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The Difference Between Open & Closed Hole Flutes

The flute is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world, preceded perhaps only by the drum. It has gone through a series of evolutions from prehistoric times until the modern day. The concert flute as we know it was invented by Theodore Boehm, who patented his complex key system in 1847. Flautists today can chose between several different variants of the concert flute, including optional keys and rollers. One more familiar variation is open hole or closed hole keys.

Closed-hole flutes

Closed hole flute

The keys of a closed-hole flute are solid, "plateau" keys. There is no way for the air to escape when the key is depressed.

Open hole flutes

An open hole flute has "ring" keys--keys with a hole in the center that is covered by the finger when the key is pressed. This type of flute is called "French style."

Advantages of Closed Hole Flutes

The closed hole flute is generally considered a student instrument, although some European professionals prefer closed hole keys. The solid keys provide a tight seal, which produces an accurate, clean tone. The player does not need to worry about a fuzzy tone cause by a poorly covered hole.

Advantages of Open Hole Flutes

Open hole flutes are more difficult to play. To produce a clear tone, the player's fingers must completely cover the holes in the depressed keys. Besides producing a louder, clearer tone in the lower octave, the holes allow for a whole range of harmonics, over-tones and quarter-tones not available with a closed hole flute.

Making the Transition

A student making the transition from a closed hole flute to an open hole flute must practice carefully, making sure that his fingers are in the center of the keys and that each hole is completely covered when a key is pressed. There are removable, clear plastic plugs that a student can use until this meticulous finger position is learned.