Flute weight/balance/grip question

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dtrombley
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Tell us something.: I'm switching from classical to Irish style flute and have some wauestions and would like to hear others' experiences with the instrument.

Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by dtrombley »

I'm a classical flautist who recently bought an Irish D flute and started playing it. By far the biggest challenge I've faced so far is simply holding the flute - I was not expecting that!

I've read that passage of Rockstro that everyone offers as advice, and at first it made no sense to me - using that grip the flute was extremely unstable and the head kept falling downwards my lap.

Then, someone mentioned that the flute should be evenly balanced on the first finger contact point, like a fulcrum or a see-saw.

This was my problem - it is fully impossible with my flute, whose center of balance is halfway from the first tone hole to the embouchure - much further than my fingers (which are not short!) could possibly reach if the first finger was placed there.

I suspect it might be "top heavy", since the headjoint is fully lined? Is this a thing that can happen?

I tried hanging a pair of scissors off the foot to counter-balance the weight or the head joint, and instantly the Rockstro hand position made sense, the flute felt natural and my fingers were freed!

Is it possible or desirable to modify the foot joint somehow to add weight permanently to "balance" this flute? Is this thing that folks do?
Is the center of balance actually supposed to be closer to the first tone hole, or am I either not understanding the grip or performing it properly?
Do I just want a non-lined flute?

Any similar experience or suggestions would be super-helpful.
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Steve Bliven
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by Steve Bliven »

I personally have nothing to add — never having even touched a Boehm flute. However Leslie Anne Harrison specializes in helping folks move from Boehm flutes to "Irish" flutes. She currently has two books out and is working on more. You might get in touch with her on the topic.

Best wishes.

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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by Lozq »

I own one flute that has this trouble - it's a short foot, keyless (well, one key - Eb) with a rather solidly built headjoint and the balance point is about an inch and a half north of where my left hand naturally supports it. Removing the crown helps a little, but it's still not comfortable. I do get sort of used to it if I play it regularly, but it'll never be as comfortable as my others. It's made by a well known maker and plenty of other people seem to be fans of them, but I find the balance point being so high to really get in the way. I've toyed with the idea of weighting the foot before, but have never figured out a way to do it without a) damaging the flute, b) looking bloody awful, and c) whatever I end up attempting to dangle off it falling off at inconvenient times.

I'd tentatively suggest just playing and trying different angles and approaches and see if it sorts itself out in a few days/weeks. Don't focus too much on a 'proper' Rockstro hold or anything, and see if you just naturally adjust to the differently balanced instrument. You could also try using something grippy (be it beeswax or some sort of adhesive grip) where your left knuckle/right thumb contact the flute to gain a bit of traction and help things along.

Food for thought, if nothing else. Good luck!
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by tstermitz »

Hmm. Something's not quite right:
I've read that passage of Rockstro that everyone offers as advice, and at first it made no sense to me - using that grip the flute was extremely unstable and the head kept falling downwards my lap.

Then, someone mentioned that the flute should be evenly balanced on the first finger contact point, like a fulcrum or a see-saw.
Yes, balanced with base of the left index finger as a fulcrum, and the chin and right thumb as the two other pressure points, right?

If placed correctly, these three points are very stable. The flute head can't fall downwards, because the three points are holding it in place. Maybe the base of your left index finger is not angled correctly (?), but for me stability was not too much of a problem once I got used to it... and I'm an adult learner with adult learning difficulties.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by tstermitz »

Jem's videos might help. Especially, Video 2 which addresses your specific question.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

(Just don't call it a grip :wink: , It's a "hold".
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by david_h »

I also play my modern-maker flute with the crown removed to get a perfect balance on my top-hand. I can do the three point hold with it on but it's nice to be able to just balance it on the one hand whilst placing the other two points. Why make life difficult?

It did take a little while to be confident with the three point hold (no fourth finger) and I think it might have taken a lot longer without that balance point. To start with I had a patch of fabric attached for my bottom-hand thumb.

Putting function before tradition I would have no hesitation in sliding a metal ring onto the foot if it gave balance. But unless they were very small a pair of scissors that sounds like a lot of weight needed.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by dtrombley »

Jem's videos might help. Especially, Video 2
Thanks for the links! So, I totally understand and agree with almost all of Jenn's principles here! When I'm holding my metal Boehm flute, this is almost exactly how I do it.

The problem I'm having with the wooden flute is that because the "fulcrum" of the flute is so far north, some weight must be supported by pressing down, "south" of the fulcrum - if I do not do other terrible things like "death grip" or literally supporting with my right hand little finger, this ends up being the tip of my L1 finger. Which prevents interacting with L1 properly. If I try to "lighten up", the head of the flute literally falls downward off of my face.

I've tried "modified Rockstro", where you shelve the bottom of L1 under the flute (this is closer to my classical flute hold sometimes, especially if I'm trying to play especially legato), but this just leads to wrist pain on the wooden flute, so it's right out.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by benhall.1 »

dtrombley wrote: Fri Jul 29, 2022 1:12 pm
Jem's videos might help. Especially, Video 2
Thanks for the links! So, I totally understand and agree with almost all of Jenn's principles here! When I'm holding my metal Boehm flute, this is almost exactly how I do it.

