Splitting the Difference – The Split-E Mechanism

Greetings and welcome to a new/belated Flute Friday/Sunday! Sorry for the late post – Deadlines on Friday had me postponing some of my writings and other personal projects.

I recently purchased a new flute. This was quite an accomplishment for me as I have been playing on the same Miyazawa model since 2003. It was time for an upgrade! I decided to spare no expense this time – I invested in the C# key, the D roller, the offset G (to be nice to my small hands and freakishly small pinky), and, new to me, the split-E mechanism. I had always skipped the split-E on previous flutes because I was not convinced that the expense was justified for a note that I could achieve by strengthening my embouchure and practicing my harmonics. I have come to find that this little addition to my flute actually makes my job in the high register quite a bit easier. In today’s blog, I will be discussing this split-E mechanism – What it is, how it works, and if it is worth it.

The Split-E Mechanism

What is the Split-E Mechanism? The split-E mechanism uses an extra rod connecting the E key to the second G key to split the two keys that close for a G. Whenever you press the G key on a standard model, two keys close at the same time, the G and the key to the immediate right. The split-E mechanism allows this second key to close independently for the high E which typically, on standard instruments, remains open. Closing this key on a third register E gives the note better response, sound, stability, and intonation. The downside of the mechanism is that it adds weight to the flute and is quite a pricey little upgrade. It also cannot be installed on a flute after the flute is made and most flute makers only offer the split-E on offset G models. If you prefer an inline G, you may be out of luck.

Split-E Alternative – The High E Facilitator. If you are not ready to commit to the split-E mechanism, you may instead consider adding a high E facilitator. This is a small doughnut-shaped device placed under the second G key that decreases the amount of air that can escape. This also improves the stability of the high E, making it easier to produce and slightly more in tune. The great part about this device is that it is removable – If you don’t like it, you can ask your favorite flute tech to remove it. The split-E mechanism, on the other hand, is a permanent addition to your flute.

Is it Necessary? If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said no on the flute but yes on the piccolo (yes – the split-E is available on piccolos, too!). The high register on a piccolo is often tricky, abrasive, and, let’s be honest, chronically super sharp. But I am finding that the split-E on my new flute has offered a bit of unexpected magic to my high register. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you already know that i am a huge proponent of harmonics. I love them, I practice them regularly, I assign them to my students, and they have made my high register sing beautifully. But…that high E… I’ve had to use various trick fingerings over the years to achieve a better response on this note and have tried every trick in the book to bring the pitch out of the stratosphere. The split-E makes this note as easy as pie. I find it most helpful whenever playing passages that move from a high E to a high A (which is more common than you might think in flute repertoire). No more hoping and praying that my lips will know what to do – The notes just appear like Harry Potter magic. The one thing that I am not crazy about is having the extra rod at the back of the flute. Although I know this will take some getting used to, it sometimes gets in the way of my modified Rockstro hand position. All in all, I am not sure if the mechanism is a necessity or just a nice-to-have add on. You can still achieve the high E on a standard flute by sticking to your harmonic practice and strengthening your embouchure. But, in this day and age of fierce competition for few performing gigs, the split-E does give you a slight advantage over your competitors (particularly when it comes to orchestral excerpts). I think if you can afford it, you may consider making the investment.

Conclusion. I am indeed a fan of this add-on but I also understand that it is a permanent fixture on any new flute. If you would like to keep things a bit more flexible, I recommend opting instead for a high E facilitator. I also would encourage beginners to invest in a high-E as it makes learning the high register a bit less intimidating. An important thing to keep in mind is that a split-E mechanism is not a substitution for working on your harmonics and strengthening your embouchure – These are still fundamental skills needed for playing the flute. At the end of the day, it is up to the individual player if the split-E is something they would like to invest in. Some players love and some don’t. No one is right or wrong.

Resources:

Jane Cavanagh’s video is a nice introduction to the split-E: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69s5OR38fF4

I also really like Rebecca Fuller’s video intro to the split-E: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDKFav8VKHU

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Do you have a split-E mechanism? What pros and cons have you experienced ? Do you love it or can you leave it? Do you believe the expense is worth the results? Is the high E facilitator a better alternative to the split-E? Do your students perform on flute models featuring a split-E mechanism? Please share your thoughts below!

Happy fluting!

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