An Introduction to Rim Blown Flutes

Don't be daunted by the initial challenges; every great flutist started with a simple note. The step-by-step guidance that follows will empower you to confidently explore the unique sounds and expressive possibilities of the rim blown flute. With dedication and consistent practice, you'll soon find yourself weaving melodies that resonate with emotion and beauty.

So, let us embark on this musical adventure together, confident that these instructions will pave the way for your success and enjoyment with the rim-blown flute. Embrace the power of music and let your flute echo with harmony.

Setting Expectations – A Note from the Flute Maker

To succeed in playing the rim-blown flute, consistent practice is key. In the early days of learning to play, I recommend keeping your flute somewhere easily accessible where you can sit down for a short daily practice session.

In these early sessions, I’ve found the following recommendations created an effective practice environment:

  • Begin with short sessions, ideally no more than five minutes a day until you can produce a consistent tone from the flute.
  • If you find yourself getting frustrated in a practice session, set your flute down and walk away.  Frustration and tension are the enemy of successfully playing a rim-blown flute.
  • Only increase your daily practice time as your ability to find and maintain a steady tone improves.

For beginners, I suggest starting with a flute that has a 7/8” (22mm) bore and either a Xiao or Shakuhatchi-style embouchure. Alternatively, a flute with a ¾” (19mm) bore and Xiao-style embouchure is also suitable.

For guidance on forming the embouchure, I recommend watching Jon Kypros's instructional video on shakuhatchi embouchure formation. The embouchure for the xiao flute is similar to the shakuhatchi but simpler.

Link to Jon Kyprios’s video:

Step 1:  Relax your face.

·       Find a well-lit mirror where you can see your whole face.

·       Inhale a large breath through your nose.

·       Exhale slowly through your mouth.  As you exhale, relax your lips, allowing them to vibrate against each other – like you would when making an audible raspberry sound.

·       Continue the exhale letting your face muscles relax fully at the end of each breath. 

·       Repeat this breath pattern 3-5 times.



Step 2:  Find your flutist’s Buddha smile.

·       With your face fully relaxed and your lips closed against each other, begin to gently pinch or tighten the corners of your mouth.

·       The pinching action draws the corners of your mouth upward, creating a Buddha-like smile.

·       Standing with the flutist’s smile feel for:

o   Your lips fully closed against each other.

o   A gentle tension in the corners of your mouth.

o   No tension or pressure in your lips through the center of your mouth. 



Step 3 – Locate the natural part of your lips.

·       Create your flutist’s smile.

·       Inhale a large breath through your nose.

·       Hold your breath for a few moments and shift your attention to your lips and cheeks. 

·       Create a gentle tension across your lips which will allow the corners and the center of your lips to remain sealed as you exhale.

·       Slowly push air into your mouth.  With your lips gently sealed, you will feel slight pressure as the air pushes against them. Maintain your flutist’s smile and do not allow this air pressure to inflate your cheeks. 

·       After a two to three count of feeling this pressure against your lips, allow a thin stream of air to escape your lips.  You should continue to feel pressure in your mouth as you blow.

·       Notice in the mirror where your lips naturally create an opening as you release this thin stream of air.  This is the natural opening of your lips. 

·       Repeat this breath pattern 3-5 times.


Step 4 – Position the flute’s cutting edge.

·       Stand erect, with your head straight up. 

·       Hold the upper end of your flute in your left hand and place the flute’s cutting edge just under the natural part of your lips.

·       Do not cover any holes at this time.

·       In this position, the flute should be nearly horizontal.

Step 5 – Split the air on the flute’s cutting edge.

·       With your flute’s cutting edge positioned under the natural opening of your lips, begin blowing a thin, slow stream of air across the flute’s cutting edge.

·       Maintain the flutist’s smile with your mouth and lips.

·       Sense the air pressure in your mouth as the light tension in your cheeks and lips forces the air to escape only through the natural opening of your lips.

·       Blow straight across the cutting edge of the flute.

·       If you do not hear the air splitting on the cutting edge, maintaining a consistent flute angle, begin to slowly move the flute up and down on your bottom lip.

·       Repeat the slow, controlled exhalation combined with the slow, controlled movement of the flute until you hear the air splitting on the cutting edge.



Step 6 – Adjust the playing angle.

·       The angle of the flute in relation to your lips and chin determines the ease of playing the flute.

·       Initially use a horizontal flute position to create your first sound.

·       After you can consistently create a sound with the flute in a horizontal position, start lowering the flute down to create a more comfortable playing position.

·       You may have to reposition the flute embrochure on your lip to get the flow of air across the cutting edge.

·       Begin each practice session starting with a more horizontal flute position.  This will help you successfully split the air with less frustration each session.

·       Eventually you can skip using the horizontal position.



Step 7 – Covering the playing holes.

·       After you can consistently create a stable sound, it is time to start covering the playing holes.

·       Using your left hand’s three middle fingers start covering the holes from the top-down.

·       You will hear the pitch drop with each hole you cover.

·     NOTE:  If you are more comfortable using your right hand on top that is fine.



  You can use either the pads of your fingers or the middle section of your fingers.(This is called as piper’s grip, since this is the technique bag-pipers use.)  Traditionally, the Xiao is played with the lower holes covered by a piper's grip.

·       After you can get the top three holes to work, you can start covering the bottom three holes.

·       The lower holes will require you to relax your smile a little and to blow more softly.