Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!
I was performing in a masterclass in college when I was first introduced to the Rockstro position. No, this is not some weird yoga move. The Rockstro position is an approach to holding and balancing the flute that takes the pressure off the fingers while improving the center of the sound by aiming the airstream closer to the outside edge of the tone hole. As a performer that has always tended to play on the sharp side of the pitch, the Rockstro position immediately improved my sound and intonation while helping correct some of my bad habits (such as putting too much pressure on the outer edge of my left-hand index finger). In today’s blog, we will look a bit more closely at the Rockstro position – What it is, where it came from, how to do it, and the possible benefits to applying the Rockstro or Modified Rockstro positions to your daily routine.
THE ROCKSTRO POSITION
What is it? The Rockstro position originates from Richard Shepherd Rockstro’s treatise, A Treatise on the Flute (1980). Part of the Rockstro approach involves positioning the headjoint relative to the rest of the flute so that the headjoint is rolled inward while the body of the flute is rolled outward. The tone hole in then aligned so that the far-left side aligns with the center of the keys. The left index finger then comes more under the flute to form a shelf while the right thumb slides to the back of the flute. This balances the flute on three different points: 1.) The lip plate pushing against the chin, 2.) The left index finger “shelf”, and the 3.) Right thumb at the back of the flute which guides the flute forward against the pressure of the lip plate pushing against the chin. The support of the instrument therefore falls in a triangle formation between the left index finger, right pinky, and the right thumb.
Benefits. The Rockstro position relieves some of the pressure on the left index finger and the tendency to grip the flute too much with the right hand. It also takes the pressure off the lower lip while freeing up the fingers so they move more fluidly between notes. The sound is also bit more responsive as it is easier to aim the airstream to the tone hole, creating more center to the sound and, in some cases, producing a darker overall sound while increasing embouchure flexibility. This is great for players that tend to play on the bright side. It is also great for those of us that veer sharp and the natural tendency of the position will lean under the pitch. This of course means that you may have to correct other pitches that tend to fall on the flat side. Word of warning: Try to avoid pulling the corners of the mouth back as this produces a buzzy, forced sound. The Rockstro position is also great to combine with placing the lip plate slightly lower on the bottom lip.
The Modified Rockstro Position. The Modified Rockstro position is discussed in books such as Music and the Flute by Thomas Nyfenger https://amzn.to/3zwxKgY and The Flutist’s Progress by Walfrid Kujala. https://amzn.to/3O9PEKw In the Modified Rockstro, the tone hole is placed somewhere between centered with the keys and far-side aligned. The left index finger is more under the flute than to the side, but not quite forming a shelf. The right thumb is placed halfway between under the flute and around the back of the flute. Finally, the right pinky does not press down as hard in the Modified Rockstro, making it easier to lift without losing the balance of the flute. This is a great compromise if you want some of the benefits of the Rockstro position without compromising the balance between the triangle of support points.
Where did the Rockstro position originate? The Rockstro position was not new when Rockstro discussed it in his treatise. This positioning was the traditional approach of flutists prior to the introduction of the Boehm flute. In fact, in his treatise, Rockstro references historians and performers such as Quantz, Devienne, Berbiguier, Drouet, Dressler, Lindsay, Tulou, Nickolson, and Coche as proponents of the approach. He even quotes Drouet’s Methode by stating, “The flute should be supported by the. . . . first finger of the left hand; by the thumb of the right hand, and by the lower part of the under lip. It is necessary to practise holding the flute perfectly steadily, and supported only by the three points indicated above, so that when it is placed to the mouth every finger, with the exception of the right hand thumb, may be free to move without endangering the steadiness of the instrument….” The tip of the thumb should be pressed against the inner side of the third joint of the flute, between the fourth and fifth [of the six open finger-] holes.” (A Treatise on the Flute, Rocktro, Page 424) He continues to cite the following individuals as supportive of moving the right-hand thumb to the back of the flute: Tromlitz, Tulou, Walckier (Tulou’s pupil), and Drouet.
Famous performers that use the Rockstro Position include James Galway, Susan Milan, Geofrey Gilbert, and William Bennet.
- Jenn Cluff’s blog on the Rockstro Position is fabulous and chalk full of great information: https://www.jennifercluff.com/lineup.htm
- Barbara Hopkins also has a wonderful and super clear description of the Rockstro Position: http://www.barbarahopkins.com/Articles.htm
- I also really love this video on the Rockstro Hold from The Flute Practice: https://youtu.be/71ZFkM3US94
I have used and loved the Modified Rockstro for many years and often experiment with the full Rockstro from time to time. The key is to experiment to find the position that works best for you. If the Rockstro throws off your sound and your equilibrium, it may not be for you. If you are a sharp player, then you might give it a go. Bottom line, experiment and find the best approach for your unique flute style.
Do you use the Rockstro or Modified Rockstro position? What were your experiences with the approach? What do you find most beneficial in using the Rockstro position? What is most challenging with this position? Please comment below!