There comes a time for more ambitious young flute players when they need more flute than their beginner instrument can provide. They need a better headjoint to continue to develop their tone, a lighter mechanism for more technical facility and open holes both for sound and to be able to play more advanced literature. What frequently happens when a student gets a step up instrument however, is they play their new flute with plugs in the holes and never fully make the transition to open holes.
First off, let me say there really isn’t a right or wrong way to introduce playing with the holes open. It really depends on the student. If you have a kid who has good basic hand positions where their fingers are gently curved and centered over the keys, the transition will be relatively quick and painless. You can recommend they go ahead and try playing without the plugs right away and see how they do. Some kids do this quickly and pretty painlessly. They experience a few days of having a little trouble covering everything, but also have a developed enough sense of observing themselves to figure what they need to cover every hole accurately.
It can be more complicated if the student is bracing the flute against the rods with the thumb in front on the right hand or their left wrist is in front of the flute and left fingers straight and on the edges of the keys. What’s great about getting a new flute with open holes is that it is an opportunity for students to develop better hand positions, provided they are properly supervised and encouraged. With a kid like this, I think it is better to gradually wean them off the plugs one at a time. Give them a week per plug to adjust. And slowly you will see that their hand positions improve as they learn to cover each new hole.
What order do I recommend for removing the plugs? F key, A key, E key and then either of the fourth finger keys, D key and G key. The last two are by far the trickiest. It’s actually not such a big deal if the student never takes either of the last two out. A lot depends on the size and shape of the fingers and palm of the hand. Another factor is whether the flute has an inline G or offset G. It is generally easier to learn to cover the G key hole with an offset G.
Finally, encourage your students to use the pads of their fingers to cover the holes rather than the tips. There is much more flesh to cover the hole on the pads of the fingers. If students are trying to use the tips of their fingers, it is going to cause a lot of hand position and balance issues. Make sure the headjoint is aligned between the keys and the rods. Check that the right hand is behind the flute with the thumb under and somewhat behind the flute. The left wrist should be under the flute, not in front and the thumb should be open to the rest of the hand and relaxed. It will likely mean that the thumb engages the thumb key closer to the first knuckle than the tip (that is why the Bb key arm is recessed on most flutes as it travels above the B key).
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