Beginner Flute Questions 2021 Version

Beginner Flute Questions 2021 Version

Hi All:

Searched and haven’t found similar questions on other threads, though I’m sure they’ve been asked before. I’ve been playing a McNeela Lon Dubh keyless polymer flute for about five months now. (I played a silver flute for a few years as a kid.)

I find the flute slippery. Going B-C#-D, I practically lose my grip or it slips slightly and I have to adjust my fingers. I saw a clip of an RTE broadcast with an old-timer licking his fingers before starting his next tune. Is this really the best option?

Also, after a few minutes I find I’m blowing dirty air and I have to pull the flute away and reposition my lip to get a clear note again. This used to happen after much less time but still is a regular thing. I can’t imagine playing for a long time without continually repositioning. How can I get better at this?

Thanks for any suggestions.

What should my next flute be? Should I move to wood if I want to get serious, or get a keyed polymer flute?

Andy

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Welcome aboard, Andy! Glad to have a fellow fluter, however new. I’ve been at it for 50 years and find new things all the time. For instance, I’ve finally come around to the fact that, on my right hand, I need to curve my first and middle fingers and keep the ring finger straight. All these years, I’ve done one or the other with all three fingers, which puts some combination out of alignment. Not unlike your issue. So have a seat.

All of us have problems like yours. Watch any player with an eight-key flute and you’ll notice that the foot joint is twisted forward to get the keys out of the way so they can anchor their little finger. Your flute needs to be lightly pressed into the hollow between lips and chin. Your left thumb presses upwards cradling the flute between it and the knuckle at the base of your left forefinger. Your right thumb should rest at the bottom of the flute approximately at the mid point, just north of the hole for your right forefinger. The aforementioned little finger braces the flute downward to counter the thumb of the left hand. Everything should now be in balance, so don’t move and you’ll be fine. If you insist on playing something, you’ll learn a variety of personal tricks over time to incorporate depending on what you are playing. A Do is to focus on the left thumb having to take the load when playing C#. If you are going from C# to D, keep your left forefinger up to play D. You’ll get a better note than if you try to bring all six fingers down. A Don’t is to brace the flute between chin and shoulder.

Regarding the loss of good tone, remember that you don’t have a lip plate to center you, so you need focus on where your sweet spot is so you can re-adjust as you play. Experience will help. If your lips sweats, a bit of talcum powder may be in order. By dirty, you may be telling us that moisture is clouding up the tone or making it gurgle. Common issue. Close all the holes and blow directly through the embouchure to clear it out, or better still, swab the thing out. I find that after my first three sets, it’s good to swab whether it needs it or not. A cold flute collects moisture quickly and once swabbed, may go for quite a while without needing it again.

Keep us posted with how you get on and what worked for you.

Cheers, my friend!

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"A Don’t is to brace the flute between chin and shoulder."
I just want to re-emphasise that. Some trad players do it, and I once even saw it recommended, but it’s not necessary, it’s a terrible habit and it’s a road to serious neck problems down the line.

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Re: Beginner Flute Questions 2021 Version

"old-timer licking his fingers before starting his next tune"
Wetting the fingers gives a better airtight seal if you have dry fingers.

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On the hold search for "Rockstro Hold" (e.g. http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/Rocksto_on_holding_the_flute.html - but there a simpler instructions about on the web)

Many trad players do use their RH 4th finger to stabilize the flute. I found practicing without that and with the LH thumb dangling gave confidence in the flute being secure (and handy when I moved to a 4-keyed flute) . You will find the positions for the thumb and fingers where they won’t slide off.

With a polymer flute and a thick carpet it should be fairly safe for the flute. Some people suggest sticking felt pads (those things for the feet) on where the RH thumb goes to start with.

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"Watch any player with an eight-key flute and you’ll notice that the foot joint is twisted forward to get the keys out of the way so they can anchor their little finger."

Not me, but then I’m just a social musician.

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Some flute makers deliberately rough up the outer profile of polymer flutes. This provides better grip & an appearance closer to wood flutes. I don’t care for the shiny look of polished polymers - too slippery.

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The way I see this is that to keep the flute still you need to be applying opposing forces at three points - the chin, the left base knuckle, and the right thumb. If you can balance those you should have a very secure hold that does not slip. That should sort both problems, I think.

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"Watch any player with an eight-key flute and you’ll notice that the foot joint is twisted forward to get the keys out of the way so they can anchor their little finger."

That’s not true for me anyway. Many famous ITM artists do that, but not all of them, and there are a few tunes in the Irish repertoire where you’ll want that Eb or C# note, as well as many more tunes in adjacent genres like Breton music, some Scottish tunes.

