C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Hello — I’m considering getting a flute with a thumb hole in place of the long C key, but first I wanted to ask people who have flutes with thumb holes how they behave.

Can you use this with a Bb key? If so, how? Does it only work with a bottom hand Bb touch?

Thanks for any info anyone can share.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

"flutes with thumb holes… " maybe I live a sheltered life but I’ve never encountered such a thing. Your thumb can only be in one place at any one time. If it was superior to a c-nat key, you would expect that one of the makers of Irish flutes would have been incorporating it in their design by now. You’re going to use c-nat more than Bb for sure. Forget it, go with the c-nat key, and a Bb key if you think you need it.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Word for word - Kenny.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

There are a couple of flute makers out there who will make a c thumb hole for their flutes (off the top of my head, Windward flutes does, but they also market their instruments to other musical styles). Personally in trad, it’s not necessary.

Cheers,

Melany

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

"Your thumb can only be in one place at any one time." Kenny, are you suggesting a thumb hole (upper hand) does not work? If you’re thinking the thumb needs to be lifted away from the flute it doesn’t. A thumb hole only needs to be completely opened, which you can do by shifting the thumb.

edit: Cheers, Kenny. Now that I’ve reread your reply I see you’re talking about the c nat hole w/Bb key.

http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewtopic.php?p=852371#p852371

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I think Kenny’s point (certainly mine) is that a thumb hole is a solution in search of a problem. The Cnat key is the easiest key to use and the cross-fingering for C is the easiest and best of cross-fingerings. A C-hole is awkward, at best - certainly not an innovation to be desired, in my opinion.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Ailin, it appears you may not have played a whistle with a thumb hole; much less a flute with one. Have you?

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Never seen either. Have you? I’d be interested in your comments - mostly what the point is.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Yes. Point is I think thumb holes can work. Definitely on my whistle. I don’t have a flute with a thumb hole but with the right design I could see it being an asset. Hopefully someone will reply to FirexAir’s question with more experience than myself.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

How is it an asset? Easier or better than cross-fingering?

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

The thing is for me, a long C is really inconvenient, and the cross-fingered Cnat sounds great on my flute (a Copley). The main thing that bugs me is that the open C# is flat enough to sound off, and I do play music that requires it. I’d love to be able to vent the Cnat purely to bump up the C#. I don’t need it to actually play the Cnat at all.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

"I’d love to be able to vent the Cnat purely to bump up the C#."
How does that work?

edit: O.K. Sorry. Now I understand. I actually have never tried that. Does it work?

When I want to bump up the C# it’s all in my mouth embouchure. I’m constantly working to keep a strong embouchure and have good tone and match sharpness. Flute is all about the instrument’s embouchure hole, the player’s embouchure strength and getting the desired tone. Oh yeah…intonation.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Try rotating the flute outward a bit to bring the note in line. If that doesn’t work or is a hassle, get another flute. A good flute should not have any notes that are too far out to be tempered with slight embouchure adjustments. I understand your logic, but consider finding the degree of lift needed to accomplish your purpose impractical. A complete opening of the hole is unlikely to be accurate.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

One word about C# ~ embouchure.
One word about thumb hole ~ no.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

"How is it an asset? Easier or better than cross-fingering?" Posted by Ailin
You said it yourself and it applies to anyone else who has not learnt to use one, "A C-hole is awkward, at best."
Obviously something you’ve never seen might lead you to say it’s awkward. Such a conclusion is premature, at best. 🙂

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I would pass on a thumb hole for a flute too. I’ve experienced this with playing the GHB where the left hand thumb is lifted for the high ‘A’ in conjunction with lifting the top two fingers presumably to vent the note to assist with correct pitch. However, with a flute, good tone is assisted by stillness and stability. Both left and right hand thumbs assist with this support when playing. An issue that might not be as relevant for other instruments, such as the whistle. Shifting the left hand thumb momentarily to vent a note would in my opinion disrupt this.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

AB - So enlighten me. You called it an asset. How so? I would say I do have experience in that I have a Bb key, the action of which is very similar and very awkward.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I want to be clear about one thing. When I said the thumb hole could be an asset with the right design (on a flute) it was with a number of caveats. Also I was responding to using it for playing c nat; not for venting with C#. Now that FirexAir stated it’s purely for venting I do not consider it an asset for the OP. I hope this is clear enough for the intents & purposes of this thread.
Cheers,
AB

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Just piling on here, I’d consider it a solution in search of a problem, as was said earlier.

