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Flute Talks: Closed Holes vs. Open Holes

Closed hole flutes, also known as plateau flutes, have long been the standard option for student flutes. Coupled with the offset G key and a C footjoint, these instruments are ideal for young flutists whose hands and fingers are still growing and for developing flutists at any age who are still getting used to hand and finger placement.

Once a flutist upgrades to an intermediate step-up flute or higher, open holes becomes the new standard. This feature requires more accurate finger placement on the keys, which can improve technique. As a flutist transitions from closed to open holes, plugs made of plastic, silicone, or cork can be used to close the holes until finger reach and technique improve.

There are many other benefits to open versus closed holes. This feature allows the player to perform many extended techniques, such as quarter tones, slides, pitch bends, and glissandi. These techniques can be found in many 20 th- and 21 st-century works, but can also be used in jazz, blues, funk, and other popular genres. Additionally, the ability to partially cover any hole on the flute gives the player more flexibility in pitch control when certain difficulties present themselves in ensemble settings. All in all, open holes do open up a much wider range of possibilities for the player.

That all being said, many very successful flutists and pedagogues have used closed holed instruments throughout illustrious careers. Certain flute makers have models with closed left-hand holes with smaller toneholes and open right-hand holes, citing that the smaller toneholes with the closed key holes improves the pitch and response in certain registers on the instrument. Some players have even gone so far as to add modifications to their flutes, lengthening certain keys to put them in better ergonomic reach. Do an internet search for “flute key extensions” – they’re pretty cool!!

Just like inline versus offset G, open versus closed holes are really a matter of preference and need for each individual player. There may be a similar stigma that closed holes make a player “less professional,” but consider this: the late and great French flutist and pedagogue Marcel Moyse played a closed hole flute for his entire career! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a flutist should play what is most comfortable and what will help him or her be the best musician they can be. Period.

Moyse’s Flute