When I first got my 8-keyed "Irish" flute I kept the foot joint rotated out for a while until I found a few tunes that needed the keys. Rather than rotate back and forth as needed, which didn’t feel like a great option, I finally decided to learn how to lightly touch the Eb key as an "anchor" while lifting it for the D note. It just takes practice. Irrelevant for an unkeyed flute, but it might be a good idea not to get too dependent on a 4th finger anchor if you plan to get an 8-keyed flute later on.

On the lower notes there is also some benefit in letting the 4th finger fly freely so the shared tendon with the 3rd finger isn’t as restricted as it is when the 4th finger is always anchored on the flute. YMMV, these are personal choices.

One thing that may help the OP with the right hand hold, is making sure the RH thumb has a good contact against the flute barrel for an outward push, as part of the 3-point anchor keeping the flute stable. I found my hold improved if I kept my RH thumb fingernail trimmed very short, so there was more fleshy pad exposed at the tip of the thumb when pushing outward against the flute. When I had a longer thumbnail for acoustic guitar playing, the nail didn’t make a solid contact against the flute, it kept slipping.

As for the embouchure losing focus and needing repositioning, I think that happens to many of us in the initial stages and it improves over time. It used to bother me a lot, but now seems fairly steady. It took a few years to get to that point though.

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""Watch any player with an eight-key flute and you’ll notice that the foot joint is twisted forward to get the keys out of the way so they can anchor their little finger."

That’s not true for me anyway. "

Same here, and while many do, I believe it’s bad advice to suggest all do or that beginners should.

You can easily hold the flute in a way that doesn’t require any fingers on the holes. The Rockstro grip is a good place to start, but here’s a (hopefully) simple description: Use your chin, the base of the index finger on your top hand, and the thumb on the bottom hand as pivot points on the _sides_ not bottom of the flute. The chin and bottom hand thumb push the flute away from you, while the base of the index finger pushes it back towards you. With this grip you can have all fingers (except bottom hand thumb) off the flute and not drop it. It also frees up your top hand thumb for the Bb key, and frees your pinky for the bottom C#/C notes.

You could anchor your pink on the block for the Eb key as an alternative, or hold the Eb key open (useful for some antique flutes) if you still find the above grip unstable. Personally, my pinkys are so short I couldn’t use it to anchor on the flute even if I wanted to. But I would never turn the footjoint because I like those bottom notes!

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Go easy, guys! I used the twisted-footjoint thing as an example of the struggle we have in holding the flute. It’s a fact that the majority of eight-key players twist the end. Heck, Paddy Carty does it on a fully keyed Radcliff flute! I just wanted Andy to know keeping the flute balanced and stable is a challenge even for the experienced. I can barely keep myself balanced and stable and I’m almost 70!

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Nico’s explanation is the way to go. As taught by Hammy H, Conal O Grada, Fintan Vallely and many others…

The flute is held in place by the three pressure points - chin, bottom of LH index finger and thumb of RH on the side (not underneath) the flute. It doesn’t require a lot of pressure by the RH thumb against the fulcrum (base of LH index finger) to create the right pressure to keep the flute pressed comfortably to chin.

The problem with developing the RH pinky finger (#4) as the counter balance is that if you ever move to a keyed flute you are going to have to unlearn that habit to play the Eb (although you probably can keep that key vented on a keyed flute for all notes except the D).

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Wow! Thanks so much for the amazing feedback. It’s going to take me a bit to work through the options. I’m thinking my right thumb placement needs adjustment, as well as maybe trying to steady with my right 4th finger.

Lots to try out. Thanks!

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Second what gbyrne and others have said. I was taught (by a "classical"player, who knows 8-key and other traversos) that the Eb key is needed on some notes to get a fuller (in some cases, less flat) sound. I just rest my R4 finger there, keeping it open until I need a D. I think I’ve seen Niall Keegan do this in a couple videos. It’s not totally necessary, but it really lets the notes "speak" on slow airs, and it’s someplace to rest that pinky finger. YMMV

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Fourth upvote for Rockstro hold. I learned without it; then relearned later.

While you may be playing a keyless flute at the moment, you might as well learn proper habits early for a future that could include a keyed flute. The three-point hold ends up with more ergonomic hand positions, although it might not be obvious at first. The fourth-point would be the left thumb, but I feel it’s better not to have a death grip from the left hand, even if you don’t foresee playing the Bb note.

On most flutes the E note benefits from venting the Eb key. It’s too bad that keyless flutes don’t include that one single key, for helping the E note, but also because Eb is the one note that is pretty impossible without a key.

I agree with Conical Bore that it is better to not go back and forth, although I notice many experienced ITM flute players who simply turn the foot-joint away.

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> Should I move to wood if I want to get serious, or get a keyed polymer flute?

If you are determined to get serious, I would suggest getting a keyed flute (6-key, or even 8-key) as early as possible. As far as developing technique is concerned, also a polymer one will be fine. A good, cheap and immediately available choice is the 6-key M&E - though hardly this will be your final flute. Other options for keyed polymer are Vincenzo di Mauro, François Baubet, and several others. (I cannot yet speak for keyed flutes, as I will get my first one expectedly in July).

