Something we have all observed is how tricky it is for young flute students to balance the flute in their hands and finger at the same time. Maybe you, yourself have experienced this learning flute basics in methods class and lessons. Unlike other woodwinds, there is no thumb rest to help with balancing the instrument. Back in the 19th century, flutes were often made with a left hand crutch (in fact, modern bass flutes usually still have a left hand crutch). For whatever reason, the crutch was deemed unnecessary and hasn’t been part of flute manufacture in a very long time.
To understand how to help our students balance the instrument better, it is important to understand that the rods that hold the keys are very heavy in relation to the rest of the flute. If we line the blow hole up directly in line with the middle of the left hand key cups, as is frequently taught, the weight of the rods is always dragging the flute backwards, causing the student to play with the blow hole too covered (which also causes flatness of pitch and a dull tone). It also encourages poor hand positions with over-flexed wrists, right hand fingers against the rods and a right thumb that protrudes in front of the flute.
Here’s what I do with my own flute:
As you can see, I line up my blow hole slightly to the left of center, between the keys and the rods. This puts the weight of the rods closer to the top of the instrument which enables me to balance the flute between the first joint of my left hand, right thumb and right pinky (if needed). The flute also rests against my chin. This gives me complete freedom to move my fingers as needed without having to “hold” the instrument to prevent it from rolling backward. The banner photo on this blog shows me doing this very clearly. There is a wonderful video put up by Jennifer Cluff demonstrating all these points at this link: http://www.jennifercluff.com/blog/2008/04/hand-arm-strain-and-flute-headjoint.html Be sure to check it out.
The last thing I want to say about this topic for now is that this is one of those concepts about which professional flute players can disagree, and sometimes quite vehemently. The argument from the other point of view claims that turning the headjoint back causes one to cover the blow hole too much. This would be true if the keys were tilted slightly back. However, if anything, the keys are pointed slightly more forward than straight up at the ceiling, so one gains many advantages in being able manipulate tone, intonation and color.
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