Playing the Wooden Flute

Fingering Chart

Combination Simple-System Fingering Chart

This chart shows fingerings for simple system, 4-key, 6-key, and 8-key wooden flutes. This chart is based on a fingering chart by Terry McGee, an Australian flute maker. The top six lines on the fingering chart represent the six holes on a simple system flute and correspond to the left index finger, left middle finger, left ring finger, right index finger, right middle finger, and right ring finger respectively.  The next four lines represent the keys of a 4-key flute and correspond to the Bb, G#, short F, and Eb keys respectively.  The next two lines represent the additional 2 keys of a 6-key flute, corresponding to the high C and long F keys respectively.  The bottom two lines represent the additional 2 keys of an 8-key flute, corresponding to the low C# and low C keys respectively.

Please note that it may not be possible to obtain all chromatic pitches from every variety of instrument. Fingerings which use only blue dots can be played on a simple system flute. Fingerings showing red dots can only be played on a flute with 4 or more keys. Fingerings showing green dots can only be played on a flute with 6 or more keys. Fingerings showing purple dots can only be played on flutes with 8 keys.

Baroque 1-Key Fingering Chart

This was contributed by Clive Catterall to the woodenflute email list.

Paul Mulvaney's Flute Tutorial Essay

This is the essay form of a lecture/lesson plan delivered by Paul Mulvaney at the New England Folk Festival in Natick, Massachusetts, USA.

Notes for Böhm Flutists

Lark in the Morning's Mickie Zeckley pointed out to me that many beginning Irish flute players (myself included) who are accustomed to metal Böhm flutes have difficulty with their wooden instruments when they first start playing.  Typically, the first attempts to produce a sound will result in an airy tone and sharp pitches, perhaps as much as 1/2 step sharp.  You should be aware of two things which will help correct this:

  1. Typically Böhm flutists align the center of the embouchure hole with the center-line of the finger holes.  For wooden flutes, you should turn the embouchure hole approximately 20 degrees (about 1/16th of a rotation) toward you.  This will leave the far edge (the sounding or blowing edge) in line with the center-line of the finger holes.
  2. Blow down into the embouchure hole more than on a Böhm flute.  Attempt to achieve a harsh, reedy sound rather than the more sine-wave sound of a metal flute.

The following two sound samples are the same instrument, performer, and fingering.   Note that the sample blown across the embouchure hole is airy and the pitch is sharp.

Irish Melody Basic Styles

Most traditional Irish tunes can be divided into two sections, typically referred to as the A and B sections.  The songs can be further categorized based on the time signature and style of the piece. 


Reels are usually notated in 4/4 time.  They are usually played with a primary accent on beat 1 and a secondary accent on beat 3.


Jigs are usually notated in 6/8 time.  They are usually played with a primary accent on beat 1 and a secondary accent on beat 4.  This gives the jig a feel of 2 beats of triplets per measure.

Slip Jig

Slip jigs are usually notated in 9/8 time.  They are usually played with a primary accent on beat 1 and secondary accents on beats 4 and 7.  This gives the slip jig a feels of 3 beats of triplets per measure.


Hornpipes are usually notated in 4/4 time.  They are usually played with a "swing" feel placing an accent on each beat followed by an unaccented eighth note.


Airs are slow, haunting melodies open to much interpretation.  They are usually heavily ornamented and wander away from strict rythms.

Irish Ornaments

Describing Irish flute ornaments will be made much easier by establishing a convention for representing fingerings at this point.  The fingering chart system that I am about to describe is frequently used by flutists, with some extentions to cover keyed instruments.  Each of the six finger holes on the flute is represented by a number when closed or a hyphen when open.  The left index finger is 1, left middle finger is 2, etc.  Look at the following examples:

D 123456
E 12345-
A 12----
d -23456
g 123---
b 1-----


A cut is an articulating ornament used either to onament the beginning of a note or to separate repetitions of the same note.  It is frequently notated as a grace note a scale degree above the cut pitch.  There appear to be two schools of thought on how to accomplish a cut.  The bottom line is that a cut is accomplished by starting with a forked fingering then quickly lowering the missing finger to produce a quick articulating pop at the beginning of a note.  The difference between the two methods of accomplishing this is simply a question of which finger is lifted. 

Cuts-Method 1

The first method suggests lifting the finger above the lowest (highest numbered) finger used to play the desired pitch.  For example to produce a cut on D, one would raise the finger above the lowest finger used to play low D (1234-6), then drop it to play D (123456).  A cut on F# would be 12-4--, 1234--.  A cut on A would be -2----, 12----. 

Cuts-Method 2

The second method suggests using the middle finger of the left hand to produce the cut for all pitches except B and C#.  Examples:

D 1-3456 123456
f# 1-34-- 1234--
g 1-3--- 123---

Cuts on B and C#

Either method requires special cases for B and C#.  In the case of B, the left index finger is used, leaving us with ------, 1----- for a cut on B.  To the best of my understanding, cuts notated on C# are ignored by flutists.


