Sign in to follow this  

Woodwind Fingerings

Recommended Posts

Hello dear musicians, music lovers and everyone!

I'd like to describe fingerings for music instruments with tone holes (which almost means woodwinds) and the associated mechanics.

My goals for these fingerings are:

  1. Open all holes below the height-defining one, at least on the two first registers;
  2. Have no difficult key nor sequence of notes;
  3. Not need to close a hole and open an other simultaneously, at least on the two first registers. That's a difficulty of the flute;
  4. Need few tone holes regularly spaced and reasonable mechanics;
  5. But I don't primarily address the ease or possibility to disassemble the instrument.

1) and 4) make the sound quality more even and let build an instrument with better intonation.

To achieve that, my very own personal proposal (... other people have proposed so many!) is:

  • Give one half-tone to the index, middle finger and ring finger of each hand, to cover the upper part of all registers;
  • Continue lower by approximately 4 half-tones with the little fingers. Each has the full set of keys like on the Boehm clarinet;
  • Continue even lower by approximately 5 half-tones with the thumbs. Each has the full set of keys too;
  • Trills near a register limit are made by the little fingers or thumbs, so the registers must overlap. No extra tone hole.
  • Have register keys at the thumbs. Preferably, each thumb has the full set of register keys.

The third register and above can't be common to all instruments: an additional register key suffices for some, others need cross fingerings, still others have extra tone holes. One finger for each of the highest six holes make cross fingerings more flexible. Expect differences among the instruments at the two first registers too.

The thumbs, being agile in two directions, are the best fingers to operate several keys - bassoon players can confirm.

The full set of keys at right and left little fingers is very convenient on the Boehm clarinet, where musicians alternate the notes among the hands. I propose to generalize it to the thumbs, both for lower notes and register keys.

Drawings to come should make it clearer. They take me a little time.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

  • Upvote 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Have a keyboard hooked up to a machine that plays the woodwind? Keyboards are easy in comparison. I can play stringed instruments best.... but from dabbling, keyboards are far easier when it comes to the fingering techniques and strength needed.


There are some good settings on the kaosilator pro - the original was a toy, but this new one (the pro 2) is SO amazing. The wind settings sound like real instruments and the playability is SO intuitive. It uses a touch pad with left to right to adjust tone and notes (which you can have as an analogue sliding scale, chromatic steps or even set to a particular key, scale or mode) and has effects (volume, echo distortion whatever) on the vertical. It has a good drum machine and a looper built in (which could longer, you only get about 8 to 16 bars repeat) and I think it is supposed to be for DJs, but I LOVE it for soloing with wind instrument sounds or distorted guitar sounds.


Honestly... I have played the guitar for over 30 years and still struggle to play the solos I want to play... I had this thing 5 mins and could convert what I was thinking in my head into the exact sounds nearly that I was going for... In 5 mins of playing with it you can be Joe Satriani - as you think of what you want to play and move your fingers over the pad - the sounds are generated. (I suppose it takes SOME talent to play - but so easy as you literally cannot hit a wrong not due to the fact you have set it to only hit notes from the key you want to play in). You can bend and slide note like you can on a guitar - it is very cool.


I know this isn't what you were looking for - but thought I'd share it as it is kind of relevant.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi DrP, nice to see you here!


The very nature and usefulness of a forum are the contributions that don't go in the expected direction, so "isn't what you were looking for" is absolutely fine.


A somewhat similar attempt was at the octo-basse, an oversized bowed string instrument made by Vuillaume. As the musician couldn't reach the top of the strings, he played the notes' height on a keyboard, and a mechanical transmission pressed the strings at the corresponding length. No electricity needed. And believe it or not, the Montreal symphonic orchestra has recently bought such an instrument.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

What do you think of the flute sound from 0.34 seconds on in this tune? It comes and goes throughout the track and trades melodies with other instruments. Excuse the rather shrill intro I was experimenting. Some of the track I like but it does get weird in places, I am just posting it as an example of a simulated wind instruments.



I do play the bass... that octo bass is aq bit much though, lol. Needs to be with an orchestra for sure.

Edited by DrP
  • Upvote 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

This first drawn example addresses woodwinds that cover naturally some 2.5 octaves: oboe family, saxophone, tárogató, sarrusophone and rothphone...
it doesn't apply as is to the bassoon nor clarinet family.

The existing fingerings of the saxophone (the sarrusophone and rothphone have the same) are rather convenient but need complicated mechanics, and the holes closed below the height-defining one make the sound quality and intonation unequal. Additionally, the traditional tárogató has less convenient fingerings and the oboe family requires more complicated mechanics.


So that's my proposal, here with 4 plateaux operated by the little fingers and 5 by the thumbs: (click to enlarge)


The musician can use the right or left little finger for any of the four notes, and the right or left thumb for any of the five thumb notes. As on the Boehm clarinet, it lets alternate the right and left hands on successive notes.


The little finger keys close 1, 2, 3 or 4 plateaux at once, but at least the fingers don't have to slide between the keys. Big saxophones may better transfer one plateau to the thumbs. Tightness requires accurate mechanics, to be described later.

