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Per title, how does a flutist maintain a grip on the flute when the stops are open?

If the note requires holding down the stops, I would think that grip is between the closed fingers and the thumb, but if all the stops are open (or the note otherwise requires all fingers to be lifted), then how can the flutist maintain a grip on the flute?

(PS to readers in the UK: please don't change my spelling of flutist, I am using the American spelling)

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I apologise unreservedly. Didn't know you had your own spelling over the pond. – Tim Apr 4 '14 at 18:05
I think both terms are interchangeable? – Mr. Boy Jan 19 at 17:21

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The support of the flute is primarily a balance between the lip plate as it contacts your face and the rest of your fingers on the keys, using the heel of the first finger of your left hand as a fulcrum.

One of the "key" things to understand about this is that there are no notes on the flute with a completely open fingering. The right hand pinky rests on a lever which opens a key when the lever is depressed. This means the "resting state" of your fingers involves depressing the right hand pinky key, which is enough to keep the flute in place against the other two balance points. When the right hand pinky is lifted for a fingering, there are enough other keys depressed that the instrument will stay steady.

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A responsible textbook answer, but what about when you hold the flute away from your face? I was always taught that you only needed to fingers to hold a flute: the right pinky and the left thumb. – jjmusicnotes Apr 4 '14 at 3:23
@jjmusicnotes The right pinky isn't the only finger with a "resting state" that depresses the keys. The left hand first finger and thumb both rest on keys that close tone holes on the instrument, and this, with the addition of the heel of the 1st finger, is enough to grasp the instrument (though not enough to counterbalance the lip plate). If one is not playing, you can also just close some of the other keys on either hand to get a grip--this is enough to hold the instrument securely with either hand alone. – NReilingh Apr 4 '14 at 17:52
One thing I don't have a clear answer to is if the balance/hold on your flute should be impervious to what your fingers are doing, or should shift depending on which fingers are where? e.g. Playing C4 or C#4 is that what I should be doing all the time or can I use my other fingers for an easier grip when they are available, at the risk the flute moves as I cahnge fingerings? – Mr. Boy Jan 19 at 17:25
@Mr.Boy Whenever the flute is being played, it is being stabilized by one or more fingers on keys in addition to the left hand heel and lip plate. So naturally, this will shift based on the note you're playing, but at any point, any one finger will do. – NReilingh Jan 19 at 17:38
You shouldn't need any extra fingers to stabilize beyond what are called for in the note fingering. If the flute is moving between note changes, you likely just need to practice that change until it is smooth and quick. Finger movements should not be exaggerated. – NReilingh Jan 19 at 17:40

Per a tutorial on Youtube, "How to Hold the Flute" (by OnlineBandTeacher):

...hold the flute with your right pinky, right thumb and left thumb...

You can see him demonstrate this right around 4:05 in the video (though, it looks like he is holding it with both thumbs and both pinkies).

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But your right pinkie is not always pressing a key. Only your left index finger and right thumb are constantly touching the flute (and your mouth), no? – Mr. Boy Jan 19 at 17:23

If the flute tends to roll inward, toward you, when you have most fingers raised, that is probably due to the heavy key mechanism on top of the flute being tilted too much toward you. Roll the flute out so as to balance the heavy part more toward the top of the flute as you hold it. Since you'll have to adapt other aspects of your embouchure to compensate for rolling the flute out more, you may have to make this change by small degrees.

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