Hand position on wooden flute (2023)

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Hand position on wooden flute

Hi all,
I’m new to the flute and am using a pipers grip,and covering holes with the pads of my fingers. Am I limiting my flexibility by doing so.? I’ve noticed a lot of players using not the pads but the second joint (on the right hand fingers) to cover holes..Do you experienced players have an opinion about this.? Thanks much.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

I cover all six holes with my second joint pads. I haven’t had a problem with it at all.

I say try all different positions, and the one that is the most comfortable and sounds great should be the grip you choose.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

And what sort of grip do you use, pipersgrip? 😀

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

If you are covering the holes with the end pads, which I take it is what you mean, you are not using piper’s grip. Pipers use straight(ish) fingers, relaxed enough to curve slightly rather than held stiff and straight. I use the end pads of my third fingers, so that the tips of my left pinky just clears the flute and that of my right pinky rests against the side. My index fingers cover the holes with the middle pad close to the palm-ward crease, and my middle fingers the middle pad closer to the nail-ward crease. I suppose it depends on whether your flute has keys or not, and on the relative lengths of you fingers; but the idea is not to bend or contort your fingers, so that you are use fewer muscles.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

errata – tip not tips | you use fewer muscles

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

I use a modified pipers grip, which means the fingers are fairly straight as opposed to being positioned like one drumming their fingers on a table top. The fingers pointed down on the holes position is the way Boehm (silver flute) players play, more or less. On an open-holed flute, this is not as good for good coverage of the holes and I find it makes it harder to finger quickly. You must experiment, but be sure you get the holes covered!

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

hi Ailin,
My fingers are flat but I use just the pads ,I was wondering if it made sense to use more of my finger although it does seem harder to get a good seal on the holes that way, maybe just practice will help.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Those who use a true pipers grip have my admiration - I can’t do it. The irony is that I went to my modified version because I have a condition that has reduced the sensitivity in my fingers, so if I flatten the fingers a bit and cover the holes with the larger and more fleshy portion of my finger, I get better coverage without having to be quite as precise. However, if I go past the joint, I again have difficulty feeling where my fingers are, not because of my condition, but because that part of the finger is less sensitive to begin with.

To answer your question, though, I see no benefit in using a true pipers grip unless you play pipes or low whistle. However, I do think my modified version is a better way to finger an open-holed flute and it sounds like you are doing much the same as I do.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

There are a number of different lower-hand positions, and a number of different upper-hand positions, and they’re all used in various combinations.

(Video) Irish Flute Hand Position

It doesn’t seem to matter: there are great players who use all of them.

The normal/classical upper-hand position has the weight of the flute resting on the base of the index finger, that finger curling around the flute, all three fingers using the end-joint pads. This has a couple advantages 1) the flute is supported 2) the thumb is free to operate a key if need be. Most Irish fluteplayers use this upper-hand grip.

Then you’ll see trad players with their upper-hand fingers held perfectly straight, which pushes the hand far from the flute, the thumb supporting the flute. Oftentimes the middle-joint pad is used to seal the holes. This grip has the advantage of freeing the upper-hand index finger for ornaments etc.

You’ll see a number of lower-hand positions using straight fingers, curved fingers, or a combination of straight and curved fingers, and the end-joint pads and the middle-joint pads being used.

The ‘classical’ grip uses the end-joint pads with the fingers having a gentle curve. I use the end-joint pads but with rather flat fingers. Matt Molloy has the lower-hand index and ring fingers straight but the middle finger oddly curved. Works for him!

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Using the ‘pipers-grip’ works and I used it when I was first starting out too, but I was told early on by some big-name players that it has the following disadvantages. The first problem is it may bump into certain keys or make some touches awkward on some keyed flutes, keyed flutes were/are designed to be played with the tips of the pads. Another point to consider is that the fingertip is more sensitive than the 2nd pad (unless you have some nerve problems or lost a fingertip etc), which can make precise half-holes a little easier to nail and you can feel the vibration of the air column better. The tips also naturally sweat a bit more and are fleshier making taps and cuts pop a bit more easily, there’s also the mechanics of a longer lever to be considered.

The pipers grip crowd will refute every point, but take a look at the top players Molloy, O’Grada, Crawford etc, they all play on the pads of the fingertips.

As an aside; I’ve held/played an uilleann pipe chanter and I fully understand the lower hand needs to be played ‘flat-fingered’ to cover all 4 holes with the bottom hand, but the flute is not held vertically or have a ghost d to cover. On the flute, some people think they get a bigger spread with a pipers-grip, but the fingertips spread further apart than the knuckles closest to your palm, it’s a simple matter of geometry.

In other words, if I spread my fingers about 30°, they are about 1“ apart at the first knuckles, about 1.75“ at the second and about 2“ at the fingertips.

