Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

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rykirk
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Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by rykirk »

I've been playing a keyless flute for about a year, coming from more experience on the whistle. Up to this point I've been playing with my righthand pinky down on the top of the flute. Now I have my first flute coming with an Eb pinky key and I'm realizing I may need to adjust my hold. Doing some historical reading and talking to traverso players also confirms my suspicion that this is going to be a problem.

I've been experimenting with the Rockstro grip this morning but I'm having a hard time keeping hold of the flute with all fingers off (C#). It's not so much that it wants to lever or fall, but it wants to roll and messes with my embouchure. I'm playing a smooth plastic flute and wonder if the slipperiness is a factor. Do people put a piece of tape down for their right hand thumb or anything or do I just need to keep practicing the hold? Any tips on transitioning to a new hold without losing a ton of progress? Any experience moving to a keyed flute or traverso from an unkeyed flute?
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Terry McGee
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by Terry McGee »

rykirk, try rotating the head in towards you by a dramatic amount. You'll know when you've got there because when you play c#, the flute will stay put. I find I need about 60 degrees - one sixth of a rotation. I don't play it turned in by that much (I doubt if you could!). Having turned the head back that far, I then turn the whole flute out until the embouchure works well again. At this stage my left elbow is way down, pressing against my body, my right thumb is pointing into the middle of the flute, and my right hand fingers are on the far side. I have complete freedom of motion with no need to use my left thumb or right pinky for support. I can use them to press the Bb and Eb keys.

Optionally, if you feel your right shoulder is too high, you can rotate the LH/RH joint of your flute to lower it. I haven't felt the need.

Oh, and once more, can I plead for us all to stop using the term "Rockstro grip". Rockstro, writing in the very late 19th century, did make a case for using this hold, but we have to be aware that he was among the last to use it. And indeed, he goes to some lengths in his book to point to previous famous adherents to that way of holding the flute. From what I can gather, it was the commonplace approach throughout the 19th century in England, and perhaps well before-hand. Better to call it something like the "English three point hold" (chin, left index finger, right thumb).

I'll conclude by saying: it took me a while to get on to it, but there's no going back!
rykirk
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by rykirk »

Thanks for the detailed reply Terry. I will give these adjustments a shot today!

I did know it's not Rockstro's invention, but the name crops up so much I thought it was helpful to use as shorthand so we are all talking about the same thing rather than trying to describe the grip itself by its mechanics.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by cac »

Two points plus some additional discussion: (1) you should know that the 3-point grip is used by only a minority of flutists and flute players. In the world of Irish trad, I can't think off-hand of any well-known players who use it. Look at the way Matt Molloy holds the flute. His right thumb is under the flute. Conal O'Grada in his tutor gives excellent pictures of how to position the right-hand thumb and it is _not_ the 3-point grip. Perhaps Kevin Crawford might be a candidate, but looking at the way he positions his thumb it seems to me to be mostly under the flute most of the time. If the 3-point grip is difficult for you, don't waste time with it. I think it may fit a few players who have nicely recurvable thumbs, but if you have a non-recurvable thumb, I don't recommend it.
(2) where to put your pinky if you have an Eb key: some players (myself included and also Emer Mayock and probably a few others) place the pinky lightly on the Eb key; the majority seem to turn the keys out of the way unless they need to use them, which of course isn't very often.
Diacussion: an additional question is whether to remove your pinky when doing rolls on E and F. Matt Molloy is the only flute-player I know who keeps his little finger down for rolls on E. Most seem to remove it for both E and F. I've trained myself to do a decent roll on F with the pinky down, but cannot do this for a roll on E.
Finally, it is interesting that some flute players who play left-handed don't keep the little finger down at all (i.e. holding the flute the way a baroque flute is/was held). Take a look at videos of Catherine McEvoy. Chet
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by tstermitz »

Yes, it will take a little time to get used to, and that is normal. Stability is definitely awkward at first.

My pinky fingers were not at all agile in the beginning, but they improved with time. Now, I pretty much don't think about it. On every flute I've owned, the E note improved (resonated better) using the Eb key. On my present flute, the intonation of the second register E improves noticeably. I would argue that all keyless flutes should at least have the Eb key.

It is beneficial to work with the three point hold from the beginning (or as soon as you realize it), as that allows your left thumb freedom of movement.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by rykirk »

Thanks for the replies everyone.

As far as what most Irish flute players do I'm not too worried about that. I wouldn't consider myself overly focused on the Irish tradition, more into Scottish and even baroque, renaissance, country dance type stuff. Playford, Walsh, etc. So I'm more concerned with what is mechanically most efficient and versatile and least prone to tension or injury. The three point hold seems to satisfy all of those categories.

I followed Terry's tip about rolling the mouthpiece as well as watched a video by Jem and followed a few other tips and it has made a huge difference. I've gone from being unable to hold the damn thing up at all this morning to being able to slowly play a scale across the octave break without dropping or rolling the flute or losing my embouchure. I also feel a lot less tension in my right hand as I realized before I was somewhat pinching the flute vertically between my right thumb and pinky and even pressing up with my left thumb a bit. My hands feel much looser now. Now my thumb is up on the back of the flute a bit pushing forward with the tip more so than having the flute rest on the pad. It's still a bit shakey and slow going but I think it's just a matter of practice now.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by Conical bore »

Here's what I ended up doing in the transition from keyless to keyed flute, and I have no idea if what I'm doing is "correct" technique for anyone but me. No teachers in my area, so take this with a grain of salt.

