To find the optimum hand position for each individual, have students stand with their right arm relaxed and down at their sides. Without changing the shape of their hand, have the students lift and rotate their right forearm until it is parallel to the ground with the back of their hand facing the ceiling. Have them first place their fingers (ring, middle, and index) on the last three circle keys of the center joint of the flute, then bring the thumb up to the flute while maintaining the arch of the fingers. In most cases, the thumb will be placed on the side of the tube, rather than under it. This is good and should be encouraged (see photo #4 below), since the right thumb does not help hold up the flute.
Lateral position of right thumb
Laterally, the right thumb should be positioned under the index or middle finger or somewhere between, depending on the shape of the student’s hand. (See photo #4 above) To determine lateral placement of the right thumb on the flute, the student(s) should pick up a soda can (with their right hand) as if they were going to take a drink, checking the position of the thumb relative to the index and middle fingers. This position will be the most ergonomically correct for the shape of their hand.
It is best to encourage that the thumb be kept as straight as possible (not bent at the joint) and to discourage “hitchhiker’s thumb” where the thumb is stretched to the left of the fingers along the tube.
4. BALANCING THE FLUTE
Rather than teaching students how to hold the flute, flute pedagogue Patricia George advocates teaching them how to balance the flute. The most important support and balance point is the left index finger. This finger holds the flute up and pushes toward the flutist’s chin. The right thumb, when positioned on the side of the tube, helps balance and stabilize the flute by pushing it away from the player and serving as a counterbalance to the left index finger. This counterbalance stabilizes the flute so that it won’t roll toward the player when lifting the thumb key for notes such as C.
Beginning flute students often learn C and D as two of the first notes in their Band Method. This necessitates switching from fingering with two fingers (C2) to almost all the rest of their fingers (D2) which is very awkward. Having the flute well-balanced will keep it from rolling toward the player when fingers are lifted from the keys to play C2.
5. MUSIC STANDS
Because of the asymmetrical playing position of flutes, reading music from a music stand presents special challenges. If at all possible, each flute student should have their own music stand, as well as ample lateral space between chairs in the flute section. Flute students should face their music stand and then turn their body and/or their chair 45 degrees (1/4 turn) to the right. Their body should remain properly aligned with shoulders above hips rather than twisting at the waist. If they lift their left elbow, it will be pointing directly at the music. (See photo #5 below.)
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