Flutopedia - an Encyclopedia for the Native American Flute

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Finger Layout    Intermediate

The finger layout for a particular flute says which fingers you place of which holes on the flute. The fingers are indicated by:

  • T = thumb
  • 1 = index finger
  • 2 = middle finger
  • 3 = ring finger
  • 4 = pinky
  • - = the separation between the two hands

For example, the typical finger layout for a contemporary Native American flute is 123-123.

Finger hole layout in a typical mid-range six-hole Native American flute

Finger hole layout in a typical mid-range six-hole Native American flute. Finger layout 123-123 Larger image

The fingers are listed in the order of the holes from top to bottom on the flute, regardless of where on the circumference of the body of the flute the hole is located. For example, a seven-hole flute with an uppermost thumb hole on the back might have a finger layout of T123-123.

However, if the thumb hole is actually further down the flute than the first hole on the front (such as in the khlui), the finger layout might be 1T23-123.

One shortcoming of this notation happens when the two hands cross. This can happen, for example, on a flute where the pinky finger of the upper hand covers a hole that is actually below a thumb hole of the lower hand, as can happen on the sopilka. In this case, the finger layout is written like this: T123-T-4-123 - there is a “-” every time the hands switch.

Note that finger layout doesn't say anything about which hands are the upper and lower hands on the instrument.

Also note that offsetting a finger hole by rotating it around to a different position on the bore does not affect the pitch produced. The pitch is primarily dependent on the station of the finger hole (location along the length of the sound chamber) as well as the size of the finger hole, thickness of the wall at the finger hole, and other factors.

Offset finger holes on a right-handed flute

Offset finger holes on a right-handed, 123-123 flute Larger image

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