How soon do you introduce your flute students to notes in the third octave? If you are using the standard band methods, probably not until the second year, at the earliest. Personally, I think this is a mistake that impacts the students for a long time. When you wait so long to introduce anything higher than C or Db above the staff, the students often wind up equating the third octave with being extremely difficult or even impossible. Another problem I encounter fairly often with young students coming from a band program is that they are trying to play in the third octave with regular first and second octave fingerings, essentially harmonic fingerings (which are more difficult to produce than the real fingerings).

By the time a student can play from low E or F to the C or Db above the staff, they are certainly ready to start learning the third octave fingerings. I introduce them one at a time using the old tried and true Octaves. That way I can show the students how the third octave fingerings are related to the lower and middle octave, as well as how they differ. Here are a couple examples:

  •  D above the staff T023|000Eb compared to middle D T023|123. They left hand is identical in both octaves and the right hand switches from 123 in the middle to 000Eb above the staff
  • Eb above the staff T1234|1234Eb, all your fingers on all the keys vs. middle Eb T023|123E with left first finger and little finger off the keys

It is possible to relate all the third octave fingerings to the fundamental fingerings from the first two octaves, though at the top of the third octave the fingering become more about harmonic fingerings of the note a 5th lower rather than a fundamental fingering (eg. the highest C is essentially a modified F fingering).

Once your flute students have some high register fingerings in hand, it’s important to get them to use the fingerings in the context of music they are playing. This means in band literature, technique class material, solo and ensemble literature and in exercises. Here’s an exercise I made up for practicing adjacent third octave notes in pairs and in groups of three. Feel free to tailor this exercise to the notes your students are learning in as many key signatures as possible. A little of this goes a long way. img_0461

The granddaddy of third octave technical exercises is Top Register Studies for Flute by Thomas Filas. Though not for beginners, these can be used with advanced intermediate and high school students. They are short, melodic, in every key and really help students get comfortable navigating the third octave. This book would be a great tool for a high school technique class.

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