Choose an easy tune using both the long F natural key and the B flat key (the slow air Roslyn Castle played in D minor is perfect for this, https://thesession.org/tunes/4150), and practice that once or twice everyday with the Rockstro hold in mind. With time you will inadvertently find (at least, that has happened to me) the correct position for your left hand, which will allow you to freely move you your left thumb and 4th finger for operating the B flat and long F natural key, respectively. To me, this has also magically improved my ability to perform A and B rolls.

Once you are comfortable with that, here are some twenty tune suggestions for practising keys: https://thesession.org/discussions/45487

Hope this helps
Sergio

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Amazing! And thanks! I’ve been fluting on and off for quite a few years, but never seriously been advised to vent the Eb key when playing E, and certainly never tried it until this morning. The improvement in tone is little short of startling, and the pitch is better too. F# is also improved, but only a bit.

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And thanks for further suggestions. I’ll definitely try the Rockstro hold, although I think I’m fairly close to it already. I’d love to get a six-key polymer flute but that’s probably a year or two in the future.

Very happy to be here.

Andy

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I’m down to just 2 flutes now (well I do still have a spare Somers unkeyed), both Pratten and both post mounted 8 keyed. A Tony Millyard (wonderful by the way) and a Somers with key work by Reviol and customised a bit by my local flute guy. I’ve been playing for 15 years or so now. Never played a block mounted flute so anything I say has to be qualified by that. I’m not sure what the issue is with rotating the foot joint. I rotate mine with no regard to "holding" the flute, but only as ms much as I need to to reach the keys, not enough and I can’t reach the C very well, too far and I don’t fully close the C#. Do block mounted flutes have that same issue?

Oh and some years ago I asked for some advice about springing for an 8 keyed flute. I got two great responses. one was from a frequent poster here, I think it was "dunnp" and the other was James Noonan. The gist of their response was "in for a penny in for a pound". Thanks guys, I use those low C’s all the time now, and my ability to control my tone is much improved for having them ( it took a while). I’ve long since forgotten the price differential, and never regretted getting them. So if the question is "should I get a keyed flute, wood or polymer" I’d say that’s a big question. Keys won’t make you a better player, but if you go to keys go all the way.

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ross faison writes: "I use those low C’s all the time now, and my ability to control my tone is much improved for having them (it took a while)". Any tips available on this? I have a very nice G. Ormiston flute, but don’t have the knack of achieving a good, full-sounding low C/C#, especially at speed - though I’m aware that if I could do so it would go a long way to improving my breath control, embouchure, tone, and fluting in general. Advice on practice techniques would be welcome.

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thanks for asking Bazza. Wish I had something substantial to offer. Here’s a go at it and it’s mostly passing on advice given in passing comments and from what I learned about the science of air flow. I lost access to precise air flow and pressure measuring instruments when I retired but I hope my guesses carry some weight. First "slow is smooth … smooth is fast". When I first started to learn everybody told me enthusiastically "more air". So I tried more air and that just made things worse. I tried smiling, I tried frowning sometimes it helped sometimes not, so why was that? During a car ride I asked Shannon Heaton how she got such a much better sound from my old M & E. She said that she played with a very focused embouchure. Then I realized that focusing the embouchure creates a faster air flow and that, first, it was the air speed (low volume in a very small airstream) and second, that with practice, the airstream is put right on the "sweet spot". So my best sound and volume came when I stopped blowing hard and started to put a gentle airstream in the right place. The lower notes took a gentler but more focused, laminar airflow. That was hard to do at first especially when playing at tempo, but with practice it got easier. Another thing I got from Shannon Heaton was to relax. Playing with tension is an obstacle to good playing. Finally, finally I got what she was saying. Feet on the floor, good posture, it’s all important. Relax.

Now it may seem harder to get that low C started. Kinda like slow acceleration from a standing start. Catherine McEvoy says that the glottal stop helps a lot for that. That was during a discussion about getting that hard D. Remember how hard that was? She also said, and as I also read from Skip Healy, that to get that that hard D ya have to get the low E first. Following that ya have to get a good D in order to get a good solid C. When I pick up my flute, every time, honest, I start on the G and work my way down, relaxed, good posture, disciplined, with focus, all the way to the low C. And something I didn’t mention is to carefully listen to yourself all the time. Record yourself. Hear what what works and what doesn’t and stay at it. Improvement with anything requires good assessment.

