Saturday, April 07, 2007

The misuse of a single middle finger and what it means to me... :>)

Dear Flute players,

This is a strong argument for taking private lessons from a quality flute teacher. A teacher on one of the flute discussion groups wrote:

I've been thinking about two students who have started lessons with me since the first of the year. Both are 15 years old, and both are thinking that music is something they may want to do for a career. Both have had lessons previously.

The first came to me with many incorrect fingerings - the whole third octave was simply overblown, 2nd octave D and D# weren't vented, the pinky was up on E natural and F# in the first octave (2nd octave too for that matter, now that I think about it pinky is down only on Eb)
and all F#'s were fingered with the middle finger. I have never seen so many bad fingerings in one student before. Her previous teacher was her much loved band director who told her that there wasn't any difference between the fingerings in the chart and the "easier" ones he showed her (and all other flute players in his section I might add.)

She's working on it - but that's a lot to fix (yes, she has a very tight embouchure and small sound, and fast almost classic nanny goat vibrato too.)

And she loves to to play, and she is trying, but I get angry thinking about all the remedial work that she's having to do at a time when she should be getting to explore some repertoire. Since she's only 15 she has time before she goes to college - but not much when you consider auditions for just about anyplace are January - March of her senior year - less than three years away. Her family is moving in the summer, so ultimately it won't be my responsibility - thank goodness - but her previous teacher has set her up with a very poor start.

The second just started with me this week, and is home schooled so has little to no ensemble experience. Her previous teacher was also a multi-instrumentalist, and based her F# fingering on the key signature of the piece! If F# is in the key use the middle finger, if it's an accidental use the the 4th finger, and always use the 4th for the third octave. Even at slow tempos. Humm.....She's another student who has some good potential, and I don't think this one will be too hard for her to deal with. It's just a case of using the alternate fingering too often in the first two octaves and not often enough in the third. Her tone will be a bigger issue - I never heard a clearer smaller sound - really tiny - so it's long tones ALAP (as loudly as possible) and I'm encouraging her to let some dirt into the sound for the time being.

I can understand some of the folk-flutists from Flutenet's personal arguments about finding nothing wrong with using the F# middle fingering, but when you are coming from a folk tradition you can do things that simply won't cut it in a classical medium. Those of you who self teach as adults have completely different goals than a high school student who want to play in an orchestra someday. When we talk about "correct" vs. "incorrect" fingerings it's important to remember the context we're speaking of.

What "J" had to say was so very helpful, I think, for young band-flutists, or self-teaching flutists of any age who don't take private lessons, and haven't come to learn that they have self-taught the same bad flute habits that crop up everywhere when you don't have a "spotter" or a flute coach to help spot the trouble.

I wanted to post both these emails, and link them to the "why do you need a flute teacher" page, so that we could save a few more years of time for those self-teaching players who don't take private lessons with a quality flute teacher.
It is because of cases such as we are describing that we are constantly advising people to take flute lessons. Find a good teacher. Help in finding one is here.
We are only trying to help people from wasting their own time.
Unlearning bad flute habits and wrong fingerings is enervating, and discouraging.

I've had countless experiences with band-flutists or self-taught flutists entering first year University, hoping to continue in music, who played with wrong fingerings, poor tone, desperate breathing, and some who were even unable to tell the difference between their own playing and the playing of professional flutists; why? They'd never even listened to any professional flute recordings!
So if you love playing the flute, you owe it to yourself to speed ahead, and avoid the pitfalls of the uninformed.
Avoid frustration: find a quality flute teacher. :>)

Just the thoughts of the day.

Jen :>)

Part TWO:
It's a small problem that a flute player was having, turned into a perfect argument for getting professional assistance when learning to play an instrument.

The Case of the Flat F#:

This week on Flutenet there was a long and involved discussion about a single fingering:
Middle-finger F#, the famously wrong doubler's saxophone fingering that is so often misused on flute. This fingering sounds dull, flat in pitch, and dusky in the middle or low registers.
It's only real use is for trilling or fast turns. (see common misfingering pdf for flutists)

But one or two amateur adult "folk-flutists" said that they found nothing wrong with this fingering. One fellow even said that his tuner showed both F# fingerings to be identical.
After 5 or 6 flute teachers begged him to check it against a tuner again, plan for the future of his own tone development, etc. etc. it turned out that he then took his flute in to be looked at and found that it was in a complete state of disrepair. Taking home a better flute, he discovered that yes indeed, the tuner now told him that F# played with the middle finger was indeed flat in pitch on the tuner. was the poorly repaired leaking flute that caused the problem, in the end, afterall.
Meanwhile I had written the following post:

Once every few years a topic such as "Which F# fingering to use?" comes up on our group. And the professional flute players and teachers usually state:

"Use the *right* fingering--there's a good reason for it."

So, I'd like to explain a bit about where that "right fingering" information is coming from.

For the sake of clarity, let's say that there are ten levels of flute playing; from beginner to world-class professional, 1-10.