On a keyless flute, the Cnat is easy to cross-finger. On a keyed flute we have a choice between a Cnat key or the cross-fingered C. Personally I never use the Cnat key on my keyed flute, preferring the slightly sharper "Piper’s C" pitch on a cross-fingered Cnat. Your mileage may vary there.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet (I think?), is that while you can find flute makers who will add a Cnat thumb hole, you might be compromising the value of the flute if you want to sell it later. And if you insist on the feature, it limits the range of new or used flutes to buy.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

A colleague of mine who uses a keyless flute has always had a C-nat thumb-hole made for him, and finds it the best and easiest way to play the note clearly. He’s had a couple of flutes from respected makers, who haven’t objected to adding this feature. It’s unusual, perhaps, but I don’t think there’s a rule forbidding it, and if it works for him …

Personally, I use a keyed flute and generally favour the long C-nat key where possible as it seems to give a stronger note and truer pitch than cross fingering - oxx ooo. Maybe this varies with different flutes. I also tend to flick the C-nat key to include another element in a decoration on a G, A or B. Is this common practice or am I doing something odd here?

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Without realizing I was doing it I got into the habit of shading the top hole to bring down the pitch of a cross fingered Cnat. If I was getting another keyless flute I would consider having C# made slightly easier to blow up to pitch and then shade a bit more for Cnat.*

I find shading a lot easier than, for example, half-holing a note as a lot of finger movement has quite a small effect on pitch. I understand it is commonly needed for one of the notes at the top of the second octave.

* a subsequent purchaser could always wax the top hole or use shellac if it didn’t suite them.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I think the cross fingering and keyed C are better long term. It’s a really important note on a D flute.

I’ve two whistles with thumb holes (Low F and Eb) - Burke offers as an option. They are fine pitch wise. But I don’t like the “feature”. Perhaps I never got used to them. They REQUIRE your thumb to be in a specific non-standard position. Which results in a slightly adapted grip when playing these whistles. It’ll likely be the same with the flute.

Also do you want to develop a muscle memory/habit of thumbing C-Nat which is going to feel weird on other flutes or whistles.

Terry McGee makes a good argument in favour of thumb C-Nat hole (actually Ab) on keyless Bb flutes. Perhaps there the case might be reasonably made in favour.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I’ve a “long” Bb key on my flute (what you’re calling bottom hand Bb touch). I like and prefer to the thumb Bb for speed and balance and comfort holding.

I’m more likely to play Bb/C/Bb with cross fingered C for speed. Don’t know if that’s just my playing limitation (plenty of those) or something in the design of the adjacent long keys for C/Bb.

Geert Lejeune calls it the “pipers grip” Bb - I think because LH (top hand) pipers grip players find it especially challenging to operate a key with left thumb.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Most of the traditional tunes were composed for six holes whistle/system… If you want to have only one flute for many keys, buy a recorder. Try to play recorder on sessions, and decide 6 hols or other systems. Yes, this is a "Word for word".

I start music with recorder, now - for Celtic - I have 6 holes whistle all keys …

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I’m curious about why C-nat key is difficult. Anything new takes some time to get used to, and it did for me as well. I never used C-nat, preferring OXO XXX, but then I got a flute with a flat C#, and the C-nat key (plus some embouchure effort) helped bring it into tune. On my flute with almost perfect intonation, the C-nat key makes the C# completely perfect.

Actually, with the right finger position, and practice, the C-nat key is very easy: just a straightening of the right index finger. On one flute the key touch was exactly right out of a flattened index finger (pad); on another, it is easy more from the tip of the finger. I have watched other flute players who jump the index finger to the C-nat, so perhaps the touch is arranged differently on their flutes.

A good tune to practice D-C# with C-nat key is "Concertina Reel". LOTS of practice in one tune!

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Wow, lots of discussion!

The flute I have is one that I love, a Copley. The open C# is flat enough to stand out and be beyond lipping up; I can improve it a lot by venting the Bb while playing it, but not as well as with the long C. I play a lot of stuff other than Irish folk music on it that needs keys so I’ve gotten used to using them and don’t consider them a problem other than that long C which is annoying. (I’m learning something in C minor at the moment, three flats. After a while, you adjust.) I use a piper grip on my bottom hand, and the long C is a serious pain in the nether regions.

I also don’t consider the flat C# an actual design flaw or mistake, just one of the many compromises that need to be made when making a flute. Putting the C# hole a little lower makes the cross-fingered (oxo xxx) so clear, clean, and perfectly in tune that I can easily see why he did it. It sounds exactly like the one I’d get with the key.

I have another flute where that hole is higher up and it has a strong open C# that’s much better in tune, but as a result, all of the cross-fingered Cnats are shaded in tone quality and (oxo xxx) is now way, way too sharp.

Basically, I’m looking to keep my strong cross-fingered Cnat while being able to vent that C# up when needed, and the thumb hole seemed like a way to get it. The only time I anticipate needing to use the thumb hole is when I play a C#, but I don’t see how one can keep that hole closed while using a Bb key.

