Once upon a time there lived in the other side of the Earth a young lady who loved her flute. They had the best fun together, tooting away on beautiful music, shining in band and orchestra. And yet sometimes her beautiful flute would refuse to move as fast as the young lady wanted. She was very frustrated; she thought she was alone in the world with her problem.
She was in fact being persecuted by Three Little Devils, like most other flute players the world over.
The Three Little Devils I am talking about are
- the Left Forefinger (LD#1) our octave key
- the Right Little Finger (LD#2) right pinky
- the Left Little Finger (LD#3) left pinky
For various reasons that we shall try to explore, they are responsible for many of our young lady's troubles…and ours also.
LITTLE DEVIL#1(The Left Forefinger)
This is our octave key, as well as the center of balance of the flute, almost exactly half way down the tube. Closed and unobtrusive in all the lower range up to C#, it starts acting up for middle D and Eb: how many of our young lady's flute friends have had trouble with closed Eb especially in descending scales? Flutists, teachers catch this Little Devil in the bud, it is very hard to get rid of this habit later.
Our Little Devil#1 becomes really a nuisance in the medium and upper range. Many broken slurs come from it. Examples:
These passages among many more show the perfidy of both Little Devils #1 and#2. They seem simple but we must dominate their actions before resorting to jaw twisting.
If you miss many times slurs or passages in the notes above the staff that you thought they were easy, instead of "lipping" or "jaw-boning" them , think of our Little Devil#1…
Strangely enough, its crooked position makes it harder to close, contrary to other fingers which are harder to lift than to put down
Actually, the Left Forefinger is essential for stability of fingers as well as sound, the center of gravity, the point of support for technique and articulation.
LITTLE DEVIL#2 (The Right Little Finger)
Its evil spells are due mainly to the fact that it must rise as the others come down, and that we have learned to keep it open most of times except for D's, and, in fact, to hold the flute with it.
So much so that we often see a right pinky almost bent back, so tightly it is pushed down on the D#. The consequence is that Little Devil #2 sometimes refuses to come back up when told, thus slowing down a whole run.
That is why, at the risk of sounding heretic, I advise to not consider the D#/Eb key as a major holding point. Instead the flute should be stabilized in three points of support, all of which are not used for fingering notes: the first joint of the left forefinger, the tip of the right thumb, and of course, the lip plate.
In other words, the flute should be held first and foremost by those fingers that don't make notes.
Consequently, I often tell my students (and myself…): "As soon as you are going down to low or middle D, get rid of Little Devil #2 as soon as you can".
You absolutely must have Little Devil #2 down on only 6 notes of the flute:
low Eb/D# lowD mid. D#/Eb mid D high Eb high A
LITTLE DEVIL #3
Like #2, its action is contrary: it must be lifted while the others come down
In the original Bœhm System, the little finger would close the G# key instead of opening it. Even today this system (called open G#) is in use in Russia, and by some excellent players in England. It actually makes more sense, because all the fingers of the left hand move in the same direction, and the hold on the flute is more stable in the low range.
As usual, both systems have their advantages and inconveniences, as well as fanatics and adamant opponents.
In our prevalent French System flute, in the high range (Eb, Ab), if we are a bit nervous, we have a tendency to tense up on the fingers, and… enter Little Devil #3. For no apparent reason, except this tension, an innocent little run that worked fine at home will not work under stress. The reason is Little Devil #3 refuses to leave the Ab key: it must be put under surveillance like the others.
If we can help it, our hands should be a help not a hindrance.. But, more than just practising blindly, it takes thinking and changing our conventional approach to fingerings. There are no "good" and "bad" fingerings as some puritans would have it. If you find five different ways to play something, bravo. Some serve the music better: that is our priority. If on top of that they are easier and give us more pleasure, why resist? After almost 50 years of flute playing, I still find that a slow mf G major scale from G on 2nd line to G on 5th line final G is difficult to do, to do well, that is. Why? Must be those Little Devils.
And so our tale comes to a temporary close. Our young lady did not get rid of the 3 Little Devils. She tamed them, taught her shiny flute how to live with them. It was not always a piece o'cake but they all lived happily ever after.