So that’s pretty much my input. Slow down. By that I mean to remember it’s gonna take a while to get it. Don’t let yourself get frustrated. Stay calm and disciplined. You won’t get it by hard work, you will by smart work. Start at a higher note and work your way down building on the strength and technique that worked at the higher note. Highly focused embouchure and smooth airflow (less force than you think , smooth and focused makes a higher airspeed). Three words are important, slow, relax, focus, and assess. Okay 4 words! that’s really the only to develop any skill. That’s what I meant when I said it took a while. Oh, one thing that worked for me was to practice on a C flute. I even used my Boehm flute to practice all the way down to the low B. Helped but not required. One more thing, you can use the same practice skills to get comfortable at the highest notes. By taking the notes one at a time I’m starting to get all the way to the high A (A6).

Probably not all that much help. Best of luck to you!

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Let me offer some info on low C# and C. First, understand that flute emits sound through every available orifice. The fewer open holes, the weaker the sound. In the second octave, you finger these notes at the top of the flute and vent D for this very reason. Also, the air must travel much further to go from D to C than from E to D. Add to that the 11mm (or so) hole at the end of the flute, compared to the 19mm hole on a Boehm, and it’s no wonder low C is so weak. Finally, notice how D# is noticeably stronger than low D. The hole is further down the length of the flute, but because you are opening a hole rather than closing one -(and a relatively large one, I might add) you get a stronger, more open note. Many vent D# as a matter of course for more power and better intonation, although I personally only do so for sustained notes, especially E.

Even on a Boehm, low C# and C are the hardest notes to get strongly and with quick response. Superior by far than the conical bore in this respect, but a challenge, nonetheless.

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Nothing weak about the low C# and C on my Hamilton flute. Strong tone and an excellent response. I’d be lost without them.

Jim

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Ross: thanks for your input. The advice seems pretty substantial to me - v. helpful.

Jim: I’m sure you’re right about the merits of your Hamilton flute, but I suspect that even the highest-quality instrument takes a good technique to get the best out of it.

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Gee, I wish I could convince people to drop the expression, the "Rockstro Hold". Yes, Rockstro did support the use of the earlier three point hold, but he was among the last to do so, and certainly not among the first. So naming it after him makes no sense.

Keep in mind that, by the time we come to Rockstro, he is using a Boehm style flute (but not admitting to it, because he was allergic to anything involving the names Siccama, Clinton or Boehm, three great flute makers of the age who were a good deal smarter than he was). He is playing the "Rockstro Model", his minor variant of the Boehm flute with all holes the same diameter, even though that is a very bad idea, and which was subsequently dropped by the manufacturers, Rudall and Carte, at their earliest convenience, in favour of the Louis Lot version, which maintained Clinton’s aim - holes becoming bigger as you go down the flute, but not quite so extremely, and done in tiers, to make it more practical and economic to make.

"Rockstro’s Model" quickly faded from history, for all the right reasons. Rockstro was a man with a loud mouth, but little useful to say.

So let’s not refer to it as the Rockstro hold, but give it its proper place in the world, the "19th century flute hold". But do have a go at using it. I came to it late, but use it all the time now. It’s brilliant!

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Yes, but how many web-accessible descriptions of the 19th century flute hold don’t contain the text "19th century flute hold" but do contain the text "Rockstro Hold" (or "Rockstro Grip" ) ?

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Bazza, sorry, that response was to the idea that low C is a weak note. Practice as such won’t improve your control of those notes, you need to experiment relentlessly with your embouchure. And the keywork and sealing of the pads/plugs need regular maintenance to keep an adequate response. You need to be able get a good trill on both the low C# and low C to have any chance of using the notes at normal playing speeds. If the response isn’t quick enough to allow a clean trill then trying to practice with them will be very frustrating. Of course, at first, you won’t know if a problem that you’re having is inefficient embouchure or a mechanical issue. You could seal/close off the holes under the keys to find out which it is. I certainly remember the frustration of trying to form a good note!

Jim

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@Bazza: Regarding the low C# and C, here’s one bit of advice. It’s not very good advice because it’s a cheat, but it works for me.

I can get a good C# tone if the tempo is slow enough, but I have trouble coordinating my RH 3rd and 4th fingers to hit the D tone hole and C# key at exactly the same time when the tempo is faster. So in certain tunes like the opening phrase of the J.B. Reel, I’ll press down the C# key ahead of time, and hold it until I cover the D hole for the actual note. Then release it.

It doesn’t affect the tone of the lower notes, in fact the venting actually very slightly improves the tone. It’s a cheat, and I really need to practice coordinating 3rd and 4th fingers to cover the D tone hole and hit the key at exactly the same time. But at least I can play the tune.

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Not to nitpick, CB, but you are not venting when you press the C# key. To vent, one opens a key; you are closing one.

However, I agree your method does not compromise the tone, so if it helps, play on!

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Really interesting discussion. I’ve been holding the flute incorrectly for sure, with it resting on my left thumb. I’m not sure how I ended up with this approach since I’ve played a silver flute (a LONG time ago) and realize my hold would make using a b-flat/left thumb key impossible. Working on correcting it but now I’ve got a sore hand and I can’t play A, B, or C# without using my R4 finger to steady the flute. So I suspect I’m still not there, but I’m getting closer!