I was already using the headjoint rolled in as Terry mentioned. With the keyless flute I had been resting my RH pinky solidly on the flute. After buying an 8-key "Irish" flute, I tried tried to get away from that by just letting it hover lightly over the Eb key.*

That didn't feel comfortable or secure enough, so I started using more of an "English three point hold" (ht/ Terry) with my right thumb pushing outwards. To get a good grip on the tip of my thumb, I found I had to cut my thumbnail very short, sacrificing my fingerstyle guitar playing somewhat, but it helps to have a large exposed fleshy pad on the tip of the thumb for contact with the flute.

This hold has finally morphed to one where I rest my RH pinky lightly on the Eb key block, a little behind the actual key. My hand is large enough to do that. I sometimes lift the pinky and let it float for phrases that involve a lot of RH third finger work, because those two fingers share a tendon and it feels like I have more dexterity, but usually it's lightly resting on that Eb key block and close enough to hit the Eb or low C#/Cnat keys. My thumb tip is still doing most of the RH work in steadying the flute.

The next frontier is getting comfortable using the Bb key, which I haven't nailed yet because I just don't play that many tunes that need it.

* The traditional advice for these kinds of flutes is to vent the Eb key on all but the bottom notes, so that may be something to try. In my case, I only hear the tiniest improvement in tone/volume by venting the Eb, so I don't do it. It's one less thing to think about.
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Terry McGee
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by Terry McGee »

I must say I have, from time-to-time wondered about this idea, presumably from Cornelius Ward:

Image

You poke the tip of your right thumb into the dished target.

A bit more about it at: http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/unusual.htm
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by david_h »

Terry also has a page mentioning Nicholson's 'sharkskin' inlay for the right thumb. http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/Nicholson%27s%20Flute.htm

I can do the three-point hold, though usually my left thumb and right little finger are lightly touching the flute. I can lift them off to use the Bb key or relax my right hand. I practised mainly to be sure of wasn't gripping too hard.

I started off with a piece of felt-backed tape for my right thumb, but not for long and checked that any adhesive residue was removable first.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by fintano »

I went over to the "Rockstro grip", because it solved a few problems that I was having. But I have since modified it somewhat as I work through things.

With the flutes that I have, cross-fingering Bb is pretty much the same pitch as using the key. So I figured that the Bb key is kind of useless, unless if you're doing a trill or something. My LH thumb can be on the bottom of the flute, which for me adds stability. I just keep working on using that cross-fingered Bb. (Easy transition to D!)

I seldom play music that has an Eb. So I keep my RH pinky on the instrument, next to the key. It's not really necessary for support, but it makes the balance feel more secure. If I'm playing a long E, like in a slow air, I might vent the Eb key for better tone.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by John Driscoll »

This thread has been very helpful for me. I just started with a keyed flute a few weeks ago and it’s great to have new grips to try.

Does anyone have experience using their RH ring finger to cover the bottom hole for stability? I know some players don’t use their pinkies at all and rely solely on their RH ring finger when playing notes above G.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by jim stone »

The Eb key gives you control over E and Fsharp, generally it makes these notes a bit brighter and more full. You can train the rt pinky to use the Eb key to balance the flute. It takes practice but it works. I tried Rockstro several times. Doesn't work for me and, in my case, tended toward injury.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by jim stone »

P.S. R3 down on the low D hole, as a balance, can lower the pitch on the E and Fsharp notes. Not much but the wrong direction.
rykirk
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by rykirk »

So an update and thank you for the advice re. the lever style "rockstro" grip. I started practicing the day I posted this thread, the first few days were largely hopeless, I felt I had lost a lot of progress. After that things started to click, after about two weeks I was back playing the same tunes I had been but my tone had improved (I attribute this to the lateral lever pressure keeping my pressure against my face much more steady and consistent) and some stiffness and sore hands and tendency to 'death grip' the flute had completely resolved themselves on their own as a consequence of switching grips.

My Aulos traverso then arrived and I've been mostly playing that flute since and I feel like my grip is very secure while also being loose and relaxed, my pinky touches only when I need to use the key, so far mostly F# and occasionally D# when playing baroque stuff or for the high C,C#,D. My right ring finger never touches when it's not needed, my left thumb hovers lightly but is really not needed and the fact that it sometimes floats off the flute is completely fine and if anything helps my hand stay relaxed. All playing fingers on both hands feel more free, limber, independent, and accurate.

In short, many thanks, especially to Terry, for the tips and this hold is the way to go. Forget what you saw some old trad player do in a pub, hold your flute properly, your body and the music will thank you for it.
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Re: Flute Hold Right Hand Pinky

Post by Terry McGee »

Ah, it sure sounds like you have arrived at a good place, rykirk. Well done! But your new development is interesting. You've now gone beyond our 19th century flutes back to an 18th century style baroque flute. We've been able to amass plenty of evidence for the 19th century English Three-point hold (aka "The Rockstro Grip" - you know my aversions to that title!). But I've not seen any mention of it having been used earlier (say pre-Nicholson). But it would make perfect sense for it to have been used earlier - to give full freedom to the use of the Eb key and all the cross-fingerings of the baroque flute era. This era is largely "before my time" (I'm old, but not quite that old...). Has anyone seen evidence for the three point hold from before the 19th century?
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