward to hearing everyone's comments!! Please feel free to comment on these blog pages.
I LOVE feedback; it helps me write better.
Thanks, Jen Cluff

Thursday, July 20, 2006 11:30:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

I received a comment yesterday from anonymous (with no return address) that said:
I didnt find thing that i need... :-(

I just wanted to point out that I cannot help someone find what they need if I don't know what they are looking for.
IF you come back and see your comment above, please say WHAT you are looking for. Describe it.
Jen Who-can't-find-a-missing-sock-if-the-person-says:
"My thing is missing!"

Saturday, November 25, 2006 10:13:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jen,

Thankyou so much for this informative information. As an adult re-learning the flute (and with no access to a teacher), I was worried over the scales that I was doing. Your site has lots of really useful tips that I've found invaluable.



Monday, November 27, 2006 10:16:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Thanks Cassie,
I'm so glad the info. was helpful!!

Monday, November 27, 2006 10:57:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would you practice and memorise extended scales in 3rds?I feel like i know my scales, but when im in an exam or even in a lesson with my teacher I have a brain freeze - how can i ensure i really know them under pressure?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 12:46:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

I think it's normal to feel like "you freeze in exams" when you've only recently learned a new technique like scales-in-thirds.
When you've REALLY learned something by memory like all scales in thirds, and practiced them for many many months as a daily routine, you can play them as easily as you can say your name and address.
It's a question of familiarity.
The brain will memorize them if you take them one by one and create a game of memorizing them.
Ask your private teacher for the best way that they suggest to do it.
I personally recall memorizing one new scale-in-thirds every two or three days and then reviewing them for six months before each exam at th RCM.
After the first two or three, all the rest of the scale-in-thirds get much easier.
They become familiar quite quickly.
So don't worry, just keep at it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 1:17:00 AM

Blogger Sheila said...

Marvelous! This is something I'm really trying to get back into. In piano, it's just been a regular occurance: practicing includes technique, period. I'm really glad, however, that I wasn't forced to do what seemed like hours of technique everyday from day one with flute, though. It would have been different if I had had no idea about it, but I did (piano). Now it's quite a breeze to learn them. I know them, note-wise, from piano, and I know most of them, just from playing pieces in that key, and the hard ones (F# maj., etc.) just take time.

Like you say, I think taking one a day, or even one every few days, and really learning it solidly is such a good thing to do. I've had my piano students (who had previously announced that they did NOT like technique) play them lower or higher than normal, or in different rhythms, or with different dynamics. Before you know it they have learned the scale by heart, and are already writing music. Marvelous!

For little kids, another good inspiration to keep playing scales, is to name them. Take, for instance, A minor. My one little student came up with calling it the Alligator scale. (using the first letter of the real name) Then we drew a picture, and tried playing it so it sounded like an alligator. All good ideas, anyway. Thank you for sharing all the wonderful information and links!


Sunday, June 03, 2007 9:10:00 AM

Blogger caroline mcmullen said...

hi my name is caroline. im am 13 nearly 14 and i play the flute aswell.iv benn playin since i was 11.i kindof had the same problem. i still am finding it hard to learn scales. this is how you learn them. get someone who knows them, write them down and learn 1 each night. every hour keep going over it so you know it.
p.s. next year im doin grade 3. i already done grade 1.
p.p.s cassie there is the finglas concert band and they teach flute there. that is where i am learnin the flute

Friday, May 16, 2008 12:19:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Hi Caroline,
Yes, to start off you'd want to learn one scale at a time.
Some teachers use scale books which layout the scales in easy-to-medium difficulty. These can be fun because you learn a scale and then play a scale-etude immeidately afterward, USING the scale you just learned.
I enjoy the Brooke Flute Method for this. (vol. 2 for intermediate flutists)
Lots of time to learn to USE each scale in a little piece or study of that scale. Very fun.

Friday, May 16, 2008 2:24:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Here is a link to:


It is sold in any music store (just ask the store to order you in a copy.)

best, Jen

Friday, May 16, 2008 2:26:00 PM

Blogger poppyblog said...

I've just started last week to learn flute.
My memory is the worst! there any easier way to possibly learn the flute fingering? it really takes me FOREVER to learn just ONE note to memory.

Thursday, August 07, 2008 10:03:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

A week isn't very long at all when it comes to learning a new skill. Think how long it took you to memorized the alphabet when you were a child. Didn't it take more than a week? Fingerings are the same. Take one at a time, learn it really well. Then add the new fingering to the one you learned most recently, and go back and forth between those two notes (B and A for example.) Play little tunes with two notes or three notes ( The beginner book: Abracadabra flute by Pollock with CD is a fun way to do this.) And definitely sign up for some flute lessons. Good flute teachers know how to make this kind of thing easy for beginners; get lessons for sure.
Best, Jen

Thursday, August 07, 2008 12:50:00 PM

Anonymous Douglas said...

Jennifer, Thank you so much for your sight. You are such a joy to watch.
When I was 12 and I started playing the Bass guitar. A salesman from a music store taught me the Major and Minor scales. He said,"Learn them frontwards and backwords,know every note and enjoy the sound of every note." You say the same. Every note is beautiful.

Saturday, September 06, 2008 7:47:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Thanks Douglas for your comment! :>) J

Saturday, September 06, 2008 11:02:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am one of the more advanced students at my high school and lately one of the younger students has been coming to me asking for help. Currently we are working on scales and I was wondering if you have any advise on how to teach flute scales? Thank you for your time.


Thursday, October 23, 2008 8:02:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear Candy,

Have a read here:


Thursday, October 23, 2008 9:44:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jen ,
I really need all of the scales in 2 octaves with the arpeggios.