Andy

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Andy, I’m confused. The flute SHOULD rest on your left thumb. On a Boehm, it would be on the thumb key. For Bb, you would either roll the thumb to cover the double Bb key or play a B with the addition of the Fnat key. As for R4 , on a Boehm it would be on the D# key for all notes north of D#, which effectively anchors the flute. On a simple-system flute, where you put R4 is up to you. There’s no right or wrong, as it has no affect on the other anchor points.

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Ailin im confused, as a learner flute player only, i was taught Not to rest the flute on the thumb rather the 3 point grip ; chin , first finger top hand as pivot point and pressure towards chin and lower thumb or pinkie as the lever . So can remove thimb altogether with no effect. That way its free for keys . And no “death grip”
Can you explain?

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Ailin, what I mean is I had my left thumb stretched out to the left and directly under the bottom of the flute. It was not positioned where the thumb key would be, rather it was pointing in exactly the opposite direction.

I’ve moved it back to where the thumb key would be and am cradling the flute at base of my left index finger. Make sense?

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According to my teacher there should be no weight of the flute on the thumb so its free to move .

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Will, it is a very bad plan to depend on your face to hold up the flute for reasons that should be obvious regarding your embouchure. Everything in the effort to hold the flute should be as relaxed as possible. Your thumb is on the thumb key (clever name) for every note save Cnat. Simply put, you hold the flute to play the same way you hold the flute when you’re not playing. I realise for Irish music, you play constantly, but for other forms, you are on and off the instrument. How do you
suggest holding the flute when it is at the ready, but away from your mouth?

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My comments about the thumb key were in reference to the Boehm flute, btw. However, there is no reason to hold a simple system differently, even though you only use the thumb key for Bb.

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Im talking about simple system

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"Will, it is a very bad plan to depend on your face to hold up the flute for reasons that should be obvious regarding your embouchure."

This is funny and bad advice. There shouldn’t be any weight on your top-hand thumb if you want to use the Bb key at all, or if you want to use the "19th century flute hold" (aka the so-called rockstro grip).

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Nico, I understand the point about playing Bb (which I rarely do), but you have not addressed the question at the end of the post you quoted. Talk about funny, you compromise your playing 99% of the time to accommodate the occasional Bb?

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Can you explain how it compromises someone’s playing?

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Aside from being awkward as hell, the area below the lower lip goes from being a point to provide stability to a pressure point. Not a place for pressure for a good and flexible embouchure. Besides, would you carry a large, heavy jar by grasping the lid or having it sit on your forearm? The grip has the flute dangling from above. It is literally impossible to use this grip on a Boehm flute, so don’t tell me it makes some kind of sense. It may have been a trade-off 19th Century classical flautists had to make for the sake of the Bb, but for Irish? I say nay-nay.

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Considering this grip is the normal and standard grip for the majority of players in my experience, I’m going to guess that either your understanding of it is incorrect, or your opinion is just not in the majority.

There’s absolutely no compromise nor does it affect the area of my lips that are used for blowing air and making music. It’s also not awkward once you’re used to it. Like any holding of a horizontal instrument, there’s some initial awkwardness, but no moreso than other grips.

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Far from being awkward I find steady pressure from the head is what allows my face and jaw muscles to be ‘in charge’ of that end of the flute. Apart from rolling the flute I don’t want my arms involved in fine control.

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When you play using piper’s grip, as I have to on simple system flutes, the left thumb definitely is used to support the instrument. The primary points of contact and stabilization are the lip and both thumbs, with additional stabilization with the right little finger.

I have rather small hands and while I can play with the "standard" Rockstro grip on a silver flute, I cannot reach the left hand ring finger hole on the keyless wooden flutes without significant pain and near zero range of motion.

I switched to piper’s grip, at least on the left hand, about 20 years ago and never looked back.

Right hand grip depends on the flute. On my antique 1857 Metzler, I can play with the standard grip on the right, but on a larger holed Pratten-style instrument with larger holes wider spread, I’ll switch to piper’s grip on the right as well.

Whatever is required to avoid pain, reduce possibility for RSI or other issues over time, and allows for the most effortless motion and playing should always take priority over any generalized prescriptive ergonomic recommendations.

Specific anatomical differences should always be included in discussions of instrument ergonomics as there is no "one size fits all".

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I agree with Michael. Use whatever grip suits ya, but if you are going to disagree with me, which is just fine, please address my argument rather than saying simply that you disagree. I must also question the notion that most fluters use this horrible grip. I sincerely doubt it, but frankly don’t really know. It is most certainly counter-intuitive and as I’ve noted, impossible on the Boehm flute. One more tidbit for ya: The fully keyed Radcliff flute was developed specifically for players that wanted to stick with eight-key fingering rather than re-learn the Boehm. However, it too cannot be played without the left thumb maintaining constant pressure on the thumb key. Still, if it floats your boat, hold the flute any way you fancy.

