Regardless of what grade you start beginners in your school district (anywhere from 3rd to 6th grade), you are always going to run into kids that are too small to be playing a straight flute. What do you do when this is the case? Have them play a straight flute anyway? Steer them towards another instrument where size isn’t such a big issue?
In the photo above, there are a number of issues that are cause for concern. First, the student is trying to balance the flute by raising her left shoulder. Both elbows are extended causing her to bend her wrists at an extreme angle, especially the right wrist. The left wrist is out in front of the flute rather than under it.
Did you know that you can permanently handicap a kid’s flute playing by insisting that they play on a straight flute before they are large enough to balance it in their hands and line it up on their bottom lip correctly? Every case is unique and not everyone is permanently impacted, but I have seen numerous times the consequences of someone who was playing on a straight flute before they were physically big enough. These consequences include an offset embouchure with no physical reason such as a tear drop lip, as well as awkward, tense and incorrect hand/wrist positions due to compensating for the length when they were physically small. It takes a great deal of effort on the part of the student and teacher to overcome these old, ingrained habits. I also believe that having problems with playing the instrument due to small size can stifle enthusiasm and motivation to play and practice.
As you can see in this photo, the student is no longer trying to balance the flute by raising her shoulder. Her elbows are bent. Her wrists are now straight and the left wrist is under the flute, supporting it properly. Granted, her right thumb needs to move back a bit, but overall, her hand and body position is greatly improved and her embouchure is more centered.
Here are a couple options available on the market that make it possible for small children to learn the flute, develop a good embouchure and proper hand positions. If you have small kids in your beginner to middle school program, I encourage you to recommend that they get either a flute with a curved head joint (which frequently comes with two head joints) or a Waveline flute. Students can swap out to a straight flute when their arms are long enough. Ask your local dealer to have these instruments available in their rental program.
Curved head joint flutes have identical keywork to a regular concert flute. The curved head just brings the whole flute up closer to the player’s body.
The Waveline flute is especially good for really small kids (Suzuki flute teachers use them all the time). The body is one piece. There is no foot joint, just an Eb key. There are adapter buttons to make the keys easy to reach for small hands. There are no trill keys, so the flute is extremely light. You do need a swab cloth with a short weight to clean the curved piece in the head joint.
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