Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Hi All:

I posted a question a few months back that prompted a spirited discussion of how to hold the flute. This was mostly focused on the left/top hand. Now to the right/lower hand.

I just watched some video of Matt Molloy and realized his right hand little finger stays anchored to his flute (except when he’s moving to a key?). I’m playing a keyless D and I have a hard time playing and keeping my little finger down when playing D/E/F, so I play with it up in the air. I tend to lower it when playing G/A/B/C#/C to help balance the flute. But alternating B to D and back makes it feel like my whole right hand is rocking forward and back—forward for D with little finger up; back for B with little finger down. Repeat.

Should I be playing with that little finger anchored on the flute at all times?

Thanks in advance.


Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question


Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

My tuppence. There are two good ways to hold a simple system flute: with gravity, or counterpressure. If you use the so-called piper´s grip you´re pretty much committed to counterpressure. I suppose a third way is to rest the headjoint on your shoulder…but this invites pain and spinal problems. If you have a well developed left hand grip you can secure the flute and have a sense of balance with less reliance on your pinkie or ring finger. The Rockstro or three-point grip relies on counterpressure, but I must point out Rockstro also insisted on venting the Eb key nearly all the time. You will not often see Irish flute players doing this,

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

I’ve often read that the so-called Rockstro hold relies ‘in principle’ on three points (chin, knuckle of left-hand index, right-hand thumb) and I’ve often wondered what that ‘in principle’ actually meant.

Then with playing, especially focusing on tone stability at higher speeds, I found out that some additional pressure from the left-hand pinkie (which I anchor to the Eb-key block on my 8-key flute) helps in stabilizing the flute so that it does not move up an down below my lips, and that some occasional pressure from the left-hand thumb helps to achieve better B rolls. I’d be happy to get a feedback from more experienced players on this.

The only times when I raise up my right-hand pinkie are 1) when operating the Eb, C#, and C keys and 2) when performing a roll or a tap on E.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Like, I said, no.


Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

’ … some additional pressure from the left-hand pinkie (which I anchor to the Eb-key block on my 8-key flute)’

Can this be what you meant, Sergio? How long is your left-hand pinkie?

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Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

I’d like to know how Sergio can reach the Eb block with his left pinkie. His other references are for a right-handed player.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

:D Of course I meant the right-hand pinkie, sorry for the confusion - that was early in the morning! Thanks for pointing this out.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

As you will see if you observe a large number of good Irish-style fluteplayers, there’s no single "correct" way to hold the flute or finger the flute.

What can be observed is "what is the most common way?" which is usually a guide to the way that has proven to be best for most people.

You have brought up two separate topics:

1) hold or "grip" of the flute, in other words the hand posture.

2) the use of an "anchor" finger.

About flute grips, as you have seen upperhand grips fall into two main categories, the traditional transverse flute grip and the so-called "pipers grip" more or less similar to how Low Whistles and uilleann chanters are held.

For the lower hand it’s usually a matter of which of the fleshy pads on the underside of each finger-joint is used to seal each hole.

Matt Molloy’s lower-hand grip is odd and I can’t recall seeing another flutist using it. He uses the fleshy pad on the underside of the index, middle, and ring finger all three.

But! due to the middle finger being longer than its neighbours he keeps the middle finger crooked, like this

(sorry this site doesn’t seem to allow using / and the one going the other way, which I wrote to show how Molloy holds his middle finger.)

Most flutists keep all three of those fingers either

-in a relaxed slight curve (the most tension-free way) with the middle finger slightly more curved than its neighbours to make up for its extra length, using the end-joint pad for all three, or

-fairly flat, the middle finger going a bit further over its hole than its neighbours.

About the topic of an anchor-finger, yes some flute and whistle players keep the lower-hand little finger down at all times. To me playing the note E, and even more so doing pats on the note E, are clumsy with the little finger down.

I think it’s safe to say that most fluteplayers tend to use the little finger anchor for some notes but not all.

My practice is usually like this (with the little finger anchor notated)
xxx|xxx|o D
xxx|xxo|o E
xxx|xoo|o F#
xxx|ooo|x G
xxo|ooo|x A
xoo|ooo|x B
ooo|ooo|x C#

In other words the anchor finger generally up for D, E, and F# and down for the other notes.