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"but if you are going to disagree with me, which is just fine, please address my argument rather than saying simply that you disagree"
Yep, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t think you understand what I’m describing, but in any case the grip I described does seem to be more prevalent. I don’t play silver/boehm flute, so I just went down a rabbit hole of finding out how those flute players hold their flutes, and it looks like they’re very similar to what I described, with the main difference that the bottom hand thumb seems to be under the flute rather than more on the side. Judging from what I found, compared to what you’re saying, it looks like you are confused about what’s being described.

"I have rather small hands and while I can play with the "standard" Rockstro grip on a silver flute, I cannot reach the left hand ring finger hole on the keyless wooden flutes without significant pain and near zero range of motion."
That’s too bad. I have tiny hands as well, and I manage alright, but I’d say this is a significant and good reason for using the flat-fingered, aka pipers’ grip. But you can’t play the normal Bb, right? Because your top-hand thumb is holding the flute up, rather than the base of the index finger as I described, right? Besides the Bb, most flutes, especially antiques, have blocks that get in the way of the the flat-fingered grip, especially on the bottom hand. Aaron Olwell and I talked about this once, and he has redesigned their blocks, especially the Fnat keys, to be lower to work better for that grip.

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How does a Boehm player use the thumb key?

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Good question, David. From what I understand, the thumb holds the note closed, by pressing the key, whereas on a simple system the note is closed until you press the key. But, my understanding is that the weight of the flute should absolutely not be on that thumb, and the base of the index finger is still being used, exactly as described in my first post here, as the fulcrum to holding the flute up.

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Im a total beginer here in this discussion, battling bravely on despite daily self doubt and a mix of exasperation and stubborn determination .
When i started i thought id give myself a year and see how it went . Going ok but i think it will be more like 10 yrs 🙂
It was like that with the fiddle a decade of daily practice before i felt that i was getting a “ return for my investment “ now after 30 yrs ive still a way to go to achieve my aims but i play ok .

So here at about 5 min she describes the hold im talking about ,

As Nico mentions the thumb bears no weight at all and can be removed entirely with no effect on stability . I was taught by a friend this approach which helps to avoid stress in the top hand .


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=goCd1mEWsWs

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You are halfway there, Nico. The beauty of the design is that the thumb key is down constantly and under pressure, but only sounds Bnat when it is in combination with L1. If you are playing in a flatted key, there is a secondary thumb key you slide onto to play a Bb accidental, or you can just leave your thumb on both keys and every B you hit will automatically be Bb. On a Boehm, there are two alternate fingerings for Bb. On a Radcliff, the secondary thumb key is your only option. In both cases, the flute rests fair and square on the left thumb. Between it and L1, the entire flute can hang suspended in the air away from the face and right hand. I believe you cannot do that with the grip you suggest and I think it is important that you can. The Radcliff flute could have retained the old Bb key, but it was obviously felt that, while it still fingers like an eight-key, this was a better way to go. Please explain what you think I don’t understand.

Will, did you notice she said you also use the left thumb and right small finger? What she demonstrates causes the left forefinger to be very curved unless you have short fingers, which I don’t. It would be very awkward for me, but I believe you said you have small hands, so possibly just the ticket for you. I think, though, she is talking about pressure points and I agree. There is no pressure with the thumb and pinky, but they keep the flute stable. Imo, the pinky is optional, but the left thumb cannot be eliminated without affecting the stability of the flute.

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The thing you seem to be missing is that it seems like most Boehm flute teachers do not want the entire weight of the flute to rest on that left thumb, for good reason. They’re still using the base of the left hand index finger as the fulcrum, with the face and right thumb the levers.

I honestly don’t know why you think it’s important that the thumb hold the flute up, as that goes against conventional wisdom that I’m finding, and also my own experience. You’re wrong to suggest that it interferes with the mouth muscles, or in any way compromises the ability to play expressively.

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Nico, please understand that I have played a Boehm flute for 50 years. You cannot play a Boehm flute without the left thumb applying pressure to the thumb key for every note except C. It requires more pressure than a simple system because you are closing a key. Where did you get your information?

What logic is there in holding the weight from above with a weak finger rather than have it rest on a strong thumb that has to be there anyway?

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"What logic is there in holding the weight from above with a weak finger"

Thanks, I now am sure you don’t understand.

Going back to simple system flutes, I will maintain that your assertions aren’t correct. But anyway, it doesn’t matter, as hopefully any beginners will take a lesson and get some good feedback.

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This is a useful discussion, so here are two more sources of info from renowned players of Irish flute, also a photo of how I hold my own flute for what it’s worth. I’m certainly no expert but I *think* I’m doing what’s recommended here.

