Here’s a basic overview of what to look for when you’re working on hand position for flute. Thanks to my Tuesday students for being willing to be photographed! Hope this is helpful in working on it at home.
First, given that hands are not a separate entity unto themselves, but are rather integrally connected to the rest of our bodies, as well as our minds, let’s start with overall posture.
Here’s George picking up his flute, Willa in rest position (other than the feet – which are getting ready for playing position!), and Laura playing a scale. Note Willa’s and Laura’s feet. They’re at about a 1:00 angle from one another, the right foot set back a bit, and about a shoulder’s width apart (close anyway!). The angle of the flute relative to the body necessitates setting the feet in a way that balances the flute such that the body can remain comfortably lined up when the flute is in position.
The goal here is to make sure you’re lined up from the inside out. In playing the flute, or in doing most things in life, the goal is to use the muscles you need to use for any given task as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, and to make sure that any that are not currently in use are completely free, so they won’t obstruct your abilities. Note that everyone’s upright in a way that’s free and comfortable, like they have a string about 2/3 of the way from the front to the back of the head, and some puppeteer is holding the string – they’re easily upright with a sense that someone else is doing the work of holding the string up for them. When you get that line-up, it really does feel quite free! Note that shoulders are relaxed, freeing the arms to move smoothly and comfortably.
Another look at Laura on the right shows a fairly good line-up of toe and knee and nose (hence the song: “Toe-Knee Chest-Nut(i.e. head) Nose Eye Love You, Tony Knows, Toe-Knee Nose,” etc. I often sing this to my youngest students, and sometimes threaten my older kids with it). Laura’s toe isn’t quite lined up, but you get the idea.
So here’s Robin’s hand just hanging out:
The idea is that if you hang your hand by your side, shake out any and all tension from shoulders and arms, with free and upright posture, your hand will look something like this. Notice that you can see the fingertips. Notice the angle of the thumb – you can even see Robin’s dent where the flute sits (feel your thumb – you’ve got one too! It’s put there for convenience in flute playing!! not always this visible though). The thumb is straight but not rigid, and the nail would be neither parallel nor perpendicular to the flute, but half way in between – you can’t see Robin’s thumb nail, but you can imagine where it is!). Again, this is just normal hanging out position with a relaxed body. Notice the open C shape from the pointer, hand and thumb. You can imagine a sandwich fitting right in there just great…hm – PB&J? Cheese? Grinder? too many choices.
So we’ll come back to the right hand in a future blog entry (soon). Many right hand issues originate with left hand positioning and support, so I’ll start here with the left hand.
Here’s Cathy’s left hand. The key thing here is that the pointer, or index finger, angles underneath the flute, providing an essential source of support. If you’ve got the support of this finger (again, this finger also has a dent made especially for this purpose!! – so be sure to use it!!), using this dent that’s half way between the side of the finger and the inside of the finger, just above the knuckle, then the rest of the balance of the flute should work out.
With support from this spot above the base knuckle, and at this angle, the hand should be able to be free for all its flute needs. Note that the second and third fingers naturally reach the A and G keys without effort. Other good things to notice are that you can tell that the fingertips are visible (as in the picture of Robin’s hand above). You can also note that all the fingers are just above and very close to the keys, even though most of them are not depressing a key at the moment. Again, I want to emphasize, this should feel like it comes from an internal sense of line-up, and the flute itself is assisting the index finger to nestle into a supporting position comfortably.
In the pictures to the right, notice that the fingertips are visible in the first picture (Yay!!!). The thumb knuckle is perhaps slightly more bent than ideal, the result of depressing the B key with the flat of the thumb. Both of these pictures demonstrate many excellent aspects of good hand position – the fingertips, the support of the left index finger, the ring finger and pinky (fingers 3 & 4) are close above the keys (Bravo!!!). However, there’s a very subtle extent to which the LH index finger in the second finger appears overstretched – I believe this is resulting from the flat thumb.
Try holding the pad of your thumb so that it’s close to being parallel with your palm, and notice the contortion in the overall angle of your hand that results. It’s easy to see how an extra sharp angle and stretch would result. But overall, I think these are great demos of most of the things to look for.
Now here’s George’s left hand. Often when students begin as adults it’s a bit harder to angle the index finger under the flute, to the extent that Cathy’s was. Again, the key is to support the flute but within the context of feeling lined up from the inside. It’s ideal to be a bit more under, but this is certainly within the realm of what’s workable.
So this is the prelude to the big event – the position of the right hand! Posture and left hand position are the first things to think about when any hand position issues arise. But it’s the right hand that’s most often criticized. If posture and left hand are off, right hand will almost certainly also be off. If they’re great, then you’ve got the foundation to start with in working on right hand. I’m looking forward to completing this topic soon, so be on the lookout for “Celebrating Great Hand Position, Part 2: The Right Hand”.