The problem I'm having with the wooden flute is that because the "fulcrum" of the flute is so far north, some weight must be supported by pressing down, "south" of the fulcrum - if I do not do other terrible things like "death grip" or literally supporting with my right hand little finger, this ends up being the tip of my L1 finger. Which prevents interacting with L1 properly. If I try to "lighten up", the head of the flute literally falls downward off of my face.

I've tried "modified Rockstro", where you shelve the bottom of L1 under the flute (this is closer to my classical flute hold sometimes, especially if I'm trying to play especially legato), but this just leads to wrist pain on the wooden flute, so it's right out.
If you follow Jem's advice exactly, the flute can't go anywhere. It should be perfectly secure. If it isn't, I would suggest you try to work out which part of Jem's advice you're not following.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by Conical bore »

I suppose the ideal would be if every flute had the balance point right where the side of your LH index finger contacts the flute, but none of the flutes I've owned did that. My 8-keyed keyed has the balance point in the other direction -- between the L1 and L2 tone holes, two inches from the index finger "fulcrum." Probably due to the weight of the C and C# key work.

The three point hold is still designed to work with fulcrum points that aren't perfect, as long as you're applying enough outward pressure with your RH thumb. That may be the weak point for some folks, and it took me a while to get it down.

Here's something you might try if you're not doing it already. Rotate the flute body relative to the head joint just a little, so the outer edge of the embouchure hole aligns with the center line of the tone holes instead of being directly in line. I rotate my flute body even more, with the outer edge of the embouchure hole aligned with the bottom edge of the tone holes, but try the lesser degree first.

The position of the embouchure relative to your mouth remains the same, so what this does is slightly raise and flatten out your right hand wrist, allowing a more horizontal push outward from your thumb.

Enough outer pressure with the RH thumb should solve most balance problems unless the flute is seriously out of whack.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by tstermitz »

Hmm. I was about to suggest something like this:
I've tried "modified Rockstro", where you shelve the bottom of L1 under the flute (this is closer to my classical flute hold sometimes, especially if I'm trying to play especially legato), but this just leads to wrist pain on the wooden flute, so it's right out.
I have a patent head R&R which is rather heavy, and pulls the balance point way up above hole 1, right at the base of the L1 finger, which I also use as a sort of shelf as you suggest. That might be at Conical Bore's presumed ideal spot, but I'll let him see he likes the heavy head. My other flute has a balance point way down by hole 2, so I have to deal with quite a range.

I remember having wrist pain way back at the beginning of my journey, and I paid attention to lowering my elbow so that my wrist is not very "cocked".

A question: Isn't your balance only a problem on C# when there are few fingers down?

I don't ever have ALL fingers off. I use Eb key on all notes except D and one or two specific situations. So, at a minimum I have the R-thumb and R little finger balancing against the L1 base and chin. Even on the C# note I usually have some RH fingers down. I usually keep R3, R2 and (sometimes) R1 down for C#, as that helps the quality of the note, not to mention the balance. On my flutes, I've become accustomed to using the C-nat key to help sharpen my C# note.

Checking just now, my flute hold is happier lifting the L-thumb than it is lifting the R-little finger.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by Terry McGee »

Conical bore wrote: Sat Jul 30, 2022 9:45 am I rotate my flute body even more, with the outer edge of the embouchure hole aligned with the bottom edge of the tone holes, but try the lesser degree first.
Interestingly, that's the same position I've arrived at, Conical. I find any less and the embouchure wants to rotate towards me when I take most of the fingers off. It's a pretty big setback, about 60 degrees from all the holes being in line!
The position of the embouchure relative to your mouth remains the same, so what this does is slightly raise and flatten out your right hand wrist, allowing a more horizontal push outward from your thumb.
I find I have my left elbow pressing into my ribs. The holes in the body are rotated outwards maybe 30 degrees. My left thumb is vertical but I can take it off the flute with no disadvantage. My right thumb is horizontal, pressing outwards with the tip only contacting the flute. I can hold the whole thing between chin, the base of the left forefinger pressing in and the right thumb pressing out.

A good exercise to show you have arrived is to play B, c#, d, eb, d, c#, B without the flute squirming:
XOO OOO
OOO OOO
OXX XXX
OXX XXX Eb
OXX XXX
OOO OOO
XOO OOO

(If you don't have an Eb key, just pretend! The point is that, with this hold, neither left thumb or right pinky should be necessary in holding the flute securely!
Enough outer pressure with the RH thumb should solve most balance problems unless the flute is seriously out of whack.
I put an emptly jam jar (238grams, 8 ounces) over the cap on my flute and could still play, although it didn't feel as secure. The empty jam jar pushes the balance point right up to the tuning slide! It normally lies at the first hole on my 6-keyed flute with a long D foot. (I hate head-heavy flutes!)
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by Terry McGee »