From "An Fheadog Mhor" by Conal O’Grada. Notice how he says the LH thumb is for "minor" vertical support:

"The inward force applied through the index base joint is translated to the chin and not to the left hand thumb. The left hand thumb is used purely for stabilization of the flute as well as helping with minor vertical support i.e. the flute rests in the space between the index finger and the left hand thumb. You should not grip the fluid between these two contact points as this will restrict movement of the index finger and reduce the stability of the flute at the embouchure. Position the left hand thumb where it feels most comfortable."

Another source, from "A Complete Guide To Learning The Irish Flute" by Fintan Valley:

"Top-Hand Grip
The small finger is free, the thumb is pressed against the near side of the flute, and the bottom of the first finger curls around over the top, toward the player’s face.

The lower - long - joint of the top finger keeps the flute pressed to the bottom lip, and the thumb, pressed against the near side, holds the flute to keep the top fingers always in position."

I’m not reading either of those as advice to rest the flute on the LH thumb for primary vertical support. Finally, here’s a photo of how I hold the flute. You can see that there is a little vertical support from the thumb, but it feels like more of a slight outward pressure to stabilize. The flute doesn’t fall when I hit the adjacent Bb key. YMMV, every flute hold is personal and different.

http://ptjams.com/mb/img/flutes/flute_hold_01.jpg

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"and the thumb, pressed against the near side, holds the flute to keep the top fingers always in position."

You don’t see that as indicating the flute is supported by the thumb?

Both quoted statements are what I am saying. And there is no question you cannot play a Boehm or Radcliff flute without the thumb playing a primary role. If you attempt it, the B key will not seal and no notes will play. Why you would hold the flute differently for simple system, especially a keyless is beyond me. I wish someone would address that.

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"You don’t see that as indicating the flute is supported by the thumb?"

I don’t see it as the flute being primarily supported by the thumb, no. Conal O’Grada uses the phrase "minor vertical support," and that’s what I feel with my own LH thumb. If it was anything but minor, the flute would move when I shift my thumb position to hit the Bb key.

Also, I don’t see the point of all this discussion about a Boehm or Radcliff flute hold, when that isn’t the kind of flute most of us here are playing. Different beast, yes?

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No, because, as I noted, the Radcliff was intended to maintain the design of the eight-key. How minor the support is, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. But, given that your left hand faces you, that means (unlike the right hand) the entire surface of your thumb runs from the front of the flute to the back, along the bottom, where it then curls upward. If that doesn’t constitute a platform upon which the flute sits, I count myself no judge.

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Hmm. Ailin, I play only simple system flutes. So I can’t comment on other kinds of flutes.

I’m in the school of not supporting the flute with the left-hand thumb because that makes it hard to play the Bb key. I started with a "death grip" in my left hand, but when I wanted to play in the key of F I had to relearn my flute hold using the "three-point" or Rockstro hold. How much easier it would have been to start with the "right" hold! No lip interference, so I don’t relate to that concern.

I found that the three-point hold is much more ergonomic: chin, base of left index finger and right-thumb pressing out. My right fingers are relatively flat - not quite a piper’s grip, but on the pads, not the tips. Yes, my left thumb does sometimes support the flute, but that isn’t necessary and it is easy to let it waggle freely in the air, and yes, my right pinky frequently offers help because it is important (or even necessary) on all my flutes to vent the E note to open it up.

(@Michael Eskin. Do you play a left handed flute? I can’t imagine how a piper’s grip would work on the upper hand, i.e. left hand on a typical, right-handed flute. My left index finger is bent, and I would admit that it is the slowest of my fingers when it comes to articulations.)

Regarding the earlier question about the C/C# keys.

My two antique flutes with pewter keys have very solid, strong and easy to play low C notes. (Pewter keys are said to have sealing issues, but for me on my flutes they are very good). My modern, larger-holed flute with padded low C keys is not as forgiving on the those notes. It requires low breath flow and careful embouchure, and then I can get (merely) good volume. I suspect leaks on some of my pads, but the problem might not be on the lower keys - it could be anywhere on the flute.

One super-power for strong low notes is to practice your high notes, especially into the third register, and also playing the high notes super-softly. I’m not sure about the physiology of the lips, but it must have something to do with achieving superior focus and strength in the fine motor muscles of the lips. Even a week of high-note practice and I guarantee your low notes will improve dramatically.

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@Nico
"Besides the Bb, most flutes, especially antiques, have blocks that get in the way of the the flat-fingered grip, especially on the bottom hand. Aaron Olwell and I talked about this once, and he has redesigned their blocks, especially the Fnat keys, to be lower to work better for that grip."

I haven’t noticed this problem. Well, maybe I use a semi-piper’s hold on the bottom hand (but I never thought of calling it that), and I don’t have any problems with the blocks.

