The Flute Show - flute expert

Alternate Fingerings on the Flute, Part 2

Learn a different way of fingering to ease your playing

In this video, Florence teaches you how to use alternate fingering to ease your flute playing.

Released on March 2, 2016

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert: Hi, and welcome to The Flute Show with Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin. Today is Part 2, Alternate Fingerings on the Flute. The flute fingering is a really big part of it and some passages are so difficult to negotiate that finding non-standard fingerings is sometimes essential. Welcome, Florence, and maybe you could tell us about what other tidbits and tips you have for people for alternate fingering.

Florence: Okay. Well, this a totally different type of alternate fingering. It's not about fast passages. I mean it can be used in fast passages but this is when you have notes that are either difficult to get to speak or difficult to get to play in tune and little tricks that you can do with slightly different fingerings that really help ease these situations. So I was actually just really shocked just now.

I was talking to a pianist and he was totally surprised that the flute is not like, oh, you press this down and then the note just plays, it's fine and it's in tune and all that stuff. No, no, no. If you do everything the same on all the notes, you will not play in tune. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest challenges beginners have is they get so used to where the intonation is on the flute, which is a flawed instrument still, even though it keeps improving, that they don't realize that they're playing out of tune because you know the sound might be good but they get used to where these pitches are. And it's not until some teacher starts pointing out, "Well, no, this note is always sharp on the flute unless you do something to compensate."

Well, I'm not going to get into every single note of the flute but there are a few that are particularly difficult and I'm going to start with talking about the third space C-Sharp on the flute, and it's a note that is simply fingered with one finger down, and what it does is open a key. So, everything is open and for this reason, someone actually told Claude Debussy that it was the most flexible note on the flute. And so, hence, when he wrote "Afternoon of a Faun," it starts on that middle C-Sharp. Now, that middle C-Sharp, yes, you have a lot of flexibility, but pretty much, it's a very sharp note and you have to really learn how to bring that pitch down.

So one thing you can do, now this is without using special fingering, is really direct your air into the flute more. Don't roll the flute towards you but just, using the muscles on the side of your mouth, direct that air down into the flute and that will help bring the pitch down. Also, open your throat as wide as you possibly can and that will also help bring the pitch down. And actually, that's a good thing to do anyway, to have an open throat when you play the flute because you will get a better sound. So that's a good way to address that note in general. Now, say you have a situation where maybe you have to play that note particularly loud, and no matter what you do, you still can't bring it down to pitch. Well, you take your fingering that you already are using and you add these two keys and that will help bring the pitch down. It will also make it a little bit less fragile to attack. So it's not a huge difference but it does help.

Robert: I'd love to hear the difference. See if we can hear it.

Florence: Well...

Robert: Can you hear it?

Florence: Well, I mean if I do nothing, if I just change the fingering...


Robert: I did hear a slight difference in pitch.

Florence: Yeah, it's a slight difference.

Robert: Very subtle.

Florence: Yeah, but I think, mostly, it helps you feel that you can do more with it and sometimes, depending on what other notes you're coming from, you might actually...if you're in a situation where it's not too exposed, like in an ensemble, you can even add another finger but then the sound starts getting a little funky. But these two fingers for the C-Sharp...and I've seen some flutists who use it exclusively for that note.

Another one that I want to address is the high E. The high E right above the staff, third line above the staff. For those of you who don't have split E keys on your flute, which is probably the majority of flutists still. I don't have a split E key on any of my flutes. It's not impossible to play that note but I'll tell you there is a situation that is very, very tricky. If you're coming from the A above, down to that E, that E really wants to crack. So there's a little trick you do and as you take if from the high A down to the E, you pick your pinky up.

Robert: Normally, you keep it down?

Florence: Yeah.

Robert: Okay.

Florence: Because this is the fingering for high E, this is it coming off of high A. Now, that's also going to raise the pitch a little bit so you have to compensate, you have to bring it back. You know what... so it just works great.

Robert: Now if you did it without the alternate fingering?

Florence: I'm sorry. I said that backwards. You have to raise the pitch a little bit.

Robert: Okay. So what would happen if you did it without using the benefit of the alternate fingering? Let's see if you crack it.

Florence: Now, this is interesting because this flute is a 1964 Haynes. On my other flute, which is in the shop right now, it has what they call a donut, which is kind of like midway between having a split E key, which I didn't even know it had when I got it. But I always found, "Wow, I don't necessarily have to take my pinky off on a lot of passages that are going from the high A." And it wasn't until my repair person showed that to me that it had just this little bit of something in there. But it doesn't change the color of the sound of the E which is why I don't actually really like a split E key for myself. You wanted me to do...?

Robert: To play it without the benefit and see what happens.

Florence: Oh, without doing... You can hear it. I didn't...it's not quite as solid. It can be done but it's just much easier without...

Robert: So that's the way you generally do it?

Florence: Without the pinky, yeah.

Robert: Only from A to E or are there other...?

Florence: No, just from A to E.

Robert: That's interesting.

