The flute can be an awkward instrument to hold and many students struggle to balance it properly. As band directors, you can teach your students three points of contact that make balance easy! Those three points of contact are the chin, the bottom knuckle of the left-hand first finger, and the right-hand thumb. Students often forget that the chin will always be available for balance.
The placement of the left hand is usually the trickiest for young students. The base, or bottom knuckle, of the first finger must be in direct contact with the instrument in order for the student to feel like they are securely holding the instrument. Watch out that students are not keeping their left hand in a “C shape” away from the body of the flute. In order to encourage students to make solid contact, I recommend having them pick up a pencil and cradle it with only their first finger. That feeling should be recreated when holding the flute.
Very often students are taught to place their right thumb below the body of the flute, directly underneath the first finger. Because of the way the instrument is constructed with all of the rods on the backside of the instrument, when the right thumb is underneath the instrument it will easily roll backwards. This allows too much instability when students play a note where the left thumb is lifted, such as a C.
Instead, the right thumb should be placed at an approximately 45-degree angle behind the instrument so that it can push forward. This will allow the right and left hands to move in opposite directions and counterbalance each other. I recommend putting a sticker where the thumb should be placed as a fun reminder for the student. It will help them place their thumb consistently and accurately if they can feel exactly where it goes and not only slick metal. If students are taught early on how to correctly balance the flute, it will eliminate many technical problems down the road! We all want our students to have the fastest and smoothest technique possible.
This article was submitted by Dr. Shauna Thompson from TCU in Fort Worth, TX where she is the assistant professor of Flute. You may read more information about her bio and achievements here. Every spring Dr. Thompson directs the TCU Flute Festival, featuring prominent guest artists and hosting flute students of all levels. For more information about activities of the TCU Flute Studio visit www.facebook.com/tcuflute.
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