As Ailin and Michael have said you have to use what works for you. As I have said, I changed from a less functional to a much more ergonomic hold.

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Good posts, Tom. Having ten more years on Boehm than simple system, I see no difference in sliding onto the Bb key, since the thumb is already in position and that is how it’s done on the Boehm. I guess I benefit from never having had a death grip. I marvel that you find your hold secure, never mind ergonomic! Still, I never fight with success. I guess the only argument I still have is with the notion (not yours) that such a grip is preferred on a Boehm, when such is not even possible.

Btw, if you ever get to try a Boehm, you’ll have a new appreciation for the work it takes to play low C# and C. I have two superb vintage flutes that play those notes as well as any I’ve tried, but everything is relative and let me tell you, Boehm accomplished something here.

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For me, using the left hand index finger to press the flute against my chin helps to keep my lips and embouchure hole lined up. Just as an experiment, I was able to stretch my left thumb straight back to where it was giving no support whatsoever and the flute did not feel any less stable for it.

This was on a keyless simple system flute, if that needs clarification.

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Yes, I cannot use the Bb key using piper’s grip.

It’s a good thing that I essentially never need to play a Bb, so I’ve never missed it, and I can always half hole as I would on a keyless flute on those rare times I need to.

My 1857 Metzler flute key blocks do not interfere in any way with piper’s grip on either hand, but I have played some modern keyed flutes where the blocks were a problem.

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I would like to play with pipers grip, im much happier with this as its what im used to , seems to be the classical Indian approach with no need for keys .
But ive found the only way i feel half comfortable is , again avoiding weight on thumb with the thimb applying leverage from the far side of flute not under it. This keeps the three point of contact .
But im keep with the standard approach as it seems to work .
Now all I need to do is perfect my embouchure , do i have enough decades left though?! 🙂

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"But, given that your left hand faces you, that means the entire surface of your thumb runs from the front of the flute to the back, along the bottom, where it then curls upward"
That sounds extremely un-ergonomic. If I had a student doing that, unless they had very small hands or a very thick flute I’d advise them to adjust their grip, as I’d be concerned it would lead to hand issues later on in life.

"Yes, I cannot use the Bb key using piper’s grip."
Aaron Olwell offers a right-hand touch for the Bb key for this reason, and it’s what he uses himself. I also meant to ask, do you actually support the flute on your left thumb? I know a couple people who use this flat-fingered approach, but they actually use the left thumb in place of the base of the index finger as the fulcrum to push the flute towards the player - ie the tip or top pad is more on the further side than the bottom.

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Nico, in my case, flute is resting on the pad of the left thumb (which is pointing directly at my chin) and gravity is doing most of the work. It’s also very slightly offset away from the center line a few millimeters directly under the flute to provide a bit of pressure towards my body. The friction of the thumb, the slight inward pressure combined with gravity is enough to keep things very stable and absolutely relaxed.

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Will Evans, if you’re interested, I’d be happy to have a quick Zoom conference with you and we can compare piper’s grips… Just let me know if you’re interested and we can work out a time and I’ll send you a Zoom link in a PM.

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"Nico, in my case, flute is resting on the pad of the left thumb (which is pointing directly at my chin) and gravity is doing most of the work."

Just so.

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What Nico describes, using the flat of the thumb to support the flute, with virtually no support from the base of the index finger, is what I was doing. The thumb wasn’t pointing to my chin, though; it was pointing up towards the head of the flute. I realized from this discussion and looking and reading around that if I move to a keyed flute I’ll have to learn a new grip, so I’ve changed now.

I had no idea I was going to start such a spirited discussion. Thanks, everyone, for the comments and suggestions.

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"What Nico describes, using the flat of the thumb to support the flute, with virtually no support from the base of the index finger, is what I was doing"
I was quoting Michael, actually, FYI. I don’t advocate that grip, but the flat fingered grip definitely is necessary for some, and therefore a good one, but does necessitate a different Bb configuration or not having that key at all.

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Thanks for the offer Micheal. Although its so different from my pipers grip ,( as a piper its second nature ) ill probably stick with the standard approach , i mean it works for so many despite it being counter intuitive to me it obviously has value as an approach!!
. I might take you up on that anyhow just to check out how you make it work . Best ive got so far is useing the thumb on the far side of the flute not under it
I’m so early on in the journey that its probably best to follow my flutey friends lead with the standard.
I dont expect to bother with keys but who knows what ill feel in a decades time !!
As a multi instrumentalist I can always play the odd tunes that use the semitones and notes below D on another instrument , So i tend to favour tunes that go well on a particular instrument .
Like chief O neils fav or Rodneys Glory , i can play them easily on fiddle guitar etc but wouldnt make the effort to get it on whistle or flute
Im happy to stay within the natural limits of an instrument and simply play tunes fall under my fingers .

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Will, any time!