With anchor fingers there’s a whole can of worms we might not want to open, because many players use the lower-hand ring finger rather than the lower-hand little finger as the anchor.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Thanks, everyone, for your input. That’s very helpful feedback and I really appreciate it.

Re: Holding the can of worms

Thirty or so years on, I wish I’d learned to hold the flute with the pipers’ grip - to reduce tension on my left wrist.

You can find even more confusing answers about holding the flute on chiffandfipple.com.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Several years ago I tried to determine if there was a ‘common practice’ among flute players with respect to the anchoring little finger. Here is a summary: some who use the piper’s grip never seem to anchor their little finger when playing notes with any right-hand finger. Catherine McEvoy is one such. The majority of players seem to lift their little finger when playing rolls for E and F. Matt Molloy is the only player I know who keeps his little finger down all the time (i.e. for rolls on E). Despite what Michael Eskin writes, I would like to be able to do this, but find that I can’t. (It would just make life simpler, I feel.) However, I have learned to keep the little finger down when doing rolls on F, although not many other players do this. Whatever you decide to do, it is important not to press down hard with the little finger. This will lead to pain and probably stiffness.

About the ‘Rockstro’ grip, as far as I can determine, not many players use it. I think it is probably a good thing if one can manage it, but I find I can’t as it seems to require at least some degree of curve in the thumb joint and I have absolutely none. In the classical world, the Rockstro grip also is not common, but many players these days seem to attach thumb support devices. These, I believe, are of relatively recent adoption. I don’t know of any flute players (as opposed to ‘flutists’) who use one of them, but I haven’t paid very much attention to this and I may be wrong.

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Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

"Whatever you decide to do, it is important not to press down hard with the little finger. This will lead to pain and probably stiffness"

I would agree, in my early days of playing (before the days of youtube videos) I did press down too hard with my little finger and had repetitive strain injury or something similar from doing so.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

I have short fingers and even though I had a long-time classical flute background before ever getting into trad, I switched to piper’s grip very early on in my traditional flute playing, 20 years ago or so. I can easily use a Rockstro grip on a closed-hole silver flute because you don’t actually need to cover the holes. That same grip on a wooden flute was impossible for me, primarily with the left hand ring finger reach.

On my keyless flute, I will use my right little finger as stability support much as I would on a whistle or flute. On my antique keyed flute, there are different requirements, I need to vent the D# key to solidify the tone on several of the lower notes, so I do anchor the little finger on the D# key for the low E, which I probably would not anchor on a keyless flute.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Everyone has their own history of flutes we’ve learned on & the different ways of holding them. It’s a tough question to answer here because of the limitations of this medium. The forum can only do so much.
However, it’s important to know your anchor points and not use too much pressure to keep your flute well balanced. Pace yourself and build strength progressively with any changes of hand & finger positions.

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Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

About the traditional transverse flute grip working on with "classical" music because the players don’t have to cover the holes, keep in mind that I’m calling it the traditional transverse flute grip because it was being used by nearly all flutists for several hundreds years before the Boehm flute was invented.

Add to that, many Boehm flutists play open-hole (or more accurately "perforated key") so-called French model flutes where they do indeed have to cover the holes.

Note here that though this isn’t a trad Irish flutist she’s holding the flute, both upper hand and lower hand, how the majority of trad Irish fluteplayers do.

The lower-hand fingers are held rather flat, and using the fleshy pads on the undersides of the fingers.


Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Here’s another fulltime little finger down flutist


Note that she has the lower-hand fingers further across, evidently using the middle-joint pads rather than the end-joint pads.

The only issue with that is that it throws the little finger further across too. I wonder how easy it is to play all three footjoint keys with the lower hand that far over.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Now back to the anchor finger issue, here’s somebody who plays like I do, using the lower-hand ring finger as the anchor finger for certain notes.


