A lot of students complain of wrist pains, shoulder or neck strain, or other physical strains. It’s so important on the flute to make sure you are always holding the flute with the best hand position and posture to avoid long term injury.
Many flute players suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or other physical problems as they grow older. I’ve noticed several common mistakes in proper hand position and posture that you can easily fix.
1. Right hand wrist should be straight: There should not be any bend or dipping in the wrist. Some band directors inadvertently teach the incorrect right hand position without realizing it limits the ability of a flute player to facilitate technical passages with ease and fluid motion, and that it can cause long term physical damage to the wrist. A bent wrist can equal long term pain down the road.
2. Marching Band Position (or that’s what I call it): Sorry, I know this one may stir up anger in the marching band community, but the parallel flute with flute pulled back to be in line with the shoulders is one of the most damaging positions a flute player can use to hold the flute. Because of the transverse (out to the side) nature of the flute, the marching band position causes back, shoulder, and neck strain that can lead to long term physical pain. Trust me, I’ve spent many, many years in marching band and remember the constant strain. And, this position does nothing to benefit your sound. Not only does it constrict the air passages and your ability to produce proper vibrato, but it contributes to a closed throat and sharp tone for flute players. (Note, you can correct the pitch but, your sound will not be your concert sound).
So, yes, follow your band director's required flute position during various rehearsals, but when you practice on your own or if you are free to change that flute angle up, try this. Gently push your right hand forward until the flute is slightly in front of your body. For most people, it creates an approximate 45 degree angle with the flute and shoulders. I also recommend a slight downward angle of the footjoint so that the flute is not quite parallel, but I would speak to your private lesson teacher to help you find the best angle. Every one is a little different. Keep in mind, you don’t ever want your right arm to touch the side of your body. It should be away slightly. Check out this video clip from a Mary Karen Clardy (professor of flute at the University of North Texas) for some great tips on flute angles and sitting.
3. Moderate Exercise and Stretches: These will help you stay healthy and be able to withstand the muscle strain playing flute may put on your body. Stretches are very beneficial for flute players, so make them a part of your daily practice routine. These can include shoulder stretches, arm stretches, neck stretches, etc.
4. Balance the Flute: Make sure you are balancing, not gripping the flute. The three balance points I teach include the right hand thumb (slightly behind flute body--not sticking out in front!), left hand crook of the index finger and the chin. If you can balance the flute without the rods rolling back using only these three points, you will alleviate improper gripping and pressure as your fingers switch from note to note. It takes a while to develop the correct balance, so practice over a bed or couch so you won’t harm your flute if you drop it. Practice third space C to fourth line D slowly and with as little finger movement as possible.
My rule of thumb is if you are experiencing tension or pain while you are playing, then you are probably holding the flute in an awkward position or putting too much tension on some part of your body. Listen to what your body is telling you and work to fix it during EVERY practice session. If you allow the incorrect habits to continue, the pain will continue.
I hope these ideas and tips help! Happy practicing!