From time to time, the topic of the "Rockstro Grip" surfaces, so I
thought it would be useful to hear Rockstro himself on the topic of how
to hold the flute. As you'll see below, it isn't Rockstro's
idea at all - indeed he not only backs away from ownership but reverses
the situation - if we are to believe him everyone held the flute that
way until about his time, and he criticises those who were moving away
The text comes from Rockstro's massive tome A Treatise on the Flute,
1890. I've made a few changes to punctuation and layout to
clarify the text, and snipped material not directly related to the
topic. I've retained Rockstro's section numbers so you can
easily correlate it with the original. Any comments of mine
will be [in square brackets]. The "old flute" is the 8-key
conical, the "modern flute" is the Boehm or a variant thereof.
The Supporting of the
In order that the flute may be
held at all times steadily and firmly,
one of the essential conditions for good playing, its support must not
be allowed to depend on any parts of the hands which are required to
act, either directly or indirectly, on the finger-holes.
[Good to have a
concise and logical
reason behind the approach recommended.]
must therefore be pressed against the lower part of the under lip by
means of the base of the left hand first finger and the tip of the
right hand thumb. The pressure of the finger and the thumb must be
nearly horizontal and exactly opposed. The left hand first finger,
being placed against the outer side of the flute (at a short distance
above the c"# hole, or the touch of its key), will press the upper part
of the flute inwards. The tip of the right hand thumb, being placed
against the inner side of the flute (almost between the first and
second fingers of the right hand), will press the lower part of the
flute will thus become a lever of the first order [i.e. a lever with
the pivot-point in the middle e.g. a see-saw], the left hand first
finger being the fulcrum, and the right hand thumb the power. It will
be evident that if the right hand thumb were placed under the flute,
exercising pressure in an upward direction, depression of the
head-joint could only be prevented by the downward pressure of one or
more of the right hand fingers, or by the upward pressure of the left
hand thumb. Either of these correctives would necessarily violate the
primary rule for supporting the flute. The thumb will have no tendency
to slip if its pressure be directed exactly towards the centre of the
thumb should always be placed to the right of the first finger,
otherwise the action of the fourth finger on the open keys of the
foot-joint might cause the first finger to act as a fulcrum, and the
thumb would thus acquire a tendency to move the head-joint on the lip
at the moment when the steadiness of the flute would be of the greatest
It will be found convenient to allow the left hand thumb, and
perhaps some of the fingers of both hands, to aid in holding the flute
previously to its contact with the lip. There can be no possible
objection to this temporary use of the thumb and fingers, but during
performance the flute must depend for its support entirely on the three
points before mentioned. Players on the eight-keyed, or any other flute
with the old fingering, may rest the left hand thumb against the flute,
being careful that no support shall be thus given to the instrument.
TURNING INWARDS OF THE MOUTH-HOLE
THE ACTION OF THE RIGHT HAND THUMB.
It would be impossible to hold the flute according to the above
directions, without adjusting the head-joint in the manner recommended
in the last chapter.
[Going back to this,
we find: "the outer
edge of the mouth-hole shall be rather within than without the line of
the centres of the finger-holes". Expressed differently, it
suggests that the far edge of the embouchure hole should be on the
player's side of a line through the centres of the finger holes.]
have frequently been accused of introducing unwarrantable innovations
by recommending the turning inwards of the mouth-hole (or, more
correctly, the turning outwards of the other parts of the flute) and
the placing of the point of the thumb against the inner side of the
flute, I cite some authorities for my opinions and my teaching whose
weight few will venture to call in question. It may be noticed that the
name of Boehm does not appear on the list: he was one of the very few
who placed the mouth-hole in a straight line with the finger-holes,
and, because he did so, he was unable to hold his flute without the aid
of his "crutch."
[This is clearly an
partly an opportunity for Rockstro to put the boot into Boehm, one of
his favourite preoccupations. But it is an interesting
Authorities for turning the Mouth-hole inwards.