Though it depends on which notes come before and come after, and the shape of the particular phrase, for me the ring finger anchor work more or less like this:

xxx|xxx D
xxx|xxo E
xxx|xoo F#
xxx|oox G
xxo|oox A
xoo|oox B
oxx|oox C

G would be played open in phrases like GDEG DEGD, but closed for phrases like DGBD GBDG.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Late to the discussion, but:
1. Do not rest the flute on your shoulder. Yes, some people can play like this. Many of these people can also play leaking pieces of scrap wood held together with hoseclips and elastic bands. It doesn’t mean it is the best way for you.
2. The Rockstro grip is used exclusively by classical flutists and is the only grip which will really let you use all the keys properly. Expect disagreement from others here on this, but the fact is that left hand thumb is not free to move with the pipers grip and the BFlat key uses that. If you want to use the key you can’t use the grip. That said, the BFlat key is rarely used in ITM so it may not bother you. Piper’s grip can also change the feel of articulation, e.g. the snappiness of cuts - that could be a valid reason for preferring it.
3. The RH Pinky. Some flutes are built (historically, most of them) so that the E is only easily in tune if the EFlat hole is opened. This leads to the modern classical practice of pressing the EFlat key the whole time except when playing D or the foot notes (C#,C,(B?)). Check your flute to see what is best. If you need to press the EFlat on proper E naturals then pick a strategy (e.g. always do so, only when playing… notes, et.c.) and stick to it. If you don’t then you might want to park your pinky on the flute anyway - then finding some suitable spot close to, but not on the EFlat key is good. If doing any of the above, then make sure that when you lift or lower your pinky you do not also move the flute’s position or oreintation at your lips. Note, some people take this parking strategy further and will, for example park the lower hand fingers when playing some notes on the upper hand.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

I notice that a lot of experienced (better-than-me) flute players in ITM roll the Eb key away and keep the right pinky support most of the time on the side of the flute. Obviously keyless flutes accept the unvented E compromise. On many flutes, the E note merely benefits from rather than requires venting, and at session tempo nobody will notice. There are a lot of tonal compromises like that with simple system flutes. I mean, I can’t play the A note at speed with XX’O XXO (G# vent), no matter how much it benefits the sound of A.

I started on a keyless flute with a hold that worked for me as a beginner, but when I started playing with keys I had to start over with a Rockstro type hold: left hand finger tips, right hand finger pads, right pinky on Eb key except on D, and except on right-hand rolls. Absolutely, if you want to play the Bb key for all those wonderful F and G-minor tunes, you will need a hold that frees up your thumb. More recently I got a new flute and needed to change my right hand more to the finger tips to suite the ergonomics of the C-nat key. (My previous flute had a crazy-easy C-nat reach executed by a slight straightening of the right index finger. )

My point is that you always need to make compromises or little adjustments for specific situations, AND that when you start out you don’t know what will be necessary down the road.

Going back in time, I would have recommended to myself as a beginner to start with a more "correct" hold, like the Rockstro in order to have more relaxed fingers and to minimize relearning later.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

So much depends on your specific hand biometrics. Tom Stermitz finds the Rockstro grip more relaxed, I find it painful because of the left hand ring finger reach.

Find what works best for you that allows you to keep your fingers relaxed and doesn’t cause pain, there is no "right" answer here.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

About rotating the footjoint, for many years I played a vintage 8-key London-made flute, and I used all the keys including the footjoint keys, so I kept the footjoint in the intended functional position.

Every time a good Irish fluteplayer tried my flute the first thing he did, before putting it to his lips, was to jerk the footjoint around so that all the keys were pointing harmlessly (and uselessly) away, and shove the tuning slide all the way in.

Little wonder how most of the flutes on those old recordings are a mile sharp.

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Quick thanks to all those super helpful second round answers, especially Richard with the advice, videos, and anecdotes. I really appreciate all of your help. Andy

Re: Holding the flute Part Two - Beginner Question

Play the flute in whatever way allows you to be nimble and as relaxed as possible. To settle out your hold, practice tunes slowly while focusing on keeping your hands as supple as you can and using economy of motion. If you can do that without resting your pinky on the flute, then that’s fine. If you find you need to rest your pinky on the flute for stability, then that’s fine as well.

You’ll find that you may start out holding the flute one way and end up circling gradually toward another way of holding it as months/years pass. That’s also fine.

Just keep in mind that:

1. You want to stay supple and as relaxed as possible.
2. You DON’T want your hands to tense as you blow harder or faster; hands and air should be independent of one another, and it’s very easy to tense up one as the other one tenses up.
3. Economy of motion!

As you do this, your hands will naturally settle into the best state for them and you.