Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!
Today’s blog is somewhat of an op-ed. Lately I have spent some time thinking about the gizmo key on my flute. What are all of the possible uses for this key? Am I paying enough attention to this handy-dandy device? Is it as necessary as everyone seems to suggest? In today’s blog, I would like to chat about what exactly this key is and how to best use it.
The gizmo key is a small lever found on most B foot joints. This lever closes the low B tone hole only, without closing the neighboring C or C# tone holes. Introduced by Verne Q. Powell at Powell Flutes in 1928 after a visit with Arthur Lora, Principal Flutist with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, who asked if there was a way to modify the footjoint, the development of the gizmo key was also a response to criticism from performers such as Jean Pierre-Rampal, who believed that the lengthened tube of the B foot joint made it more difficult to produce notes in the high register. The key is used primarily to facilitate the performance and intonation of the 4th register high C, but can also be used to bring down pitch and increase stability generally in the highest register.
So…here’s the thing… I don’t really use this key that much. My pinky is a bit small and reaching for that gizmo key is quite a difficult stretch. It seems that the gizmo might be better suited closer to the Eb key. The overall effect is to achieve a brighter sound on one note that, in all honesty, we don’t play that often. I sometimes wonder if we need it at all. Hear me out! There is so much that we can control with our embouchure. If we make the aperture smaller as we ascend into the higher register and use the pressure created by the smaller space vs. the increased speed of air, we actually have far more control over the quality of sound and pitch than we would if just focused on using more air. In all of my years of playing perhaps one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that more air is never the answer. I’m not convinced that a magic lever is the solution to playing a really great, resonate, but still fairly in tune, C4. There are other ways (that often help make many other notes sound just as great). Harmonics, flexibility studies, high register exercises… The trouble I am having with this is that we have an entire lever focused on one note. There are no other keys that only focus on one note (not even the C# trill key – which actually has more uses than just the C# trill).
I could be completely off-base and I would love to hear more opinions from others. I’ve read articles simply recommending the use of the gizmo because that is what it is there for and this is how it has been used for decades. I’m just not sure that it is so black and white/right vs. wrong. I think it is very useful for beginners who may not yet have developed strong control over their embouchure, but for more seasoned players, I’m wondering if another approach is more beneficial.
Today’s post was brought to you by my overworked right hand pinky.
What do you think? How often do you use the gizmo key? Are there more sustainable ways to achieve a solid C4? Do you use the gizmo key on other notes? Do you like using the gizmo? What are some of your reflections on the pros/cons of this key? Please comment below.