- Quantz. (1752) "
In order to hold the flute without affectation, it will be necessary to
join its parts together in such a manner that the holes of the second
and third joints shall be ranged in a straight line. . . . The
head-joint must be so adjusted that the mouth-hole shall be turned
inwards, towards the mouth and out of the line of the finger-holes, to
an extent equal to the diameter of the hole."
- Devienne. (1795) "If
the mouth-hole of the flute be placed in a
straight line with the finger-holes, the player will be compelled
either to raise his [left] elbow too high, or to lower his head. . . .
The mouth-hole should therefore be turned inwards."
- Devienne's diagrams
show the mouth-hole so turned, but only to half the extent recommended
- Berbiguier (1820
circa) makes no remarks on the adjustment of the
head-joint, but his diagrams show the mouth-hole turned considerably
- Drouet. (1827) "The
mouth-hole should be turned more inwards than the finger-holes." In the
English edition of Drouet's book (1830): the head-joint is directed to
be "turned inwards so far that the outward edge of the embouchure is
very nearly in a line with the centre of the first hole of the left
- Dressler. (1828): "The
Embouchure. . . [should be] inclined inwards a little, so that the line
passing through the centres of the finger-holes may touch the outward
edge of the embouchure.''
- Lindsay. (1828) "The
first masters of the day recommend the mouth-hole to be turned inwards
to nearly the extent of its own diameter."
- Tulou. (1835 circa)
... The mouth-hole should be turned so that its outer edge may be in a
line with the centres of the finger-holes" (que le bord exterieur soit
sur la ligne qui partage les trous).
- Nickolson (1836) gives
no directions in words for the adjustment of the head-joint, but his
diagrams show that he adopted the method of Quantz.
- Coche (1838) gives
directions which, though differently expressed from those of Drouet and
Tulou, have virtually the same meaning.
Authorities for pressing
the Tip of the Right Hand Thumb against the Side of the Flute.
Before the introduction of the "extra key" [i.e. back in the
days of the 1-key flute] the place and the action of the right hand
thumb were of no great importance, because the equilibrium of the flute
could be maintained by the otherwise unemployed thumb of the
left hand, even when the right hand thumb was placed underneath the
first author who recommended the placing of the tip of the thumb
against the side of the flute was Tromlitz (1791). Since his time the
only authors of any importance who, as far as I am aware, advocated any other position
for the right hand thumb were Tulou and his pupil Walckiers. Tulou
adopted an extraordinary position for the left hand thumb, placing it
on the middle of the closed Bb key, and never removing it except for
the shake. When he required to use the key for other purposes he
slipped, or rolled, the thumb on to the touch of the key. By this
inconvenient means he was enabled to hold the flute much in the same
way as Quantz held it when there was no thumb-key, but while little can
be said in defence of Tulou's custom, it should be remembered that he
constantly used the fork-fingerings in rapid passages, and therefore
his left hand thumb would probably have been chiefly used in supporting
the flute, that is, in counteracting the upward pressure of the right
rational system of holding the flute was thus explained by Drouet in
his Methode: "The flute should be supported by the. . . . first finger
of the left hand; by the thumb of the right hand, and by the lower part
of the under lip. It is necessary to practise holding the flute
perfectly steadily, and supported only by the three points indicated
above, so that when it is placed to the mouth every finger, with the
exception of the right hand thumb, may be free to move without
endangering the steadiness of the instrument...." The tip of the thumb
should be pressed against the inner side of the third joint of the
flute, between the fourth and fifth [of the six open finger-] holes."
one ever wrote on the subject of flute-playing whose opinions are
entitled to greater consideration than those of Drouet, and his
directions, though not original, have been more or less closely
followed, until lately, by flute-players of all nations, but I regret
to say that a most reprehensible movement has recently sprung up,
amongst a certain few English players, against the true system of
holding the flute. I consider it my duty to protest emphatically
against this innovation.
there we go. Rockstro is not promoting some wacky new method
of aligning and holding the flute, but in fact fighting a rear-guard
action defending the old method. For this reason, we
shouldn't call it the Rockstro grip, but something more accurately
descriptive, perhaps the "19th century grip" or something similar.
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