THE FLUTE NERD blog

#FAFQs: What are some useful alternative fingerings for flute?

On the flute, we’ve got several alternative fingerings that can help with a variety of things from pitch to ease of play. Let’s have a look at some of the most useful ones to know!

“What are some useful alternative fingerings for flute?”

We’re lucky to have a wealth of alternative fingerings on the flute to help with tricky aspects of our playing. These fingerings, which are different from the standard ones taught to beginners, offer help for tricky technical passages, assistance with pitch, or even a unique palette of tonal colours.

Understanding when and how to use these alternative fingerings can be extremely useful, but they’re not often easy to find. I found that I gathered most of my alternative fingerings via various sources: a teacher might have suggested one for a tricky section of a piece I was working on; another came from a masterclass on pitch; or another still from a follow orchestra section member. So I’ve tried to gather here some of the ones I’ve found the most useful over the years, but check out my fingering chart for a full list of alternative fingerings

What are alternate fingerings on flute?

These different finger combinations that are different from the standard or regular fingerings we are taught. They can be used to help fix pitch issues or increase technical speed.

What are they used for?

We use alternative fingerings on the flute for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one of the most common purposes is to adjust pitch. We can use slightly different fingerings to play flatter or sharper when we might otherwise struggle to sufficiently adjust pitch (for example on a very quiet passage we have fingerings that will help keep a note from going too flat). 

We can also use alternative fingerings to help with tricky fingering patterns, making it easier to execute difficult passages without compromising on tone or accuracy.

When should they be used?

While these special fingerings can be useful in variety of situations, a player should be cautious of using them all the time. 

While an alternate fingering may provide a quick solution for a tricky technical passage, it can often sacrifice tone quality. This means that alternative fingerings should be used sparingly, and only when speed and precision is the priority over tone quality. 

Common alternative fingerings for flute

Here is a handy list of some of the alternative fingerings I use regularly. But don’t forget to check out my full fingering chart for a complete list of alternate fingerings. 

Our first and second octave Bbs

While I’m not sure I’d really call any of these ‘alternative fingerings’ I feel like it’s worth noting that we do have three different ways we can play our first and second octave Bbs. We can play our ‘1+1’ or Long Bb with the first finger of the right hand, the Thumb Bb which using the thumb key, or the Side Bb with the lever next to the F key. Each is useful for its own reason and if you’d like more tips on when and where to use them, check out my blog post here.

Bb fingerings on flute

For making quick passages easier

Sometimes when playing super fast passage you can get away with using a few trill fingerings. But here are some of the main alternative fingerings I use to help with technical passages.

For changing quickly from C or C# to D in the first octave: You can play a D in the right hand (your three fingers down, pinky up) while playing the C or C# in the left hand. This will make your C & C# flat, but will help avoid having to move so many fingers between the two notes.

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C-C# to D alternative fingering

For quick passages involving E-F#: By using your middle finger F# you can avoid the awkward swapping of your left hand fingers. This fingering does make the F# flat and compromises the tone quality, so only use this fingering when F# will be very quick. 

E-F# alternative fingering

For assisting intonation

Intonation is a constant source of heartache for us flute players. Our natural tendencies are to go sharp as we climb higher in our range or louder in volume, and flatter as we go down or quieter. While many of our notes are malleable enough to fight these tendencies with good embouchure work, here are a few sharp and flat fingerings that I often use to help in harder situations. 

To lower pitch of second and third octave C#:  As a short tube note (meaning there are few fingerings depressed) the C# is a very malleable note and can often be too sharp. By adding the last few fingers of the right hand, we can help keep the pitch down. 

C# flat fingering

To keep pitch up on second octave A & B: If you’re having to play very quietly while playing a second octave A or B, you can add the G# key to help keep the pitch from dropping too much. It is a handy fingering as it also can help making cracking the note down to the lower octave harder. 

To flatten pitch on third octave E & Eb for loud passages: By taking the pinky off for these fingerings, you can keep the pitch low enough to play healthy ff passages. (For example this is a great option for Beethoven’s Eroica.)

To flatten pitch on third octave G#/Ab: This note has particularly sharp tendencies, but if you add the ring and middle finger of your right hand, you can help keep the note down. 

Other useful fingerings

Here are a few other fingerings that don’t necessarily help with pitch or speed that I still find helpful in my playing.

Quiet second octave G#/Ab: By using a C# harmonic fingering, you can find a quiet note with a beautifully eerily tone quality. 

Playing quiet third octave F# & A: Put your right hand pinky on the C# key for these two notes when playing quietly as it helps them speak easier. 

List of all alternate fingerings for flute

For a full list of useful alternate fingerings download your free copy of my comprehensive flute fingering & trill chart

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Alexandra Petropoulos

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