Sunday, October 26, 2008 9:30:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear Anon.
The link is in the above blog post:

Two octave flute scales with arpeggios. It was given in the above article as "Basic highschool scales".

Sunday, October 26, 2008 12:41:00 PM

Blogger kristin(: said...

Hi this is Kristin and I've only been playing the flute for about two years. At my old school scales were a big thing so i learned 7 or the 12, in one octave. but last year i moved to a school were scales werent so much focused on so i sort of slacked off. Now im moving back to a school where we have to know all 12 scales in two octaves. Im panicking because our audition for chair placements are June 15th. How am I supposed to learn all scales in two octaves?!

Friday, June 05, 2009 10:03:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear Kristin,
To learn all 12 major scales in two octaves in ten days might be a little stressful. You can only make a plan, and then see if the plan works. If it doesn't work, you can keep improving, even if you don't get the best seating afterward. It's really about continuing to learn every day, and not just about who gets what seat.

The plan I'd use would be the basic "divide and conquor" strategy.

Firstly, I'd decide to focus on the scales they're most likely to ask, that you could actually learn in ten days:

C Major
F Major
Bb Major
Eb Major


G Major
D Major
A Major
E Major

If you play all the above well, and musically, and happily, and confidently, you will do better than if you go crazy AND play everything all messily.

Now to the "conquor" part:
Since you already know one octave scales, it's easy to extend them one note at a time.
So start with an all slurred, GREAT tone quality, one octave and add one note at a time, every time you go up and down:


F G A Bb C D E F *G* (then go back down.)

F G A Bb C D E F G *A* (then go back down to F again.)

Do this slowly and listen listen listen to the QUALITY. Don't practise fast and furious, practise deep and meaningfully.

Doing one scale a day all slurred, then articulated, once the tone is good, and gradually increasing to two full octaves, still with with great tone, by memory will give you eight strong scales in eight days.

The next day review the scale of the day before, and add slow work on a new scale.

On the final two days, practise them in any order (randomly select them from a list as though you're at the audition) and play each one with the articulation that is being asked.

If you get a chance to speak at the audition, tell them that you're prepared to play up to four sharps and four flats in two octave scales, but that you're still working on the remaining scales with five and six sharps and flats, and will learn them all by September.

Then, no matter where you place as a result of the audition, you'll come across as a person who can get good quality work done by dividing, conquoring, and sticking with it.
Return in September with the remaining scales memorized too. Make good on your goal; that goes a long way in the long run. :>)
Best, Jen

Friday, June 05, 2009 12:09:00 PM

Blogger J said...

your site has helped loads.
i have 2 questions too ask though, if you wouldnt mind :)

for trilling, do you tongue or slur to the next upward note?


are there any exercises that would improve my breathing skills?

many thanks.


Sunday, July 05, 2009 4:38:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear J.
For breathing help see:

For trilling help, check with your teacher. There's no rule about trills and articulation. The composer writes a slur if a slur is meant, but some older printed music infers a slur when none is written. Your teacher will know for sure from seeing the page of music. Jen

Sunday, July 05, 2009 9:51:00 PM

Anonymous Zav said...

hey love your bloggies...
have a question...
is it ok to study the flute without a flute teacher... cuze i cant find one here(not in the us)... ^^

Thursday, July 16, 2009 2:56:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Hi Zav,
On the flute discussion groups we've been able to find flute teachers for almost everyone who's ever written in looking for one.

So my question is: Have you REALLY looked for a flute teacher yet? Or do you just think there are none where you live?

The reason every player needs a teacher is that there are common human errors in playing the flute that almost every self-taught player ends up with. These errors take a long time to correct; time that is then wasted in frustration.

If you want to learn the flute quickly, well and without the common flaws that everyone always teaches themselves, then check with the local college, university, music conservatory, music school, and ask all the piano teachers "Are there any good flute teachers in town?"
I bet you'll save yourself loads of time and trouble by finding one.
Give your location....

Best, Jen

Thursday, July 16, 2009 7:07:00 AM

Anonymous Zav said...

Hi its zav again... i have been looking.. I live in the philippines(i don't know if you know that country, somewhere is South east asia) There are some but they don't do home service where I live...

Thursday, July 16, 2009 6:10:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear Zav,
Usually you go to a music school once a week for a private flute lesson, or you go to the teacher's studio once a week.
MOST flute teachers do not travel to their student's homes.
Students travel to the teacher's studio.
To find a teacher, phone the music school nearest your town.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 8:30:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I was wondering how you play high d,e,and f.
I am doing it for band and i am trying for honors band i need to know those notes you should post a video on youtube so other people and me can know how they are suppose to sound i know the fingering but not how it is suppose to sound
thanks i really need to know how they sound and within a week thank you

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 4:33:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear High-D-E-F,

I'm guessing that you mean SUPER high D, E and F (above the highest C on standard fingering charts)?
Or do you mean two leger line D, and three leger line E and F?

All fingerings are found on the fingering charts at woodwind fingering (link is at my fingering chart page at and you want to look for the fingerings called "fourth octave" or "altissimo" if you're looking for the super-high, fourth octave (many many leger lines.)
I'm surprised your band teacher is testing you on the fourth octave. Most flute players never use these notes as they all sound:
a) just like high C- all shrieky and uncontrolled
b) ear-splitting
c) much better on piccolo than on flute (played an octave lower on picc.)
d) very sharp, windy and out of tune.

Anyway, look for the woodwind fingering guide and try the fingerings.
The mouth position is best if lower lip covers 1/4 of the blow hole and you blow very fast air.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009 5:09:00 PM


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