Trills require only to extend the second and third registers by a full tone. For the medium C-D, one thumb must hold the speaker key and the D key while the other trills the C, so either the speaker and D keys must be close enough, or an additional key acting on both is provided.

My proposal has just one tone hole for each note. This reduces some losses, and spreads evenly the extra volume of the closed holes, whose effect is easier to compensate, including at the harmonics.


The drawn third register is theoretical!

Early saxophones and sarrusophones had foreseen it that way, using the lower speaker hole with the upper tone holes. For supposedly good reasons, they now have extra tone holes to play the high notes on the second register and make trills too. This can combine with my proposal.

The note height of the third register and above follows no simple logic with the narrow tone holes of the oboe, bassoon, tárogató, for which the drawn fingerings are inaccurate. Nearly all use cross-fingerings instead, where an isolated tone hole is open at a pressure node (sometimes at several) well above the main transition between closed and open holes. This spoils the lower modes and reflects better the desired mode. My design's highest six tone holes are independent, which gives full flexibility to cross-fingerings, and all the holes open below the main transition ease the emission.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy




Hi DrP, I'll come back!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The thumbs and little fingers must close many tone hole covers at once, and perfect tightness demands accurately synchronized keyworks.


On the saxophone, the F, E and D covers close the F# accurately, with years-proof adjustments through cork thickness, so a small adaptation shall fit my purpose:



The tubes' diameter gives stiffness over a good length, the other subparts are cast and soldered, as usual. Lower covers act directly on higher ones, not as a daisy-chain: stiffer and more accurate.

Assembling the instrument's joints can be done naturally at the ends of the little fingers' section and thumbs' section. Key overlaps can transmit the movement between the joints as on the clarinet, and pressing the covers down (blue key on the sketch) when assembling spares the corks. The keys for the right little finger can have a common axis nearly aligned with the covers' one, optionally shared with the keys for the left finger. The keys for the thumbs would rather have an axis at the bottom left or right, transmitting the movement to the lower joint at an instrument's side. It seems logic to have the axis at one side for the little fingers' covers and at the other side for the thumbs' covers.

Individual finger keys could have acted on several covers at the transmission between the joints, but I expect mounting inaccuracies to create leaks then. It would also demand to press all covers individually when assembling: less easy with big instruments.


If the instrument's section bearing the little fingers' or thumbs' section makes a U-turn, like the boot does on a bassoon, synchronizing the covers seems easy too:



Such keyworks look quiet, simple and affordable, and on some instruments (oboe?) the other holes operated by one finger each can be open, with no cover at all. Could that make cheap instruments?

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The flute should benefit from my fingerings (hopefully).

Since Boehm's excellent improvements, every design detail thrives to minimize the losses: huge tone holes, no register key, at least two consecutive tone holes open at the main closed-open transition... Any departure results in a weak and dull sound. For instance the C# hole, which is located at D and is an oversized register key serving for just three notes, is far too small as a C# tone hole and makes horrible notes. F# are played with the ring finger, making difficult transitions with E. Eb must be opened but for D, whose transitions with any note are difficult. Cross-fingerings make the complete 3rd octave, and the combinations they need exclude many useful variations, for instance F# closing G# as on the saxophone. And as the 3rd G# uses a wrong tone hole ( C) it's badly low - I've played two exceptions only.

As a consequence, the flute has cumbersome fingerings, and about any small improvement is excluded. But I hope a big one is possible - tabula rasa.


Here the little fingers act like the six others to provide a half-tone each instead of four together. The thumbs make 5 more notes, as most flutes go to low C, and have no register key. The flutist shall hold the instrument (very precisely as a flute) at his palms with handles like a bassoon; this needs careful design.


Click for full size:

Fingerings are uniformly easy on the two first octaves.

Trills at the lower end of the 2nd octave are questionable, since these notes aren't good on the Boehm flute. Maybe an added low B improves that, or a tiny register key serving for these C C# D only and opened by a thumb key along the three note keys for simultaneous use - or add the usual trill keys near the throat.


Being completely independent, the high 8 note holes give full flexibility to cross-fingerings at the 3rd octave and above. Written one octave lower than it sounds.


Click for full size:

Simple logic (H3, H4, H5, H6...) applies fully to the Boehm flute and I use it here too.

D Eb E F F# (optionally C#) open one hole at the 3rd pressure node and all holes beginning at the 4th. The thumbs note holes are not displayed, only the keys.

G G# could also open just the holes at the 3rd and 4th pressure nodes and all holes beginning at the 5th. Not done on the Boehm flute, may ease the pp. G# must intonate perfectly, big progress.

A can only open the holes 3rd and 4th+ nodes and should be nearly as good as G on present flutes, not as good as A which opens the 5th hole too.

Bb B C should improve as they open the proper 4th 5th 6th+ holes. Not needing the trill keys, they make easier transitions with other notes.