Florence: Yeah. Now, another alternate for that E in certain situations...and this is mostly...I have never used this fingering except on piccolo actually, but it's such a great go-to fingering for the piccolo. For Firebird Suite, you have this pianissimo entrance on a high E and you're sitting there a long time waiting to do it, too. Depending on if you're in the ballet situation, you're playing the second flute part, too. Before that, you're playing flute, and then that's the first entrance to do on piccolo, and it's very exposed. It has to be very quiet. Simply add this trill key right here, the second trill key. Now, I don't actually like this fingering on the flute because I think it colors the sound too much but on piccolo, it's just magic.

So another fingering I want to talk about is for the C above the staff. That note, it's a little bit tricky to get a nice quiet entrance on. And what I'm going to show you, this particular fingering, instead of the normal C fingering, you put down your B, your A, and your G, and your F key, and your F-sharp key. And then, you can... Now, it's going to be a little bit sharper than the normal fingering, but you don't want to use this fingering unless you're doing a very quiet entrance anyway.

So I had a situation where I was coaching group of junior high kids in a band situation and I come in...it was just a one day coaching. It was a special day event. It was all day where they got to work with professionals helping them to play their parts, and in the afternoon, they were going to get together in the band again. And these kids said, "Oh, this is the biggest problem though because Mister," whatever his name was, "was so upset because every time they come in, it's too loud and some of us are cracking and he's threatened to cut out most of the flute section." "But that wouldn't be the right sound," I'm thinking, you know, because there's supposed to be a flute section.

So I showed them this fingering and I explained to them very carefully that they had to play very quietly and if it didn't come out, just don't even try anymore. Just lay back and pretend. But if they...and we worked on it. And even the back of the section, I got them to get it and it was just, oh, it was just awesome. And it was very...what was really fun about that is that I had a private student that was a part of this band and she told me that that afternoon, when they had their rehearsal with the full band and they got to that section, the band director was in shock. He couldn't even imagine what had happened because how can so many flute players improve that dramatically. It was just a little trick of the fingering.

Now, this is a great fingering for piccolo again though, because that's really where that type of entrance...even for professionals, it's very tricky if you have to be very, very quiet. And it also...because it brings the pitch up, that's a help too, when you're trying to be very, very quiet.

Robert: So any of these alternate fingerings are not only applicable to piccolo, but even more essential would you say?

Florence: Well, the A to E is...getting to that high E is pretty essential anyway. And one other fingering that I'd like to mention for both flute and piccolo...and on piccolo, I pretty much use this fingering exclusively, for the high A-flat. Now, the high A-flat tends to be a sharp note. And so, particularly in sections where you have to play very loud, it's very hard to play it loud and keep it in tune. So again, it's kind of like the middle C-sharp. You add these two fingers, the E and the F-sharp key. Here's another beautiful thing about this fingering, that not only does it bring the pitch better in tune, bring it down, but also, if you have a quiet entrance which you might say, "Well, that shouldn't be a problem because it brings it down." But it makes the note speak easier and so it's a lovely fingering.

Now, depending on your situation, if you're going to come in with a quiet thing, you have to be careful that it's not actually going to make it too flat but it makes it speak so much easier and come out easier that it's easier to control anyway, the pitch, just use your ears. And then, with piccolo, it makes it less likely to crack also. So that's a really awesome fingering. And there's so many different fingerings that you can talk about but to me, these are the ones that I think you need to have in your back pocket. Not like, "Let's look up in a book when I'm having a difficulty with a section." Which is not a bad thing either, you know?

There are lots of resources to look up alternate fingerings if you have a particular passage or you have a note that just doesn't work. Sometimes, you can discover things even on your own, messing around. I play other instruments like the alto flute and the bass flute, and the bass flute, in particular. Different bass flutes react differently. They're really not...they don't play like regular flutes for the most part there. So sometimes, you'll have a problem note and then, you just say, "Well, that's sharp here. Maybe if I add a finger here or there," and see what works. It might work differently on one bass flute to another.

Robert: So basically, there are three components of alternate fingerings. One is to help negotiate something that might not speak as easily as you like. Another one is to accomplish the correct pitch, if a note has a tendency to be a high or a low, to compensate for that. And the third is maybe do you ever do different fingerings just because it's easier to negotiate on a fast passage, what fingers you use?

Florence: Well, these particular ones that I just showed you are not for that.

Robert: Right, but those are three essential...

Florence: Yes, but the alternate fingering part 1 was about that. And you know what, I just thought of one other fingering that I want to show you. And that is for the high F-sharp. The high F-sharp is a very stuffy note, hard to make speak, especially if you need to play it quietly. So instead of fingering it the normal way, take your pinky instead of having it on the E-flat key, put it on the C-sharp key. Now, that's going to bring the pitch up so you have to be aware. So you might have to look down a little bit but it will make that note come out [snaps fingers] like that.

Robert: All right, very cool. There's a whole lot of reasons for using alternate fingerings on the flute. I guess, with all those keys, it's a big deal! All right. Well, I hope this is educational for all you flutists out there. I want to thank you again, Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin here. Virtualsheetmusic.com
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