Keyed or Keyless?
The first thing to say about keys is that, for many players, they are not
necessary. Flutes in the key of D will play in D and G Major and the
related minors Em, Am and Bm without keys. Probably 90% of the music can be
played with no keys. But let's look at both options ...
The keyless conical flute is an invention of the late 20th century.
With obvious parallels to the tin whistle, it was a natural starting place for
makers learning how to make the old 19th century wooden flutes. It remains a
perfectly viable option.
Keyless Rudall Perfected, Blackwood, Eccentric
bore Head, MkIII slide, Integral
Keyless flutes are available in all of my models, including Prattens, Rudall
Perfected, Rudall 5088, Rudall Refined, Grey Larsen Preferred and Rudall Bb.
An Interesting Keyless Flute Option - the C hole
When you play a keyless D flute in the key of G, you play a cross-fingering
for the c-natural note. The note isn't quite as clear as the other notes
of the scale, although this can be used to advantage.
A very interesting zero-cost option is the addition of a c hole, covered by
the left thumb. It occupies the same position along the flute as did the
old c key hole, but is operated by the thumb rather than using the key for the
right hand index finger.
- another way to achieve c-natural
- works the same in both octaves
- gives a c-natural with the same tone as the other notes in the scale
- very handy for B-c-B
- easier to operate than the original flutes' c-key
- gives the perfect c# the old makers intended, but more easily
That last point alone makes it worth considering.
There are no serious downsides:
- You can still play c-natural by all the other means
- you do have to keep your thumb in place for notes below c
- just cover it over with tape if you find you don't like it!
|Special note to Low Bb flute purchasers!
The "all-fingers-off" note (A) on a Low Bb flute tends
noticeably flat, because of the extra compromises involved in making
such a long flute fit our small hands (see my article on the original Rudall
& Rose Bb flutes for the details). That makes the leading
note of the scale a bit flat and a lot to lip up. The thumb-hole
option really works well here to reduce this problem without having
recourse to keys.
Offset finger holes
The 6 main finger holes are normally placed in a straight line,
but it presents no problem whatsoever to offset any of them in either direction
around the flute. This can make a significant difference to those
struggling to make the stretch demanded by the flute - particularly those with
small hands or suffering from damage or wear.
The most common holes to move are holes 3 and 6, the third
finger of either or both hands. These are normally offset towards the
hand. If you have a flute you are already finding uncomfortable, try
covering holes 1 and 2 of each hand, and letting finger 3 fall where it likes.
Put a mark where the centre of the new hole should be, and measure the distance
between new and old.
I don't recommend offsetting the holes too far, as it can cause
your finger to slip off, or cause the flute to rotate slightly. But 3 or
4mm (about 1/8") can help a lot and not cause any problems. Keyed flutes
can have holes offset too.
So, if you want any holes offset, just remember to add it to
your order. There is no extra charge.
When we get to consider keys, the big question is of course "which
ones?" In order of general usefulness, we find:
The upper c key:
- gives a more accurate and focused c, compared to the cross
- greatly simplifies passages such as B-c-B
- improves intonation of c#
|Special note to Bb flute purchasers!
For the same reason expressed in the special note under keyless
flutes, Bb flute purchasers should seriously consider an "A"
key or should consider a thumb covered hole for the note "A".
The upper c-key is traditionally operated by the right hand index
finger. Optionally, a c-key operated by the left thumb is possible.
The G# key
- necessary for tunes in the key of A, this is particularly
desirable for those who enjoy the northern fiddle-players'
The F key
- Needed to play in the key of C (handy for song accompaniment)
- Desirable for F "accidental" notes in tunes in the more
- Needed to play the increasing repertoire of tunes in D minor
Note that there are two F keys - the "Short" and the
"Long". Having both simplifies some passages, particularly
involving the slur D to F natural.
The Bb key
- Needed for some D minor tunes
- Needed to play in F (again a useful singing key)
Bb is traditionally operated by the left thumb. It can alternatively be
provided operated by the right hand index finger, or both.
The Eb key
- Used for accidentals
- Can be used to improve the clarity of low octave E
- Needed for tunes in Bb.
Low C and C# keys
- This pair of keys extends the flute in D down to C# and C.
Common Groupings of Keys
- Some customers request just G# and F, to cover the most commonly needed
- Four keys (Bb, G#, Short F and Eb) are the minimum needed for a
fully chromatic scale from the bottom D upward.
- Five keys (as above but add upper c) brings the benefit of that
very useful key.
- Six keys (as above but add the Long F key) make the scale a little
better and more easy to play.
- Eight keys (as for 6-key but add C and C#) extend the range down
to a low C.
(I do not generally recommend this extension for Irish music as it
weakens the bottom D a little. But of course, if you need
those notes, there isn't a lot of choice.)
About my Keys
I make my hand-forged keys in solid sterling silver - the standard silver
used by jewellers and silversmiths. Sterling silver is sometimes called
silver 925. It comprises 92.5% pure silver with a little copper added to
make it hard enough for practical purposes.
My cast keys are made in a slightly different alloy; an Australian innovation
called Bright Silver 925 (Australian Patent No 688773). Bright silver has
been specially formulated to prevent the age-old problem of "fire-stain"
- a form of tarnish which can arise when casting in sterling silver. The keys
are "age-hardened" to minimise the risk of bending if the flute is
Key springs are rust-free phosphor bronze, and bear on tiny stainless steel striker
plates set into the gap in the wooden mounts, to ensure free action and the
longest life. The wooden mounts are turned integral with the wood of the
flute, as per the traditional method. Cork buffers keep the keys
The axle pins are made from hard
drawn sterling silver wire. The ends of the axle pins are bullet shaped and
protrude slightly from their blocks. This serves two purposes - pins are
much easier to insert, and can be pushed to free them when withdrawing.
Pads are tan leather for authentic appearance, high efficiency
and long life. They closely approximate the appearance of the old pads,
but do not suffer their tendency to squeeze down into the tone holes. The
pads are floated in on shellac in the old way, are readily available and can be
easily replaced by any competent woodwind repairer.
Left handed flutes, flutes for "piper's grip" and special keys
for people who's hands need a bit of extra help are all easy for me. Just
A new tone hole
The traditional tone holes on 19th century flutes were
inefficient and noisy. They produced tones that were clouded and slow to
speak. I have developed and use a new form of tone hole which I have
dubbed the Smoothflow. It gets around these problems while bringing
longer pad and seat life. For more details on
the Smoothflow tone hole ...
Innovation is not enough to guarantee first class results; it
requires great care in execution too. The seats for the pads
are cut with specially made hand-stoned cutters and examined under a microscope to ensure no
imperfections remain that might corrupt the seal.
On, to the far end - the
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