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Achieving Even Fingers

Patricia George | July 2016

    There are passages throughout the flute repertoire that are difficult to play simply because of the way the nerves, muscles, and tendons are located in the hands. The approach to improve the independent use of each finger is to employ techniques that increase the sensory input to the brain. 

Become Aware of All Fingers
    Start with a childhood game in which a person touches the tip of each finger (1,2,3,4) in succession with the thumb. Next, practice fingering patterns 1,3,2,4; 4,3,2,1; 4,2,3,1 etc.
    Tear off about 14 inches of plastic wrap used for storing foods. Shape it until it is round and can be woven or laced around each finger. Practicing the flute with the plastic wrap woven between the fingers increases awareness of the distance between each of the fingers.

D Major Scale
    One of the most difficult scales for flutists to play evenly is a two-octave D major scale. The first notes D, E, and F# are awkward to finger because the F# finger is less sensitive than other fingers. After trying each of these suggestions to become more aware of the F# finger, play the first notes of a D major scale to assess if there is improvement.
    If the flutist plays an open hole flute, plug the F# key for practice. Remove the plug for lessons, rehearsals, and concerts. When plugging the key, do not push the plug flush with the key, but place it as high as possible without the plug moving when playing. Having the F# finger higher than the other fingers makes the flutist much more aware of this finger and its function.

    Another exercise to try is playing while wearing vinyl gloves with the F# finger cut out.

    Then try the reverse and play with the cut out portion of the glove on the  F# finger only. 

    Play with an overly sized ring to increase awareness of this finger. The oversized ring can be used on the left-hand third finger to increase the speed and evenness of the G to A trill.

A Little Pain for Gain
    In Mozart Concerto in G, K. 313, first movement, measure 60, the passage of ascending thirds always presents problems to flutists. The problem centers on the written G#.

Mozart Concerto in G, K. 313, first movement, measure 60-61

    Measure 60 is the first time the G# (or G# finger) occurs in the piece. Most flutists have forgotten they even have this finger by the time this passage arrives, and there is almost always a stumble or a hesitation centering on the G#. I suggest that flutists poke their left-hand little finger (G# finger) with their thumbnail for a few beats during the previous rest. The slight pain caused by the end of the nail reminds them where the little finger is. When they get into playing position to execute the thirds, the finger still will feel that sensation. Having a better sense of the finger’s position allows players to be more successful using it in the passage.

    Ladies in Victorian literature often tied a string around a finger to remember something. Gently tying a small piece of string or ribbon around the G# finger will also produce good results. Basically, anything you can to do heighten awareness of individual fingers tends to improve your awareness of them while playing.