Today's blog post is all about how to clean and put away the alto flute. In both the video posted above and the article below, I walk you through taking the instrument apart and cleaning it.
The alto flute is a large instrument, with a beautiful, mellow sound, and care must be taken when handling it to ensure that no damage occurs to this member of the flute family. (The method for cleaning bass flutes and other flutes with curved headjoints is much the same.)
First we want to gently pick up the instrument, being sure to hold it underneath without wrapping fingers around the keys or gripping it at the headjoint. This prevents damage to the flute that can occur when the body is squeezed in a firm grip, with no regard to the delicate pins and rods holding the instrument together.
Next we want to carefully grasp the headjoint and twist it off.
You may need to brace the instrument against your lap or the floor for this part, but if you do so, again, make sure that the keys do not come into contact with a hard or semi-hard surface.
NEVER just pull the sections apart, as this can cause damage to the thin, soft metal that joins them together, making the instrument difficult to assemble and disassemble and significantly altering the quality of the sound.
(The alto flute - and any flute - should be put together the same way, by lining up the joints and gently twisting them on, never shoving.)
There are two parts to the headjoint, so repeat the procedure to separate the top of the flute further and again for the foot joint. Again, be careful that you do not grip the keys throughout this process.
After you have taken the alto flute apart and placed the pieces either in the case or gently on the ground (taking care to keep the keys face up), take your specialised cleaning swab and start running it through the instrument.
The cleaning swab should have three connected parts:
- 1. A cloth - this is what will chase away the spit and condensation.
- 2. A fabric covered wood dowel.
- 3. A fabric covered flexible piece of plastic.
The footjoint is easy to clean - simply insert the dowel into the joint and pull it through until the fabric follows. The section can be reversed and the cloth and dowel worked through from the other side to ensure that the flute is fully cleansed. Then place the footjoint in the case.
The body is a little trickier. To really get the cloth the whole way through, you will have to insert both the firm and flexible pieces. The dowel should go first, so that it can drop down the length of the flute to appear from the bottom end. Pull it through as before.
Now for the headjoint, the most baffling part.
Make sure you have two separate pieces before beginning.
First clean the very top part, where the mouthpiece sits. I like to wrap the cloth around the dowel before inserting it, to achieve a really thorough clean. Rotate the cloth and dowel around a few times inside the headjoint.
Next, take the flexible piece, and insert it into one end of the flute. Pull it all the way through until the cloth follows. The wooden dowel will not (and should not) go through.
Pull the dowel in the opposite direction until the cloth comes back out of the flute. Again, this process can be repeated starting at the opposite end of the curved section, to ensure that your flute is quite clean.
Remember to put away each piece after cleaning it, so that when you are finished you can simply close and secure the case.
If the joints become grimy, or you share the flute with another person (in a flute choir for instance), a few firm swipes from an alcohol swab will sterilise the instrument and keep the joints mobile.
Never attempt to force the flute together - check and see if it needs a little cleaning first! If you still struggle with stiffness (or if the sections are too loose and come apart easily) it may be time to see a flute technician.
Alto flute swabs are available for purchase at: www.fluteworld.com.
Alcohol swabs may be purchased from the pharmacy section of your local Walmart or Target.