Closed hole flute

Closed hole flute DEFAULT

An Open or Closed Hole Flute

Yet another conundrum facing flautist, students and their parents is whether to purchase an open or closed hole flute.  Believe it or not, there is still a lot of debate regarding which key type is “better”. I personally think “better” is the completely wrong paradigm to use in this scenario. But first, what is the physical difference between them?

The Open Hole Flute

Open Hole Flute

The idea of the open hole flute can be traced back to the s with Clair Godfroy and Louis Lot[1]. Despite open holes traditionally belonging to the French Model Flute famous French flautist Marcel Moyse did not embrace the idea. Basically, an open holed flute has holes in the middle of 5 different keys (A, G, F, E and D). In order for the flute to produce a &#;normal&#; sound, the flautist has to both press the keys down and cover the holes so that no air can escape.

The Closed Hole Flute

Closed Hole Flute

The closed hole flute which is also called the plateau flute does not have holes in the keys. This means the flautist need only press the keys down. Typically, this is referred to as a German model flute. Interestingly enough Theobald Boehm, German composer and flautist who invented the modern-day flute, believed that closed hole flutes were of superior quality to its open hole counter-part.

An Ongoing Debate

I personally find phrases like “better than”, “superior” and “inferior” a very narrow way of thinking. Up until today, there have been no objective means of measuring whether open or closed hole flutes are “better”. Both sides seem to present reasonable arguments.

Pros for Closed Holes

Pros for Open Holes

-Has apparently less turning problems
-Apparently lets you play faster
-Apparently sounds ‘better’ and gives the player more control of their tone

But now let’s look at the context.


I personally recommend beginners play a closed hole flute. There is little benefit to them starting off with open holes. This is because all the flute repertoire that requires an open hole flute is quite advanced. My reason for recommending closed hole flutes for beginners is because in order to play an open holed flute you have to be very precise with where you place your fingers on the keys, which does not come naturally for anyone. As a teacher, I find that the most challenging part of learning flute is getting the sound out and coordinating your fingers.

A Flute Problem

It’s very different to piano and violin where every beginner is guaranteed the instant satisfaction of producing a sound. Some young flautists have to work very hard to get a sound and adding anything else, like open holes would just be too much. Another reason for closed holes is younger student’s fingers may not be big enough to adequately cover the holes. While you can buy special plugs for the holes I have seen them fall out of flutes and get lost on numerous occasions which again makes a closed hole flute a more practical option. However, if you are looking for a step up flute my recommendation changes.

When to Get an Open Hole Flute

I strongly advise people to purchase an open hole flute when they swop to an intermediate flute because:

  1. Many works composed for flute from the s onwards were specifically written for and thus can only be played on an open holed flute. This is because composer like Takemitsu, Thomas Reiner, Robert Dick, Ian Clarke and numerous others make use of extended techniques. These are methods of extending the sound flute beyond what it was traditionally intended to be and includes things like multiphonics, glissandos, a different tone and quarter tones. If you want to be a flautist in the 21stcentury I cannot stress how important it is that you are able to play works from both the 20thand 21stcenturies for which you need an open holed flute.
  2. Open holes also force students to fix any sloppy technique and hand position, this, in turn, increases the speed they can play at and significantly improves their overall technique.

Decisions, Decisions

If you are looking to purchase an advanced to professional flute then the choice is entirely yours. By now you should know what type of repertoire you want to focus on and your technique should be developed enough for it not to influence your decision. Essentially it all comes down to your personal preference as neither is really better than the other.


When Marcel Moyse claimed closed hole flutes to be superior the works and techniques for open hole flutes hadn’t been developed yet. Consequently, it would have seemed like an unnecessary trend. Today if you passionately dislike music composed after and love baroque and classical it might make more sense to look at a closed hole flute but again it’s up to you.

I personally see no reason beyond that of education to learn baroque and classical styled music. It has all been played and recorded hundreds of times. I am passionate about works that are new and exciting so naturally, I have chosen an open holed flute.

[1]The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers &#; Nancy Toff

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Six of the keys on an open-holed flute are just that, open holes in the keys.  When purchased new, these flutes come with little rubber corks in the holes.  After a player is brave and ready, they can remove these corks all at once or one at a time.  At first it takes a little adjustment to make sure the finger-tops can properly seal off the entire hole.  Until the holes are sealed well the player sounds a bit on the airy or squeaky side.  It&#;s not a big deal though.  Anyone can learn to play well on an open-holed flute.


Does an open-holed flute sounds better than a closed-hole flute?


Open-Hole Flutes vs. Closed-Hole Flutes

So, the big question is; Does an open-holed flute sounds better than a closed-hole flute?.  The answer in a nutshell is no.  But, there are some points to be explored before you can fully have your own opinion.

Improved hand position is promoted when using an open-holed flute.  Those finger tops need to be centered on the hole in order to not have any extra air leaking.  Leaking air coincides with squeaks and poor tone.  Good hand position improves natural movement which equals relaxed, faster, fluid fingers.

Improved volume and tone is a possibility only because it has become a tradition that flutes of higher quality mostly all have open-holes. The higher the quality, the higher the price tag is also.  Volume and tone can be attributed to the ability of the player for the most part, and a nicely made instrument of quality materials can only enhance their experience.


Why would anyone choose to play an open-hole vs. a closed-hole flute?


So why would anyone choose to play an open-hole vs. a closed-hole flute?

Extended techniques are needed when a flutist decides to stray from standardized flute repertoire.  Flexibility in altering pitch now becomes an easier possibility for the player with the open-holed flute.   Bending of the notes, glissandos, quarter tones, etc. are just some of the techniques needed in modern repertoire and jazz music, but only a very small percentage of the flute-learning population will have a need for these extended techniques.  Some of these can easily be accomplished on the close-holed flute as well.

Some history to note is that many years ago the French decided to begin using open holes on six of the flute keys.  This started a trend that has continued for flutes above the student level.

There are many admirable players around the world who do not play on open-hole flutes.  The choice between open or closed-hole is a preference, mostly.   But because of accessibility most intermediate and advanced players use the open-holed flute.  However, special orders can be made through manufacturers to have closed hole keys placed on upper-model flutes.

When would a player find open-holes inconvenient?  When they have a bandaid on the top of any given finger.  The solution to this problem is to use a cork the flute came with to make it a closed hole flute again.

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Closed versus Open Hole Flutes?

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Closed versus Open Hole Flutes?

To start with most learners will play on a closed hole flute, where all the keys you touch are covered by metal. This makes it much easier to produce first notes as you don't have to worry about whether your fingers are covering any holes. 

When you reach grade 6 standard your teacher may recommend to try an open hole flute as part of your selection of upgrades. Without the holes being plugged with bungs made of various materials (even silver to camouflage) the first time you play an open hole flute it will not sound brilliant as the fingers will not be accustomed to the correct hand position needed, but don't let this put you off, try the flutes with the holes bunged up to get a better idea of tone and you can train your fingers after by removing one bung at a time starting from the bottom.  

Here are some of the benefits to using open hole flutes:

  • .Encourages good technique by enforcing a good hand position
  • .Allows the production of microtones, multiphonics and slides for jazz and contemporary music.
  • .Some people believe open holes make a purer sound but this is highly debated and not something I personally feel is true.

We have a wide range of open hole flutes in our shop in Taunton, Somerset available to try. Give us a call on (option 1) to get some advice and arrange to test some out!

See Open Hole Flutes here


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Hole flute closed

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Novello Closed Hole Flute

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