Somewhere around level 3 to 5, a flute player will start to need to play very very clear F#s that are in tune with the other musicians around them (or in tune with the recordings they're playing along with.)

Somewhere around level 7 or 8, a flute player may find that they might actually "lose the gig" or lose their place in a music group simply because they held too long on an out-of-tune note, or played too loudly, or too roughly, or played a single F# for half a bar with a rough, flat tone.
It becomes a fairly serious problem in terms of "quality" of sound and pitch.

So when flute teachers keep reiterating that you have to listen carefully to the tone and tuning of the fingerings you choose, those teachers/specialists are looking ahead to the higher levels of flute playing. We don't want an innocent amateur or student flute player to reach level 5 and then have to undo the rough-tone/out-of-tune fingering patterns that they've already ingrained in their neuro pathways.

So flute specialists tend to council this:
Stay aware of tuning and tone options in fingerings even at the beginner and novice levels, so that if you *do* eventually rise up to more expert levels of performing and playing in ensembles, that you'll be free to do the best job you can do.

It makes sense to be prepared for greatness, even if you only play in the kitchen on Sunday afternoons (or sing in the shower etc.)

Hope this helps explain,
Jen Cluff

P.S. The creative flutey-mind will also eventually find that there are at least five useful fingerings for HIGH F#, each of which changes the tuning by about 1% to 2%. Now *that* is interesting knowledge to have. :>)

a) T 1 3| 34 (sharper - good for leading tone in G Major or fifth of B Major)

b) T 1 3| 2 4 (flatter - good for 'ff' dynamic, or third in D Major)

c) T 1 3| 2 with pinky on low C# (slightly sharper than b) above)

d) T 1 3| 3 with pinky on low C# (very sharp but easier to emit at 'pp' dynamic)

e) T 1 | [tr2] 4 (good for rapid passages with complex fingering problems but very poor tone quality)

Comments (4)
Blogger Sheila said...

Yes!!! Thank goodness I didn't wait longer than I did to correct some of my messy fingerings. That was about 3 years ago. (Is that all??? So much has been accomplished!) It's amazing, how even the 'fingering charts' in some band books display the wrong, rough, weezy-sounding fingerings for the band students to use.

Another incredible bit of information is that I went through two 'flute teachers' before and while in a school band, and neither mentioned my fingerings! The closest thing I got to it was "Don't always use Bb thumb, it's the cheater fingering." :O

Thank you for pointing this out, and following it with 'Top ten reasons to take flute lessons'. I may send this to one or two people. ;) How closely these two things tie together! Thanks!!!

Saturday, April 07, 2007 11:00:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for your comment Sheila, we're having a very interesting discussion on Flutenet Yahoo group at the moment about levels of teaching when teaching teens who come from lesser teachers, or NO previous instruction.

Although we don't want to push people to become James Galway, if they're not interested, we *do* like to help flutists find the easiest way to speed ahead so that they can learn to teach themselves, and continue to develop and grow on their own.

Producing a student who can teach themselves is our goal.
You may be interested in following the thread on Flutenet. (I'll send it to you if you're not a member, if you like.)

Jen :>)

Saturday, April 07, 2007 11:23:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never knew you could play an F# with the middle finger for years playing in band with a teacher... I stopped playing for 10 years and started coming back playing Canon in D at a wedding with huge trouble on the 16th note runs that go through E-F#-G etc... I always just thought sharps were bad keys for the flute and I practiced with the real fingerings and a metronome and slowly upped the clicks till I could do it and there are still little flubs where my fingers don't come down at the same time. When I learned you could play F# with the middle instead and only lift one finger to between I was amazed. Both fingerings close the F# key. The difference is the amount of open holes after that. I only hear a difference in the tuning if you blow the same for both notes. When I play F# with the middle finger I don't think I'm playing out of tune because I'm listening to what I'm playing and making sure it's in tune with my ears. I don't know. The fact that this alternate fingering and many others are available was news to me when I started playing again, news I would have loved to know back when I had a flute teacher... and Googling F# middle finger and seeing one website simply saying it's the wrong way and it will be out of tune seems kind of sad. What it means to me is it will save me headaches and carpel tunnel going quickly between E natural and F#.

Friday, February 21, 2014 6:14:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Anonymous,

There are at least a dozen standard flute pieces that require the middle-finger F# to be used, in order to play cleanly at the fastest tempo.

I've had the opposite problem to you, where I've taught the student to play middle-finger-F#2 specifically for a run in the Tartini Concerto in G Major, only to have an adjudicator then fault that student for using a "wrong fingering". ( I thought: "But doesn't that adjudicator know that Tartini first mvmt. is one of the ones you need that fingering for??! I'd ask myself in dismay.)

From what you're saying, it sounds like the Pachelbel Canon is another piece in which the fingering is useful; that you just have to lip up the pitch if the F#2 is too flat?

Well by all means.

Best, Jen

Friday, February 21, 2014 7:40:00 PM


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