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The Ultimate Flute Warm-Up Guide

The Ultimate Flute Warm-Up Guide

A Fresh Take on Taffanel & Gaubert (Free PDF)

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A Quick Question: What is a COA, short for ‘Clean, Oil and Adjust’? 

A Brisk Answer: It is how a flute technician takes care of your flute or piccolo!

During a Clean, Oil and Adjust, the instrument is literally, cleaned, oiled and adjusted. This keeps your flute in excellent playing condition: a smooth and quiet action, a return to full  resonance, and heightened response in all ranges. 

how to do a COA on the flute: flute with tools

During the COA process, the instrument is fully disassembled. All keys are taken off and set aside, and the headjoint cork and crown are also removed. The flute then looks like a melodic skeleton, with miniscule wires sticking out everywhere! 

how to do a COA on the flute: naked flute

The flute is then washed, and all of the “hard-to-reach” places are carefully cleaned to remove dirt and extra oil buildup. Everything is then either lightly hand-polished or Ultrasonic-ed to remove heavy tarnish and grime!  


While the mechanism is off the instrument, each key section is then also taken apart so residual oil and dirt can be removed. On the footjoint, the rollers are removed, cleaned, and oiled. With sections such as the trill keys - or sections of the flute that are pinned - the pins are removed, and the keys are then disassembled and cleaned. The pins are extremely small, and great care must be taken both to remove them, and then to reinsert them in the correct direction and location. 

how to do a COA on the flute: section with pins

As each section is reassembled, new oil is applied to facilitate a crisp and smooth action. 

The Question Asked Most: What about the pads? 

All of the pads are lightly cleaned to remove any residual build-up. Each pad is tested to ensure an efficient and accurate seal on its respective tone hole. It is normal for many of the pads to have shifted, settled or even warped after a year’s worth of flute playing! The moisture created by a flutist’s breath as well as the repetitive nature of playing the flute can cause the pads to have some areas that are more compressed. In some cases the pads can be adjusted with small, very thin donuts called ‘shims’. These can be inserted behind the pad as a whole or partial shim (small, pie-shaped pieces) to fill the gap in the compressed areas. The closed-hole pads are held in by a pad screw and washer for fairly easy removal, while the open-hole pads are held in by a grommet (also called a bushing), which is removed with a thin ‘pad slick’. Tender loving care must be taken to gently remove the grommet and then the pad to insert the shims!

how to do a COA on the flute: pad screw, washer, grommet, bushing, pad, shims, and other parts of the flute

Padwork is very time-intensive and can require opening and resetting each pad multiple times. In some cases, the pad will need to be replaced, either because of a tear or excessive pad wear. Additionally, pads in the upper C key and the two trill keys are ‘floated’ in with a type of shellac or glue that is firm at room temperature, but becomes almost liquid when heated. These pads can either be readjusted with heat or replaced entirely. 

how to do a COA on the flute: flute trill pads and glue

While it is perfectly normal for 2-3 pads to be changed each year, the overall age of the pads on the instrument may determine that more pads need to be changed. This is not cause for alarm!

Each player has a different ‘touch’, and this, along with the amount of playing, creates the personal wear-and-tear factor. 

Hmmm…. What I MEANT was, what about traditional felt pads vs. synthetic pads? 

The Simple Answer: Player preference, matching what pads are already in the flute, and special circumstances such as location, weather, and response!

Got it! So what happens next? 

Once each pad is seated accurately on the instrument, then all of the key combinations are checked and also regulated. 

how to do a COA on the flute: gauge with keys

It is normal for some of the corks, felts, and adjustment materials to become worn, and these can also be changed during this part of the process. Additionally, the headjoint cork assembly is disassembled, and a new headjoint cork is usually installed at this point. 

how to do a COA on the flute: headjoint cork assemly

Once the instrument is fully assembled, then the flute is play-tested. Not only is it checked for excellent playability, but this is an opportunity to ensure that the mechanism is smooth and quiet. 

As well, each note on the flute should sound full and resonant, with a full spectrum of overtones. 

All of the keys should feel like they have similar spring tension when pressed, both singly and in varying combinations. Notes are usually taken, and it is normal for the technician to re-address sections of the flute or specific pads to finish the adjustments needed. 

Why can’t I get my instrument back NOW? After picking up, say… coffee or a matcha? 

A full COA usually takes several hours. And while it can be completed in one day, it is prudent to let the flute ‘sit’ at least overnight (or longer!) to ensure that nothing changes as everything  settles. 

It is also important for the flute to be played for a while to make sure that all adjustments are stable. While it’s an absolute ideal for the adjustments on an instrument to last an entire year, the amount of playing (and the type of playing) done by each player varies, and it isn’t unusual for small touch-ups to be made during the course of a year to maintain the optimal playing condition of your instrument. This is similar to the concept of oil in a car: it is gauged by the miles put on the vehicle as opposed to the length of time between oil changes! 


So what else should a flutist know about a COA? 

It’s important for the flutist to communicate well with their technician! Be clear about what is  bothering you with your instrument, as well as any trouble you might be having as a player. These brief exchanges will help both you and the repair tech discover any preferences you  might have available on the instrument that you may not have even been aware of! When your flute is finished and ready, make sure to take some time to thoroughly test it and give feedback to the technician as well. The goal is always to make sure the player is confident and satisfied, and there should always be room for fine-tuning due to personal preferences! 


Any Final Thoughts? Perhaps…. something not quite as dry as everything written so far? 

An annual COA is like an amazing Spa Day for your flute (and you)! A flute sporting a fresh COA should feel almost like a brand new flute! You should be able to press lightly on the keys, crushing technical or melodic passages effortlessly! Everything should feel both better and easier to play!

Did you learn something new?

If you liked this post and are based in the Southern California area, be sure to stop by Flutacious! to give Cynthia a hello, and to get your flute checked out for a COA.

And if you’re looking to improve on the flute regardless, we have just the thing for you:

Here at tonebase, we’ve created the largest flute learning platform on the internet, connecting you to the world’s greatest flutists within a click of a button.

As a tonebase member, you’ll receive access to exclusive courses with flutists such as Jasmine Choi, Mark Sparks, Carol Wincenc, and more.

And as a bonus, you’ll receive invitations to weely live events, access to an exclusive forum of fellow passionate flutists, and access to custom annotated scores and workbooks.

Click here to sign up for a free 14-day trial, and see how tonebase can take your flute performance to the next level.

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