OK, as luck would have it, some friends were in town unexpectedly and so we met to have a few tunes. So, as we settled in to play, dtrombley's question of security of hold was still rattling around in my brain. Now, my keyed flute is nicely balanced at just below the first hole, and I hadn't thought to bring my jam jar! But I was able to make a few observations:
- when first we started to play, my poor old hands did feel pretty clunky. Hey I'm 74, a flute-maker and a vege-gardener. These hands live a tough life!
- I adopted my usual 19th century hold, with the embouchure turned in about 60 degrees, but all the body holes in line. Left arm dangling, elbow pressed into ribs.
- I had to tweak the rotation of the embouchure a smidge to find the best balance point
- I find I like the right thumb to be between holes R1 and R2, but closer to R2.
- at first I did have to resist the temptation to push inwards too hard, but my left hand soon reminded me by feeling cramped. I obeyed.
- once I lightened up, I found I needed very little pressure to keep the flute in place. My hands felt relaxed, my fingers unencumbered.
- I occasionally used my left thumb if I felt the need to finely reposition the flute, but otherwise it floated free.
- My right pinky (RH5) also floated free, which improves the free movement of RH4 (those fingers apparently share some common connections)
- Having the tip of the right thumb pressing (lightly) into the nearside of the flute helps to straighten the three active fingers, making them faster and more controlled
- It became clear to me that any increase in the weight of the head would require more pressure pushing the flute in towards chin and right thumb. So, while the 19th century hold could help combat a head-heavy flute, I believe you would still be significantly disadvantaged. It's a great approach, but not a magic bullet.

Can we put a figure on the weight of your flute, and the distance the balance point is above the centre of the first hole? Picking a keyless flute with long D foot from the middle of my range, it weighs in at 321gms, 11.3 oz. The balance point lies at the top end of the first hole, ie about 4.3mm (0.17", 11/64") above the centre of the hole. Another useful metric is how far is it from the centre of the embouchure hole to the far side of the ring at the cap end of the head (but not including the cap). Mine is about 65mm, 2 & 9/16".

How do those figures compare with yours?

I'm guessing that the balance point can be higher, but perhaps shouldn't be further up than where L1 is pressing the flute?

I guess we should note that there is another approach, but one I don't find helpful - the piper's flat-fingered approach. Some players rest the cap end of the flute on the left shoulder. It's weight and lack of balance would be taken on the shoulder, not on the hands. This approach does make it harder to shift to keyed flute later.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by jemtheflute »

Flattered to see I've been quoted/cited here. I've little to add to what's set out in my YT videos or the downloadable document linked in the blurbs on YT, except to say that my own experience is that the balance point and weight of any particular flute make very little difference to me. Switching from a D foot 1-key boxwood flute to a Bb foot cocuswood one with its heavy silverware or from a head-heavy R&R Patent Head flute to a Radcliff's Model which is lower body heavy is no kind of issue with exactly the same support system and posture. Sure, I can feel differences with heavy headjoints or shorter or longer footjoints etc., but they make absolutely no difference to the stability of the method or the freedom of movement of the fingers.

The only thing I find to make much difference is the length of the instrument in terms of where one's hands are - so how far away one is stretching. A Bb tenor simple system or a Böhm alto flute are definitely harder work, not because of the weight itself but because of the angles one has to hold ones arms at and still support the weight - even a very light bamboo or PVC tube keyless Bb is hard work because one has to hold one's arms up out there!
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by pancelticpiper »

Honestly the question seems completely alien to me.

I started (around 1977) on a fairly lightweight keyless Brazilian Rosewood Irish flute, short foot, unlined head.

Then I played, for many years, a quite lightweight boxwood c1830 Rudall & Rose 8-key flute, lined head.

Next I switched to a c1860 Pratten model, Cocus, 8-key flute which I played both with the original lined head, and with a Casey Burns ABW unlined head.

In Uni I was, for a time, a Baroque Flute Major.

And I dabbled in Boehm flute, both C flute and Alto flute.

Besides that I picked up and gave a wee blow on hundreds of flutes, Boehm and 8-key and Siccama and Radcliffe and Bansuri and most anything else.

I can't recall ever having a flute feel "unbalanced" and in fact I can't quite imagine what that feels like.
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Re: Flute weight/balance/grip question

Post by RoberTunes »

never had that problem but fiddling with a sports trumpet to imagine solutions:
1) try adding some kind of extra mechanical catch for the right hand pinkie finger that can be used without obstructing regular play.
This could be awkward to invent, so we'll continue........
2) lasso a swinging shot glass to the far end of the flute; you'll be the toast of the town
3) play the note of E or D every other note, as a half-note and keep other notes eighth notes, so the flute is always under control.
This should suit most ITM players, who tend to stick with regularly patterned techniques.
4) attach some kind of more developed thumb rest for the right hand thumb (like the Thumbport or BoPep thumb rests), which
gives you a grabbing capacity rather than just a flute rest capacity, a downward pull pressure to counterbalance the imbalance.
I always use a BoPep on the left hand, but a rigged up one on the right hand should be not difficult to do.
5) as I did this morning, play pleasant meandering music under a tree, do not return to the tonic very often, and birds will come sit on the end of the flute to listen,
providing a solution at no expense.
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