And I freely admit that there’s a strong chance I’m just looking for an excuse to buy another flute. 🙂

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Having played Irish flutes with and without C natural keys, and Boehm flute (C natural thumb key), and Baroque flute (no C natural thumb key), and Low Whistles both with and without thumb-holes for C natural, my opinion is that the crossfingered/fork-fingered C natural is entirely adequate and preferable for Irish traditional music.

In decades of playing 19th century 8-key flutes, where the C natural key was right there for the using, I rarely used it. In recent discussions of order-of-preference/usefulness for adding keys to keyless Irish flutes I therefore put the C natural key behind having both short and long F natural, and having the footjoint keys.

In happening to own Low Whistles with C natural thumb-holes I found them to be entirely useless. I have a video where I demonstrate that there’s no difference in pitch or timbre between the crossfingered C natural and the thumb-hole C natural. In fact I kept tape over that hole for years, so I didn’t have to remember to keep my thumb over it. (I say "happening to own" because I wouldn’t order a whistle that way, the whistles with thumb-holes were acquired second-hand.)

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

It all depends on the instrument. On some whistles and flutes, the cross-fingered C nat sounds just fine; on others, it’s frankly weak. Not that I’ve ever tried a C nat hole but it seems a possible alternative to a key and on some instruments would certainly have a stronger tone. I do have a D whistle with an F nat right thumb hole (as well as a low C hole) but it’s uncomfortable to play for any length of time because of the need to keep the thumb in that position.
Incidentally, if you use a good Rockstro grip on your flute, the left thumb plays no part in supporting the instrument.

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I do use a Rockstro, or something like it, which I had to do to be able to use the top keys, really.

And I think I just found out through an image search how the C thumb hole works while leaving the Bb key available for use: the Bb turns into a bottom hand key. 😏 And I want to keep that up top. I guess I’m just going to have to keep venting the Bb to get the C# to the point where I can lip it someplace close to good. Oh, well. I can see the appeal of combining both key touches as in the Boehm system, even if I’m not a fan of that flute.

Thanks everyone for sharing so much great information. 🙂

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Just can’t find a reason for it. Sounds like a solution for no known problem.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

I have a "Burke" whistle with a C natural thumb hole.

The advantage is it gives a perfectly in-tune C natural that sounds perfectly open.

But, in actual session playing I find I never use it, preferring instead the standard cross-fingering.

I’ve heard people say a perfectly in-tune C natural sounds "unnatural" in Trad music!

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

"And I freely admit that there’s a strong chance I’m just looking for an excuse to buy another flute. 🙂"
You said it, FirexAir!

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Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

Piper’s Joy said:
"I have a Burke whistle with a C natural thumb hole.

The advantage is it gives a perfectly in-tune C natural that sounds perfectly open."

I was referencing Burkes too, as it happens. I bought a Burke Low Eb secondhand which had the thumbhole, which was new to me.

I demonstrated on a Youtube video that C natural sounds the same either done with the hole or done with crossfingering. I found that the thumbhole conferred no advantage, just the opposite, to me it was more clumsy in complicated passages, and most of all more difficult to ornament.

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

If you are accustomed to playing the Boehm system flute, the C natural thumb hole can be very useful for faster fingering and more accurate intonation and it feels perfectly natural.

The only problem is the tendency for the C hole to fill with moisture and keep the C natural from sounding when playing for extended periods of time. This also happens on the Boehm flute, though to a lesser degree because the larger hole (the much smaller trill key holes have a tendency to clog if you donʻt keep the flute swabbed).

Re: C natural thumb hole — yes/no?

As someone who actually does play flutes with a CNat thumbhole…
1. If BFlat is needed then it requires a right hand BFlat key.
2. If you play Boehm too it is very easy to get used to.
3. Acoustically it is identical to a C Natural Key.
4. If you don’t like it then you can block it off and you’re back to a flute with no CNat hole.
5. Cross-fingered notes are all available, exactly as on a flute without the thumbhole.
6. You cannot use the left hand piper’s grip thumb.

Very important, do make sure the hole is in the right place i.e. where your thumb naturally sits on the flute.

On the downside:
1. You will find it harder to pick other people’s flutes and play them properly once you are used to the thumb hole.
2. The pool of available flutes to buy is smaller
3. The pool of available buyers should you want to sell is smaller.
4. People who have never used one will look at you and tend to make smart comments.

Seriously, anyone who is already used to a C Natural key and thumb BFlat does not need a thumb hole. Anyone learning from new should seriously consider the standard option first. The only real reasons for a newplayer to go for a thumbhole that I see are:
a. You are already a well-established Boehm flute player and find it a natural transition.
b. You plan on sticking with keyless long term but would like a CNatural at low cost and without visible metalwork.

I hope that helps inform.

Chris.