A tap is an articulating ornament used either to onament the beginning of a note or to separate repetitions of the same note.  It is frequently notated as a grace note a scale degree below the tapped pitch.  A tap is accomplished by lowering one or more fingers below the pitch being played, and then raising them to produce a scooping or snapping sound at the beginning of a note.  For example, a tap on F# might use the fingerings:  1234--, 12345-, 1234--.  An alternative would be: 1234--, 123456, 1234--.


There are two types of rolls, categorized as fast and slow.  Both types are performed as a cut followed by a tap.  For a fast roll, the cut and tap happen in quick succession to produce a single complex ornament which articulates a pitch.   Slow rolls are usually used to produce 2 articulations to break a pitch that is repeated a total of three times.

Finger Vibrato

Finger vibrato is generally accomplished by covering and uncovering the hole two holes below the note being played.  That is, when playing a G you would use the middle finger right hand to play the vibratro.  (Many thanks to Andrew Pickering for contributing this definition).

Finger vibrato is similar to classical breath vibrato used when playing modern flute, but affords the flutist more control of the rate and depth of the vibrato.

Online Sheet Music Collections


Physiology of Breathing

Many thanks to Gregory Davis, who contributed this section (some edits made) via an email to the woodenflute list:

Inspiration (inhaling, not the stimulating variety) and expiration (exhaling, not the dying kind) are a function of different pressures existing within the lungs and the atmosphere at any given moment in time.  These differences in pressure are called "pressure gradients."  Gases (air) move from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure, "down a pressure gradient."  The atmosphere is basically going to have a constant pressure (760 mmHg at sea level, rising slightly with elevation), so the pressure of the air in our lungs must change in order for us to breathe.  The pressure of the air in our lungs changes as we change the volume (size) of our thoracic (chest) cavity.  As the volume of our thorax increases, the pressure of the air within our lungs decreases to around 758 mmHg and air moves from the atmosphere (760 mmHg) into our lungs.  As the volume of our thorax decreases, the pressure of the air within our lungs increases to around 762 mmHg and air moves from our lungs to the atmosphere.  The "respiratory muscles" are responsible for the change in volume of the chest cavity.

Muscles of Respiration

Muscles of Inspiration

These are the external intercostals (between the ribs) and the diaphragm.  The intercostals pull the ribs upward and outward to increase the volume of the chest cavity.   The diaphragm moves downward, towards the stomach, to increase chest volume.   The overall effect is an expansion of the chest cavity and lungs with an associated increase in lung volume and a drop in lung air pressure.  We inhale!  The abdominal muscles play no role in the actual movement of air into the lungs but they do help. When the belly is "pushed out" it actually drops the stomach a tad allowing the diaphragm more room to contract in it's downward motion.  This allows us to "pull" more air into the lungs.  The intercostals' role is also important here in allowing us to inhale more air.  They increase the chest size in it girth and increases our air intake.  So, both the diaphragm and intercostals are the muscles of respiration and, I think, "should" be important to any wind instrument player.

Muscles of Expiration

Well, during normal, passive, quiet breathing there are no muscles of expiration.   The chest cavity and lungs are very elastic and naturally recoil when the inspiratory muscles are turned off.  This reduces the volume and increases the pressure in the lungs and we exhale.  Now, for playing a wind instrument, whistling, talking, singing, etc. we can enhance the natural recoil of the chest and voluntarily contract the muscles of "forced" expiration.  This is where the abdominals play a major role, as well as a few other, not-to-be-mentioned-unless-you-really-want-to-know, muscles.  The abdominals, et al, contract and exert pressure upwards onto the diaphragm to reduce the volume in the chest and accelerate exhaling or slow it down depending on the need.

Suffice it so say that expanding the chest wall is every bit as important as pushing that belly out to let the diaphragm do it's thing.  I haven't been playing the flute and whistle long enough to discover all of the subtle nuances involved here.  I'm sure that there is a bit more practicality associated with playing the flute and breathing than what is written in texts.  However, this thread has interested me and I thought that I would help shed a little more light, dim as it may be, on the subject.

Now, everyone: stand erect, expand that chest, and drop that diaphragm.  Inhale!   Ahhhhh, it's good to have the oxygen level in the brain rise once more to it's optimal level.  Now, what was this thread all about in the first place?

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Celtic Music Society is an outstanding traditional Irish music ensemble from East Rochester High School in East Rochester, New York. Our website features information on the group, mp3 recordings of performances, instructional materials, music, links, and more.

The flute at the top of this page was made by Terry McGee of Australia, and is his 6-key R.S. Pratten's Perfected model. It is based on a flute by Boosey & Co, London, but Terry has made several refinements in the design. It is valued at approximately $2400 US.