Imagine this. You’re in orchestra rehearsal and you have a tricky passage coming up. Or even worse. You have a long held C sharp. So, you bust out your knowledge of alternate fingerings for flute.
From fast technical passages to expressive solos, alternate fingerings can improve your flute technique.
Why spend hours trying to practice one phrase when changing the fingering could make it that much easier?
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Alternate What Now?
As you progress as a flutist, you will probably come across alternate fingerings. These are fingerings that differ slightly from the “normal” fingering, but they definitely have a place in advanced technique.
Whether they help with intonation or just make playing a phrase easier, alternate fingerings can help a lot.
What are alternate fingerings?
Alternate fingerings are like the fingerings you learned as a beginner, but they are super helpful with advanced music.
Some fingerings involve closing extra keys or switching the keys that you do switch. Finally, some alternate fingerings actually allow you to close fewer keys and still produce the pitch you need.
Who should know them?
If you’ve played flute for a while, you’ve probably heard of alternate fingerings. As you become more advanced or upgrade your flute, you’ll want to learn some alternate fingerings.
However, beginning flutists should focus on the main fingerings. Once you have the main fingering under your fingers (pun intended), you can add alternate fingerings.
When do you use them?
There a couple of situations where you might want to use an alternate fingering.
The first situation is when the main fingering causes intonation issues. For the flute, the most common case is second and third octave C# or Db.
Those two notes can be particularly out of tune, so changing the fingering can make a huge difference, especially in slow passages.
The other main purpose for alternate fingerings is to make a fast passage easier to play. For example, first and second octave Bb (or A#) has three different fingerings.
Two of the fingerings make technical passages a whole lot easier.
Do all notes have alternate fingerings?
The short answer to that is no. Just think about low C on the flute. If you have a C footjoint, you’re closing every single key. There’s only one way to do that.
But as you get to the high register on flute, you’ll find quite a few alternate fingerings.
I want to reiterate that beginners should focus on the main fingerings. Yes, alternate fingerings can be very helpful. But please make sure you have a good grasp on flute playing before you start learning alternate fingerings.
Common Alternate Fingerings for Flute
While quite a few notes have alternate fingerings, I’m going to focus on the most common ones.
These alternate fingerings are common for different reasons. So, let’s look at some of the most common alternate fingerings for flute.
Bb, Bb, and Bb
A while back, I wrote specifically about the three B flat fingerings for the flute. If you want to know more about those fingerings, you can check out that post.
However, I’ll give you a quick rundown here. The first Bb fingering most flute students learn is the “one and one” or “long” fingering.
For this fingering, you use your left hand thumb and index finger and right hand index finger and pinky. The second fingering is the Bb thumb.
If you look at your thumb key, you’ll actually see two keys. The lower key produces a B natural while the upper key produces a B flat.
Lastly, you can find a little side lever to the left of your right hand index finger. If you play a B natural and add the lever, you’ll hear a B flat.
The reason for these fingerings is that the main one can have some intonation issues and it’s not great for fast passages. The thumb B flat is great when you have a piece without B naturals.
If you have to go between B natural and B flat, the lever is easier and more in tune.
This next fingering is for every flutist’s favorite note: high F#. High F sharp can be out of tune when you use the “real” fingering.
You can make things easier on yourself by using the right hand middle finger instead of the ring finger. That small change can help with tuning. It also makes switching between E natural and F sharp a breeze.
However, try to avoid using this fingering in the first two octaves. Instead of helping the tuning, you can make things worse.
If you’re coming from clarinet or saxophone, it can be tempting to use the middle finger, because that’s how those instruments work. But don’t fall for that trap.
A helping hand
Another awful note on the flute is second and third octave C# (or Db). That’s because essentially every key is open. That means the note has little resistance, and the intonation can be really unstable.
To help this, you can add one or more fingers on your right hand. That can adjust the pitch and make the note feel better to play. You’ll have to experiment with different finger combinations to find what works with you and your flute.
Flute shopping tip: If you’re shopping for a new flute, consider a C# trill key. The key can make trilling to C# easier. But it can also help with tuning when you have a sustained C# or Db.
There are tons of alternate fingerings, so I couldn’t touch on all of them. Did I miss any of your favorite alternate fingerings? Let me know in the comments, and maybe I’ll do a part two of this post!