I've seen different people on the internet play middle eastern flutes like the Ney and Kaval either with their left hand or right hand closer to the mouth. I'm unsure which of these is best for me to learn (also considering the future possibility of learning other flutes as well). Is there one particular way that is "standard" or "best"? Are flute types for both hand positions generally available for sale?

Also, is there a difference in this regard between middle eastern flutes like Ney and Kaval, and Western flutes?

What explains that some people play with left hand on top and others with right hand on top? Is it because they are left- or right-handed respectively? I would guess that whether one is left- or right-handed shouldn't matter much in this regard?


2 Answers 2


So far as the sound produced goes, it makes no difference at all what hand - or fingers - you use.

However, if you want to be able to switch rapidly from that class of Middle Eastern straight flutes to general "blockflotes" aka recorders, or to "querflotes," the transverse flutes, and so on, I would strongly recommend using the left hand to work all the upper holes. For Ney models with 5 or more holes on top, use the right hand for the lower holes. All European instruments -- including double- and single-reed families, work this way.

  • I'd just point out that the European standardization of left hand above the right wasn't always the case. Recorders and reed instruments in the Middle Ages and Renaissance usually had duplicate holes or keys for the lowest note, showing that they were meant for either option. Jul 2, 2020 at 9:14

Typically middle eastern flutes like neys and kavals are built with the holes in a straight line and they can be played either way. The same generally applies for Indian bansuri flutes, Chines dizis and Irish flutes and whistles. Sometimes these flutes will have an added hole for the fourth finger which is offset, so in these cases the flute will only be playable in one direction (or in the other direction but ignoring the extra hole). When ordering an Indian flute with a seventh hole it's necessary to specify which way the flute will be played.
Western woodwind instruments were played with either hand on top up to the eighteenth century when keys started to be added. The first key on the modern flute was the D-sharp/E-flat key which was on an extra joint and could be rotated for either hand. As more keys were added people finally settled on having the left hand on top and all modern western instruments are built this way. If you think there is any possibility that you might want to play a modern flute in the future you should learn to play this way.
The concept of right- or left-handedness is irrelevant for woodwind instruments because neither hand dominates, although I once saw a "left-handed" keyed Irish flute, and I've heard of "left-handed" recorders.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.