The position of the right hand may be the most often criticized technical element of flute playing. However, as mentioned in “Celebrating Great Hand Position: Part 1,” it’s often the overall posture and the left hand position that lay the foundation for the possibility of great positioning of the right hand, or conversely render efficient right hand position impossible. So please check out the Part 1 blog post first, to make sure you’ve got a foundation in posture and left hand.
So to recap a bit first, stand in an upright and relaxed manner, with head comfortably aligned in a way that feels as if you’re being lifted effortlessly from a spot about 2/3 of the way toward the back of your scalp (take time to feel where this spot is -maybe check in the mirror to make sure you’re upright in a normal and comfortable sort of way). Robin, Shams, and Aurora below all look very relaxed – note foot position, relaxed shoulders, comfortable alignment of head, comfortable knee position (not locked).
One more word about feet before we’re onto the right hand specifically. While playing the flute, it’s important to have your feet about a shoulders’ width apart, with the right foot set back and at an angle. (I will also add more photos to this post later in the week – so do check back!). Here’s the reason: if your feet are close together and parallel, your body will need to contort in order to hold the flute – either your RH and shoulders will be too close together to allow freedom of movement, or your neck will strain to the left with a twist in the body, or any number of other possible contortions. This will necessarily create tension in the right shoulder, arm, and/or fingers, as well as compromise the efficiency of many aspects of flute playing, including, and perhaps especially, the positioning and use of the right hand.
Next, shake out your arms, feel it all the way into your shoulders, while allowing arms and hands to hang limp. Then check out how your hands feel. If you lift your hand, it should look something like Robin’s hand below:
We’ll use this hand as a reference once we get to the flute. In general, the right hand will look and feel mostly just like this, once the flute’s in there. And many qualities of this hand will also be apparent in the left hand as well – the visible fingertips, the angle of the thumb, the basic shape of every finger other than the index finger. As mentioned in the previous article, the left hand index finger has a key role in supporting the flute, so must be angled such that the base knuckle supports the flute.
One more word on the left hand and it’s index finger. This finger is, in my experience, probably the most common reason for difficulty in positioning the right hand. If the left hand is not doing it’s job in supporting the flute, the right hand will need to contort in order to provide the support that’s lacking from the left hand – there’s just no way around it – the right hand will not be able to function efficiently without proper support from the LH index finger. As mentioned in the previous article, however, do make sure to also check on the thumb angle and overall LH position, as well as double checking your feeling of internal line-up and comfort, and try not to overstretch the LH index finger. (You’ll find pictures in my previous post).
So now you have your posture, feet, and left hand set. Awesome! Now we can start working on the right hand!!!
Actually, the reality seems to me to be that if all those other things are set – posture, feet, and left hand, with arms and elbows hanging comfortably – then much of what the right hand needs to do is to get comfy and move where it needs to at the right time! I’ll present a right hand check list below, but the bottom line is that if something isn’t lined up the way I’ve presented it below, it may, in fact, be a reflection of an issue regarding posture, foot position, or left hand position, rather than being only a right hand issue.
So, bearing all this in mind, here’s what to look for in the right hand:
First, notice how the basic shape of Willa’s hand is about the same as Robin’s hand above (and below):
Both hands maintain the basic C shape, all fingertips are visible, there’s a slight curve in all fingers, including the pinky, the thumb angle is the same in both pictures and it’s roughly below the pointer. Also – notice that Willa’s thumb is solidly underneath the flute. Notice the dent in your thumb between the tip and the first knuckle (Robin’s dent is visible here) and make sure the flute rests in that dent. Your thumb will extend beyond the flute slightly, but not too much. Please note that placement of the thumb is critical – the rest of the hand is forced to accommodate the thumb position – if it’s too far out the fingers will need to curl excessively; if too far back the support will not be adequate, and the fingers may not be able to bend adequately, or the elbow may raise somewhat which could make the fingers bend excessively as well as awkwardly.
In the picture on the left, notice from this angle how George’s hand maintains the C shape, and how the pads of his fingers are covering the centers of the keys.
And the picture to the right shows that the pinky is somewhat curved – with neither of the pinky knuckles locked. This is great – but also notice that the ring finger is slightly too far from the center of the key. The pad of each finger should always be in the center of the key. this may be this way due to the fact that George isn’t actually playing, so the overall positioning may be slightly off. It may also be that the pinky might be slightly over curved. The key is to make sure the pinky knuckles don’t lock, and that the pads of the fingers – i.e. the fattest part near the end of your finger – are all covering the centers of the keys. Note that the fingers do extend very slightly beyond the edge of the keys, though again, only very slightly. The other key point is that while playing, the fingers remain very close to the keys, either just barely touching even if not pressing, or just barely above (different teachers have different perspectives on that – I’m fine with either so long as they’re very close).
One final note: Pictures may lead one to believe that there is one correct and static hand position that must be maintained at all cost – please make sure you leave with the understanding that this is NOT the case!!!! All human movements involve constant change, flexibility, and a complex combination of the intricate workings of every part of the body and the mind. Take these pictures and words as a general guide and please recognize that it’s just a start. Within each position is a range of movement possibilities, and within each positioning issue is a potential of dozens of things that could be effecting that particular issue – from foot position, to elbow position (make sure your elbow hangs in a relaxed manner), to psychological or physical stress (take a minute to meditate on any areas of the body where you may be able to release some excess tension) and so forth. It all works together! So take the package as a flexible whole, keep your investigative eyes, ears, and feelings alive and awake and continually seek ways to bring new levels of awareness, comfort, speed and flexibility to your playing that will help your body to work with you to create the beautiful music you love!
A Few Troubleshooting Tips:
Watch out for flying fingers!
Or flattened thumbs!
Also note the white spots on fingertips that indicates squeezing.
This hand is trying just slightly too hard to maintain the curve – though it’s mostly really good! – But notice that the middle finger is almost on it’s tip and is slightly over-curved. Remember, the pad of the finger needs to be covering the middle of the key:
(I’ll be putting up another post with additional trouble shooting tips)