I’m not saying a pipers-grip is wrong - but those are the advantages of playing on the pads of the fingertips.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Using the pads of the tips of your fingers is the way to go. Keep in mind that a pipers grip was developed with pipes in mind, but when a flute gets turned sideways, or transverse, then its grip needs to be adapted accordingly. Spending some time on YouTube could show you how the better transverse players do it, which could get you headed in the right direction.

A good grip should be comfortable and relaxed. And that likely will call for some experimentation.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

@b. maloney / o’muirgheasain – Each position has its advantages and disadvantages; but I think it is unhelpful to say anything is right or wrong, or to give misleading information. As with most things musical, there are as many right ways as there are people (as well as, unfortunately, even more wrong ways).
I don’t want to turn this into a battle of the grips; but out of the reasons given for not using pipers grip only the one regarding the keys applies.
The finger tips are indeed more sensitive, which IMO is why many whistle- and flute-players end up with such contorted hand positions. A little practise overcomes the initial desire to ‘feel’ the hole, and once the instrument is playing, the vibrating air column can readily be felt under the middle of the fingers (or whichever part is over the hole).
Finger tips don’t sweat any more than the rest of the finger, and don’t help if keys are used.
The mechanics of a long lever don’t come into it as nothing is being levered, and a straight finger requires fewer muscles to raise and lower than a curled finger.
It makes no difference whether the instrument is vertical or horizontal – the holes are the same distance apart.
Spreading the fingers while flat gives more span than spreading them while curled, which is the reason pipers do it that way – turn your hand palm up and hold a pencil or something across your fingers. Try spreading, curling, moving and adjusting your fingers and watch what happens to the bits touching the pencil. When you curl your fingers the tips come together, they don’t spread out.
I think the best approach here is to say what it is that *you* do and the reasons why *you* do it that way. The OP can then read all the replies and work out what is best for him.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Given that these flutes are 19th century instruments, it makes sense to me to at least try out the holding methods used and promoted by the experts in that period. You’ll find convenient extracts on my web page under the heading: Flute Information and Resources. http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/

(Video) Holding the flute: finding a natural hand position

In particular, I find it helpful to turn the body out so that my left arm hangs down across my chest (rather than sticking out), and my right thumb points into the flute. This puts least strain on the left wrist, and allows the RH fingers to be straighter, increasing their flexibility. Neither LH thumb or R4 are needed for support, allowing them to hover over their keys when needed (and also avoiding the L thumb death grip). If you have a flute with separate LH and RH sections, you can also fine tune the rotation of the RH section.


Re: Hand position on wooden flute

I beg to differ with gam over it “It makes no difference whether the instrument is vertical or horizontal” It makes a difference because the intrument still has to be held up and the orientation of the parts of the body doing that - and the use or not of the left thumb - make a difference to what the fingers can do.

Because I wanted to use keys in the long run I made an effort to get comfortable with the hold as Terry suggests (am still bit lazy about keeping R4 free though). It took several months to get comfortable, and I had to assess whether any soreness was due to unaccustomed use or to some form of damage, but it works very well for me now.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

As Terry points out, the ‘classical’ hold uses the base of the tophand index finger and the lowerhand thumb to support the flute, freeing the upperhand thumb and lowerhand little finger.

As I pointed out above, the ‘classical’ hold has tophand index finger wrapped around the flute tube in such a way that it’s not as free to ornament; many beginning Irish fluteplayers have trouble doing cuts and taps with that finger. Like everything else it’s a matter of practice.

Not only does having the upperhand fingers straight make upperhand index finger cuts & taps easier, it also (at least for me) keeps the upperhand wrist straight, while that wrist is bent with the ‘classical’ hold. This might be an issue for some people.

As a caveat I’ll say that I play flute using the ‘classical’ hold (except that my lowerhand fingers are flattened out a bit), that I play pipes (uilleann and Highland) using the ‘pipers grip’ for the lower hand, and that I play Low Whistle with a rather different ‘pipers grip’ for both hands. (The so-called ‘pipers grip’ used on low whistles uses the middlejoint pads of the index and middle fingers and the endjoint pad of the ring fingers. On the lower hand of the pipes the middlejoint pads of the index, middle, and ring fingers, and the endjoint pad of the little finger, are used.)

Bottom line is that you can use various grips on various things.

There’s a great video of a concert feature Matt Molloy doing flute duets with a guy using the so-called ‘pipers grip’ and it’s cool to see two very different ways of holding the flute apparently be equally successful.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Here you can see Michael Tubridy using a pretty much pure ‘classical’ hold compared to Matt Molloy’s slightly modified hold. As you can see Matt has his upper hand pushed further up, meaning that the base of the index finger can’t support the flute as it does with the ‘classical’ grip, putting more work onto the upperhand thumb, but freeing the upperhand index finger a bit. You can also see his straight lowerhand index and ring fingers and bent middle finger going _/-\_


Hand position on wooden flute (1)
play video

(Video) Online Bansuri / Flute Lessons - 1: How Do I Position My Fingers

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Now here’s a guy with a more or less ‘classical’ hold on the lower hand but straight fingers, wrist to the side, thumb supporting the flute, with the upper hand. This is the exact grip I use on the upper hand of the pipes


Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Gam, I never said pipers-grip was wrong.

