Playing Techniques

Beginner players may be a little confused or intimidated by some of the more ‘advanced’ playing techniques frequently used in the pieces on this site which are cross fingering, half holing and hitting notes in the upper octave. Click on each to instantly jump to a section with more information about each technique further down this page.


Cross-fingering
Let’s pretend we’re playing our flute and starting at the foot end, we open a hole at a time (with the exception of hole four which remains covered to give the pentatonic minor scale), working our way up to the mouth end of the flute. Very simple to remember and play as it follows an nice, regular order from bottom to top, as below:To give an example of cross fingering, we’ll begin just as before, uncovering a hole at a time up to hole four. But for our next note we’re going to uncover hole four, which we normally always keep covered to play the pentatonic scale. And just to create even more chaos, at the same time we’re also going to re-cover hole three. It’s a bit of a jump from the nice, regular order of our usual scale, but look at the diagram below: we now have an extra note, highlighted in red, that we never knew was lurking in there! Ooh! :)Pentatonic Cross FingeredThis is one of the more commonly used cross-fingered notes, and enables us to break out of the minor pentatonic scale and play a wider variety of notes.
Below you can see just how many notes we can actually tease out of the flute once you start introducing cross-fingerings and half-holing.

NAF Scale Full Note that flutes from different makers may use slightly different fingerings – there is a very handy chart over at Flutopedia which will help you to explore and find the right fingerings for your flute.

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Half-Holing
…is exactly what it says on the tin. Rather than uncover the next hole fully, we’ll uncover it only halfway to give us yet another new note we never knew we had. Refer back to the diagram above, and take a look at the second diagram in from the left – it’s shaded with only half in black, indicating that the hole should be only half covered.

It can be a difficult technique to get the hang of as it needs to be hit just right to get the correct pitch, but as with any skill repeated practice will yield rewards. Most players tend to only use it on the first hole as shown in the example above (if at all) but you can of course experiment with using it on other holes and see what new notes you can discover within your flute.

It’s worth mentioning that quarter holing on the bottom hole also exists, but is extremely difficult to hit right and is very rarely used.

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High Notes
The NAF will play a full octave, starting with all holes covered and with the highest note of that octave being played by leaving all holes uncovered. Some flutes can go higher – you’ll can usually get at least another one or two notes in the next octave, which is all you’ll need for most of the tab on this site – but this varies from maker to maker. Even then, the fingering pattern for reaching those high notes quite often varies between makers.

Most makers will provide you with a fingering chart for their flutes when you purchase an instrument from them or if not, will usually be happy to email you one if you get in touch with them. Alternately there is an excellent chart over at Flutopedia which with a little experimentation, you should be able to use to discover the correct fingering for your flute.

High notes can present difficulty because you’ll need to blow harder than usual to get the note to sound cleanly and at the correct pitch. Practicing this technique along with a tuner, some pitch pipes or a keyboard as reference will soon give you an ear for the correct pitch as well a feel for the right amount of breath to use.

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