Flute Punch

Archive for the ‘Position & Posture’ Category

It’s been ages since I updated Flute Punch! I have missed it…

I’ve been contemplating the placement of my right thumb as of late. It’s always been a bit too far to the left, instead of under the fingers where it is reportedly supposed to go. I’ve never thought much of it. Until today.

After struggling for some time with smoothing out and speeding up some fast passages, I felt frustrated. Seriously – how long have I been playing these notes, and my technique is still sloppy, despite my efforts? Argh. On a whim, I moved my left thumb about 3/4 inch to the right, so it was more under the index and middle fingers of my right hand. And suddenly I could play it all.

It’s slightly uncomfortable. Hopefully I won’t get neck strain or some such thing. But it is making my practice time much more efficient – so much so that I have stopped stressing over whether I’ll be prepared for this upcoming concert. And less stress is always a good thing. 🙂

Patricia George and Phyllis Avidan Louke of the Fabulous Flute Music Company have posted several videos on their Facebook page demonstrating body movements that naturally accompany phrases of various lengths and directions. These are meant to accompany their method book, THE FLUTE SCALE BOOK: A PATH TO ARTISTRY, but even if you don’t have the book (which has received rave reviews!), the videos are still helpful to see, particularly if you need help understanding what to do with your body while playing, or your accompanist is having difficulty following you.

This movement has a technically fast passage that I’m taming on the piccolo. Here’s a couple things I’ve learned so far:

  • Practice the sextuplets with a duple feeling instead of a triple feeling, in addition to practicing with dotted rhythms, which also helps when learning fast passages.
  • Keep the thumb from sliding too far under the body of the instrument. (For some reason, this tends to be a problem for me on the piccolo.) Maintaining good hand position keeps the fingers of the left hand more curved and more “above” the keys, and more able to move freely.
  • Practice with a metronome. This helps tame the urge to practice it too fast before being able to play it at slower speeds.

I’m discovering right now that my fingers are not as close to the keys as they should be, which means my technique is not as efficient as it should be. By efficient, I mean fast and clean. In particular, my right index finger wants to fly up a bit, which means that Bb fingering is sloppy. Seems a bit silly, since we all learned that fingering in the first few weeks of beginning band!

To build awareness, I’m practicing slow enough to be conscious of whether or not I can feel my finger pads touching the keys at all. I’m aiming for just the slightest feeling that they are touching. This reminds me of the years I spent in non-contact tae kwon-do: By the time we reached black belt level, we were expected to be able to hit the uniform but not the body of our opponent.

I also notice with my students and myself that sloppy technique is frequently a roadblock to being able to double tongue a passage. Tension is probably the biggest inhibitor of fingers lying loose and low to the keys; the more tense a person is, the more the fingers want to fly up. Beginners often have tension because they are assimilating so much new information, so I think it is important, as a teacher, to be aware of tension from the very beginning, and move the student away from tense positions in the early stages of learning.

Speaking specifically of finger position, I think I will become more aware of the significant role it really does play in being able to advance one’s technique.

The right-hand thumb is commonly placed too far forward, so that it hooks around the underside of the body of the flute. Reasons you should care about the placement of your right thumb are:

  • Correct placement of the right thumb enables your fingers to move freely (aka, faster)
  • To prevent tension that is caused by poor placement of the right thumb — bent right wrist, fingers having to support the flute to keep it from rolling inward, shoulder and/or elbow in uncomfortable position, etc.

How do you know if you are achieving correct thumb position?

  • You should be able to hold the flute up with only 3 balance points: 1) the lip plate, 2) just above the first knuckle of the index finger on the left hand, and 3) the right thumb. If you can wiggle all of your fingers without the flute rolling toward/away from you, then you probably have the right thumb in the appropriate place (or at least close to it).
  • Set a pencil on a table and pick it up with your right hand. Notice the gentle curving of your fingers and the relative straightness of your thumb. If your thumb is too far forward on the flute, your fingers will most likely be more claw-like rather than gracefully curved.
  • Your wrist and the back of your hand should be generally in a straight line. If your thumb is too far forward (the flute resting directly on top of it, or it’s hooking around the underside of the flute body), your wrist will probably be bent down, and that will likely throw many other aspects of your playing position out of whack as well.

Now there are always exceptions to the rule, and I suppose, for example, that there might be some people out there who have a longer thumb that may require them to place the thumb more forward (ie, more directly on the underside) of the flute than others. Examine your own position as objectively as possible, keeping in mind that we human beings generally resist making changes to fundamental habits such as embouchure and position, because it takes patience and persistence.


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