I did try it on my block mounted Past flute. What happened was that my G finger was hitting the G# key and had to contort the hand so it wouldn’t, the pinky was way out of line to use the touches on the G# or long F (unusable with this grip), to hit the long c (which you need to hit for big clear in tune C#‘s) you need to cock the whole lower hand. In other words, it doesn’t make anything easier and prevents getting at the touches on 3 keys, if I had the low C# & D those wouldn’t work with that grip either. In fact the flute was unplayable - right or wrong, it just won’t work on that particular instrument.

That being said, I have and do sometimes use a pipersgrip on keyless flutes and it works fine, but I don’t find any advantages either.

I didn’t say anything is right or wrong and the “misleading” information is common advice from people who make a living at playing Irish music on flute. Which, to me, shouldn’t be taken with a a grain of salt.

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

The problem with flute holds are that they are dependant on personal hand size, finger width etc.

I have a pal who plays straight fingered on the top hand and he is very good at using all the keys.

Have you ever seen Cathal reach up for his g# key?

The minute I start analysing my own hold is the minutes things start going wrong. I get tense and things that are second nature start annoying me.

The key is to relax and put the fingers where they feel natural.

I do feel for me playing straight at the top makes a and b rolls crisper yet I don’t use this hold on flute for other reasons.

(Video) how to hold the Flute and have a perfect posture

I once listened to a guy post over and over again about how he couldn’t understand how some people have trouble with a and b rolls. They were the same as others etc.

I watched his youtube videos and heard anything but nice clear crisp a and b rolls. And yet he railed on……..

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

In fairness to Cathal, he is a. a genius, and b. playing a right-handed flute left handed.

I guess it’s whatever works for you, based on your own hands and your own flute. Name a dozen generally agreed ‘top’ players (i.e. not me 🙂 ) and you’ll probably find everyone does it a wee bit differently. I use a form of piper’s grip (second pads for RH index and middle and either first or second pad ring finger) on my bottom hand for anything from a low G whistle down, but first pads on the flute as the bottom hand spacing is fine.


Re: Hand position on wooden flute

Thanks for all the helpful comments,
I was happy to hear there are as many grip variations as there are players.!

Re: Hand position on wooden flute

I think you find more variety amongst “traditional Irish” fluteplayers than amongst orchestral fluteplayers because the latter nearly always received instruction while the former are often ‘self taught’ (untaught).

In formal lessons one learns a certain way to hold the flute, a certain posture, how to hold the shoulders, how to keep the head erect and the neck straight, how to keep the throat and oral cavity open, how to breathe from the bottom, how to form the lips into a certain shape, and many other things.

Were these things all recently dreamed up by some authoritarian High Priest(ess) of the Flute and forced upon our children due to the megalomaniac powertrip of closeminded teachers, suppressing the creative powers of the kids?

Not at all. Every single thing is the result of generations of experience, the things which have been found, over and over, with the majority of people, to lead to the best possible tone and comfort and ergonomics and longevity of the player.

We forget sometimes that “classical”/“orchestral” fluteplaying is traditional too! The modern generation of players and teachers is the end-product of many unbroken generations of teacher-to-pupil relationships stretching back at least to the 18th century. Every variation concerning every aspect of fluteplaying has been tried many times over the last 300 years and mainstream teaching has been formed through this process of trial-and-error, by sticking with what has over and over been proven to work and throwing out what over and over has been shown to not work. The learning process is greatly facilitated and speeded up because the student is the beneficiary of several hundred years of combined teaching experience.

The guy sitting in his room, who just bought an “Irish flute”, and knows nothing about any aspect of fluteplaying, and noodles around on his own, might indeed become a fine player. But he also might do a number of things less than optimally, things which might limit his playing now, or things (like un-ergonomic head, neck, shoulder, and hand positions) not rear their heads until several decades in the future.

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1. Irish Flute Lesson 1 - [The Basics] Start Here
(Online Academy of Irish Music)
2. Flute Lesson: Hand Position Tutorial - Playing Flute with Kaili
(Kaili Maimets)
3. Finger Positions For Flute In Depth
(The Flute Channel)
4. Intro Bamboo Flute Lesson with Dora Wang
(CBC Music)
5. Beginner Flute - Finger Position on the Flute
(The Flute Channel)
6. Transposing Technique | by The Flute Guy
(The Flute Guy)
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