Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.
Several years ago, I was reading through Madeline Bruser’s book, The Art of Practicing; A Guide to Making Music from the Heart, and was intrigued by her discussion on the various ways to adapt instruments to our own individual practicing needs. It is true – No two performers are alike. We all have different sized hands, fingers, elbows, embrochures, everything! For centuries, we have been contorting ourselves to fit the instrument, resulting in physical ailments ranging from permanent blisters to Tendonitis. Luckily, instrument makers and accessory manufactures have found clever ways to modify the standard flute to make it easier and affordable for those of us struggling to reach the G# or key or finding perfect balance between our imperfect fingers. In today’s blog I will be discussing some of these accessories and modifications and other options available to make your instrument work better for you.
Inline vs. Off-Set G. I envied the upper classmen in high school who played on open-holed instruments with inline G keys. I thought that having an inline G signified one of the major differences between flutes owned by amateurs and those by professional flutists. When I switched from an offset G on my intermediate model to an inline G on my first professional model, I thought I had made it! Unfortunately, all that I had actually made was a future path to Tendonitis-ville. I developed Tendonitis in my left arm due to over-practice with incorrect hand position during my Freshmen year of college (specifically in preparation for the annual concerto competition). Many of my problems corrected themselves when I switched back to an offset G on my next instrument. My hands are small – An inline G was all wrong for me! Before purchasing a new instrument, consider if an offset G will fit your hands better than an inline G. My best advice is to try both. Which one is easier and feels more natural?
The Problem of the G# Key. If you have small pinkies, you may find yourself struggling to play G#s with that pesky G# key. There is some good news and some not so good news. The good news only applies to current and future Brannen flute owners, as Brannen has developed an extender for this key https://www.brannenflutes.com/key-extensions. Hopefully, other flute makers will start to take note (and it doesn’t hurt to ask if you are in the market for a new instrument). The bad news is that all extenders that used to exist for purchase as accessories have been taken off the market. There is certainly a need for this add-on (developers, take note!).
First Finger, Left Hand. How many of us have a blister on our left hand where our first finger meets the side of our flute? Did you know that there are accessories out there that can help alleviate the pain and help position our index finger a bit more effectively for better balance? My favorite are Flute Gels https://www.fluteworld.com/Flute-Gels.html?t=0&sort=0. I have raved about these on previous posts and continue to use them to this day. The texture of the gel is really comfortable and cushions the side of my finger, making it easier to play with my existing flute blister while giving me a consistent place to balance the flute. Another good option if you are just looking for a set place to rest your index finger is the Bo-Pep Finger Saddle https://www.fluteworld.com/Bo-Pep-Finger-Saddle–BP-FS-.html?t=0&sort=0. This is a great accessory for those of you that do not necessarily dig into the instrument with the side of your finger. Finally, a newer option is the Fingerport https://www.fluteworld.com/FingerPort–101046-.html?t=0&sort=0. This device is flat with a rubbery texture and brings the index finger out a bit further, creating better balance between this finger and the right-hand thumb.
Right Hand Thumb. Some of the same accessories that are available for the index finger are also available for the right-hand thumb. Why? Because these two create the primary balance points between the performer and the instrument. Flute Gels can be placed where the thumb meets the instrument, again creating a comfortable, cushy, and consistent balance point. If you are looking for set place to aim your thumb, Bo-Pep also manufactures a Thumb Saddle https://www.fluteworld.com/Bo-Pep-Thumb-Guide–BP-TG-.html?t=0&sort=0. Along these same lines, if you are a fan of the Fingerport, the corresponding Thumbport will also create the perfect balancing point (and they come in fun colors for added pizzazz) https://www.fluteworld.com/Thumbport—C-Flute-Black–101045BK-.html?t=0&sort=0. Finally, a newer option on the market is the Prima Thumb Rest, which creates a wider area to place your thumb, preventing the inevitable thumb roll https://www.flutespecialists.com/product/prima-thumb-rest-for-flute/. I am not as familiar with this product but it seems like a great option if you need a bit more space.
Finger Position Corrector. One of my worst habits as a younger flutist was letting my fingers fly a bit higher than necessary during technical passages. In fact, my flute teacher used to place their hand slightly above my right hand during lessons as a reminder to keep my fingers closer to the keys. This accessory creates the same reminder in a non-human form, but I would recommend only using this during practice https://www.fluteworld.com/Finger-Position-Corrector–TA-FPC-.html?t=0&sort=0. Be careful to not hurt yourself – this is still made of hard plastic.
Plugs (duh). It wasn’t until graduate school that I realized it was okay to use plugs for those one or two open tone holes that my tiny fingers struggled to cover. Just because a flute is made with open holes, does not mean that we need to use them if our fingers cannot properly reach. Go ahead and use plugs on that pesky E key or that G key that your left-hand ring finger struggles to cover. https://www.fluteworld.com/Plug-Set—Medium-Silicone-Rubber–101050-.html?t=0
There are also a number of DYI modifications that you can make to your instrument, but I would recommend visiting your local instrument shop or flute technician before considering these options. The pros might have a good way to make these modifications with the least amount of damage. A couple of good articles about DYI modifications can be found here https://www.jennifercluff.com/extensns.pdf, https://www.meerenai.com/blog/2014/11/diy-flute-key-modification.
What modifications have you made to your flute? What accessories do you use and why? Have you requested any custom modifications to your instrument from manufacturers? Please comment below.