The flute has many alternate fingerings for different notes. Alternate fingers exist for many reasons, such as to improve intonation or to facilitate quick passages. The note B flat is a testament to the use of alternate fingerings on the flute.
There are three main fingerings used for first and second octave B flat. Each fingering has its pros and cons. They are also used in different situations. Every flutist should know each fingering and when each should be used.
Knowing the three fingerings and each one’s purpose allows you to make an informed decision on fingerings when playing through a piece. The 3 B flats are what we are going to talk about today.
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What are Alternate Fingerings?
Almost every instrument has different ways of playing the same note. The flute is no exception. A couple of notes on the flute have alternate fingerings that serve different purposes.
Some are helpful in faster movements, and others are useful when moving between certain notes.
Alternate fingerings are just that, alternative ways that a musician can play a certain note on their instrument.
The most common note on flute with alternate fingers is the first and second octave B flat and A sharp.
The Long B Flat
This is the most “traditional” fingering for B flat. It is also fairly easy to teach to younger students. The fingering is different enough from B natural to keep confusion minimal.
The long B flat fingering is commonly used by beginners. It is also helpful when B flat is not part of the key or B natural is part of the key. Another situation where this fingering is helpful is when the music calls for a lot of high F sharps or G flats.
This fingering is also often used in chromatic scales and passages. It also is used when the other two fingerings are too difficult or otherwise impractical.
The Thumb B Flat
This fingering is the second most common and is taught after an intermediate student is comfortable with the long B flat fingering. This fingering is perfect for flat keys, such as F, Bb, Eb, Ab, etc.
Thumb B flat is sometimes taught to beginners, but it can be confusing for some. The two thumb keys are the “key” to mastering this fingering.
The B natural thumb key is used more often than the B flat thumb key, so it can be hard to learn when to use each one.
While this fingering is easily confused with B natural, it can be incredibly helpful. This fingering is especially useful for fast passages in pieces where B flat is part of the key signature. As long as B natural or C flat do not occur in a piece, the thumb B flat can be used throughout the work.
The Lever B Flat
This fingering is the least common of the three. Many beginner flutes have the key that allows for the lever B flat, but some don’t. The lever is, like the other two, a great option in certain situations.
I just started using the B flat lever fairly recently, but it is incredibly helpful. It is great for chromatic scales and passages. The long B flat can be slightly flat, and the lever avoids that. It depresses the same keys as the B flat thumb key, but it allows for an easy transition to B natural or C flat.
The B flat lever does not use the F key, like the long B flat. Excess keys pressed down can change tuning ever so slightly. That is one of the faults of the long B flat with the lever makes up for.
How to Choose?
Each fingering has their merits. The long B flat is great for beginners, because it is the easiest to understand of the three. While it is not always the easiest in faster pieces, it works in almost every situation.
The thumb B flat is perfect for fast runs and scales in flat keys, but it doesn’t work when there are B naturals in the key signature. It doesn’t always work, but it is a great tool when it does work.
The lever B flat, while the least common, is useful in slower chromatic passages. Intonation is more noticeable in slower music. Since the lever is not as quick and easy to use as the other two fingerings, slow music is where it shines.
Related: Tools & Resources for Self Taught Flutists
Have you used each of these fingerings before? How do you choose which fingering to use? Leave a comment below!
4 thoughts on “The 3 B Flats”
it is confusing, i was taught one way and then another by a teacher I had 6 months before the lockdowns. now i get confused when playing either b natural or b flat . it is frustrating. any tips
Hi Carolyn! It can be very confusing to switch between the different fingerings. My biggest tip would be to focus more on the long B flat fingering (the first one in this post). Then, you don’t have to move your thumb when switching between B natural and B flat. Let me know if you have any more questions or would want to do a trial lesson!
Well I finally found out after YEARS what the “lever” is for. Honestly, I would and likely will never use the lever method. The other two I use all the time depending on what key I’m in.
Yeah, it’s definitely not a super common key to use, and you don’t have to use it. But I do find it pretty helpful when playing chromatic scales since it closes fewer keys than the 1 and 1 fingering!