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The low and middle Bb is the only note on the flute where we have three equally viable fingerings without any sacrifices in terms of tone quality or intonation. However, there can be very big differences in ease of use and smoothness of technique. Knowing the best fingering to use is about understanding the context of the passage in which the Bb appears. We’ve looked at the order in which to teach the different fingerings in an earlier post. As I have said before, choosing the best Bb fingering can be like voting. Sometimes the best choice is very clear and you just do it. Other times it is like having to choose between a jerk, an idiot and a crook. None of the choices are very appealing but you have to decide which one is the least offensive in the context and will compromise the smoothness of the technique the least.

Let’s look at these one at a time. I see the 1 and 1 Bb fingering as a necessary evil that sometimes can’t be avoided. It is essential for the keys of Gb and B, and could be advisable for the key of Db, especially going into the third octave because of the high F#/Gb. It is also a viable choice for anything chromatic involving B and Bb.

Thumb Bb is the flutist’s friend–most of the time. Ever so useful for anything in most flat keys, with the exception of the keys  of Gb, B (Cb) and sometimes Db, as mentioned above. When playing in a flat key, just use the thumb Bb key as your thumb key for everything. It makes no difference to the other notes because the actual Bb key (the key you don’t press between the first and second finger) has to be closed anyway for every note from Bb down the rest of the flute. Means for Bb, A, Ab, G, etc. The caveats are never use thumb Bb in a chromatic scale/passage involving B and Bb and never for third octave F#/Gb. The Bb key has to be open for that note to speak properly ( If you try it, the F#/Gb will either be flat and sound bad or it won’t speak at all).

Finally, the trill key Bb (side key Bb or Bb lever), can be a really useful key to use if you are trying to avoid nasty, clunky Bb combinations like G-Bb, Gb -Bb, etc. or in chromatic passages. Some flutists use the trill key Bb exclusively on chromatic scales. This is not my personal choice, but there is nothing wrong with it. And of course it can be used for trilling Bb to B or for other tremelos like G to Bb. Sometimes it is just easier or smoother. Mechanically it is the most simple Bb fingering of all because it only closes the Bb key without all the rest of the interlocking mechanism involved in the other two fingerings.

If you find these entries useful, please subscribe, share with your colleagues and come back regularly for more flute tips. Feel free to comment. If you have a topic you would like to see explored more fully, you can contact me via IM/Messenger on Facebook or email me at dr_cate@sbcglobal.net. For information about clinics and workshops click here.

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