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DSC_1047Let’s face it, Bb on flute is one of the thorniest fingering issues on the flute. As you already know, there are several different fingerings for Bb on flute. Which fingering do you teach your beginners? When do you introduce the other options?

So what are the different fingerings? There’s the so-called 1 and 1 or forked Bb fingering, the thumb Bb fingering and the side-key Bb. Unlike other woodwinds with multiple options for many notes, it’s the only note on flute for which there are so many choices.

Here is my recommendation for teaching Bb to beginners. Start with the 1 and 1 Bb. Why? Because starting with the thumb Bb causes more problems than it solves even though it is an easier fingering. I strongly believe that 1 and 1 Bb should be taught until chromatic scales are introduced because chromatic scales and any example with adjacent B and Bb (such as in the keys of Gb/F# or Cb/B) need to be fingered with either the 1 and 1 Bb or sometimes the side-key Bb. I am willing to put up with a little lumpiness in the technique centered around the G-Bb combination until the student has learned to play chromatically. To my mind, when students are taught thumb Bb first, more often than not I find they slide between the thumb keys in chromatic scales and passages, which is a much bigger technical problem. A sliding thumb is an impediment to smooth technique in most cases.

Thumb Bb should be taught after students master a basic chromatic scale. Since flutes primarily play in flat keys in band, it actually is a smoother fingering for intervals such as A-Bb, Ab-Bb, G-Bb or Gb-Bb. You may find some initial resistance to learning the new fingering, but the kids soon discover it is an easier fingering in most flat keys.

Choosing the best fingering for Bb can be a bit like voting. Often the choice is very clear, a good candidate and a bad candidate. Unfortunately it can all too often be like have a slate with a jerk, an idiot and a crook and you have to choose the least offensive of the three. After you get past the basics, help your students learn to choose the best fingering based on the context of what they are playing.

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