In an earlier entry on this blog, we explored the reason there are so many cross-fingerings in the third octave. This time we are going to look at some alternate fingerings for solving intonation problems, controlling dynamics and improving facility in fast passages in the third octave.
There are three fingerings in particular that are problematic with pitch and response in the third octave: E, F# and G#. Trevor Wye calls the E and F# “gnomes” and devotes a couple of pages to dealing with them in the Practice Book: Tone. The problem lies in that there are two holes open different than the lower two register fingerings (rather than just one) creating more resistance in the response. What this means is the player must ensure there is enough air speed, otherwise these notes will drop down a fifth, hitting the lower partial. These notes are also sharp using the standard fingering. The most common mechanical solution is the split E mechanism. There are some brands that have a split E mechanism on their beginner flutes, either as an option or as a standard feature. There is a mechanical solution for the F#, though it is an extremely rare and expensive option on fine handmade flutes. I have heard of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it except in a photograph. It is called the Brossa F#.
Here are some fingering hacks that will at least correct the pitch, if not improve response and some fingerings that give control playing softly (with sufficient air speed):
- High E – play without right pinky to lower pitch (especially important if this note needs to be sustained), add second trill key (D#) to play very softly (it can be sharp, so be sure to angle airstream lower)
- High F – can be sharp, add right third finger to flatten (better to learn to blow at a lower angle, but this works in a pinch)
- High Gb/F# – use middle finger right hand rather than fourth finger right hand to lower pitch (my preferred fingering, works best for all but a few arpeggios)
- High Ab/G# – add right third and fourth fingers to lower pitch (especially important for sustained notes), a nice hack for playing softly is to play Ab with the low Ab fingering and C# trill key, if you have it (generally available on step-up flutes and higher).
- High A – play with pinky on the C# paddle on the footjoint rather than the Eb key to play softly
- High Bb – Be sure that first finger left hand is up with thumb only (aim the air higher because it is flat), an alternate fingering for playing softly is TBb1-3|-D-3Eb (you have to be careful to blow down because it tends to be sharp).
Finally, one of the best technical hacks in the third octave is using left hand third partial harmonic fingerings in extremely fast passage work. D above the staff fingered as regular G, Eb = Ab, E = A, F = thumb Bb, F# = B, G = C, Ab/G# = Db/C#. A good example of where I might use these fingerings would be for the measured trills in the Chance Incantation and Dance. These are passages that are very fast and the normal fingering is just to chunky to be able to maintain the tempo.
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