C# is the last accessing the 4th node but the first accessing the 8th (or 7th) one. Most present instruments can play an F with uncertain stability and intonation. My fingerings improve that, hopefully.


The development of such a flute should be a reasonable effort, as the holes positions and sizes could nearly be kept and their adjustments are intuitive. The C joint is 3 holes longer, the main joint 3 shorter, the head is kept. The rest is keyworks.

Beyond the flute, only the clarinet has logical cross-fingerings, but isn't a candidate for such fingerings.

The oboe family and tárogató play the upper register with cross-fingerings, so this design for the flute should benefit them as well. Shift all holes and fingerings one note lower to emit Bb, or add thumb keys, plus register keys. Though, the small tone holes, which are vital to a double reed's sound quality, and distinguish the tárogató from a saxophone, make cross-fingerings unpredictable. So a design would need both to define the best cross-fingerings and let them intonate properly, which takes more time.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

What do you think of the flute sound from 0.34 seconds on in this tune?


Amazing. I only don't see why it should be called "flute", but to my opinion, synthesized music doesn't need to reproduce existing instruments.


By the way, this sound is periodic, as about any one from a synthesizer, so it has no chance to imitate a flute, a sax, a violin... whose sound is inherently non-periodic. The misconception (sound quality = harmonics) dates back to Helmholtz and is carefully propagated to new student generations since then. With a periodic sound, one can more or less imitate a clarinet or an oboe.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The last fingerings I proposed look excellent for the flute - simple, flexible - and the drawbacks small - high A, middle D and two trills less than perfect. But these fingerings fit the oboe, saxophone and others less well:

  • The middle C on the second register isn't normal on the oboe and is bad on the saxophone;
  • These instrument go usually to low Bb;

which justifies my fingerings of Jul 01, 2017 for them.

A first improvement is to attribute (approximately) four notes to the indexes rather than the little fingers, because

  • They are stronger, faster and more mobile;
  • They move easily in the opposite direction to the other fingers. This eases cross-fingerings.

A second improvement, independently of the involved fingers, is to put the related group of toneholes near to the throat, not to the bell:

  • (Approximately) two covers can then be closed and two open at rest;
  • Moving them takes less force and is more quiet;
  • The keyworks are simpler and easier to adjust;
  • It's easy for the musician and keyworks to open one hole and close a lower one, as needed by high registers cross-fingerings;
  • On small instruments, the hands' location is more comfortable.


This example moves four covers from Bb to C# with six keys. Some keys address only cross-fingerings: open C# leave C, or close Bb leave B.

Other combinations are possible, including one key per hole and one finger targeting sometimes several, possibly at different phalanxes. Only experiments can tell.


The two lower registers' fingerings with both improvements can become: (click for full size)



I won't risk any forecast about cross-fingerings for higher registers on these instruments. Holes can be opened independently from C# down to Eb now - four notes more for big flexibility.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Being narrow contrabasses, both Tubax (which are morphed saxophones, longer and narrower) must have a huge natural range.
Their saxophone fingerings hamper exploiting it as they prevent many open-closed combinations that reach the high notes. The fingerings I last proposed (Jul 08, 2017) improve that.

The same holds for the low sarrusophones and rothphones.

I would keep independent register keys on such instruments, with no automatic works. A wide set of them, operated equivalently by both thumbs when they don't play the five low notes. But for C-D trill, a single thumb must press at once the cover for D and the (lower) second register key.

Tone holes not too large make cross fingerings more efficient. Tube bendings should be wide.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

  • Upvote 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

"One key per hole and one finger targeting sometimes several, possibly at different phalanges", as mentioned on Jul 08, 2017, may be better than the six keys moving four platters. When cross-fingerings need both indexes, these can't alternate between the notes; switching betweens the phalanges seems easier than sliding a finger among several keys or key pairs.


Applies again to the families of the saxophone and tubax, oboe and heckelphone, sarrusophone and rothphone, tárogató. The flute family keeps its simpler system of Jul 02, 2017, and the clarinet and bassoon families need something else.

Here's an example of fingerings for but four octaves, meaningful for contrabasses but plethoric for sopranos. While low instruments with wide tone holes tend to follow this flute logic, the oboe and tárogató intonate the upper registers quite higher; for them, the example merely shows that the system is flexible enough.

Below the emitted higher register note, I indicate its sub-harmonics, corresponding to open note holes. Following Obukhov here, one note marked with an x is half a tone higher.



Clarinettists happily use the distal and middle phalanges of the left index. For completely independent keys, I feel the height of one must be adjusted to each musician, as is done on some saxophones.

The thumbs must press the low D key together with more register keys on the example, hence the elongated shape.

The indexes could act separately, each on two tone holes at the top of each hand. The simpler keyworks offer less flexibility at the lower registers.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy


Edited by Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's an even more correct version of the upper registers fingerings for the oboe family and similar. Hard to draw without mistakes, but never mind, musicians have years to learn and train them.


We see that the four highest tone holes (moved by the indexes here) are seldom open simultaneously. The first note needing it is the F three octaves and a quint above the instrument's lowest note, hardly accessible to a soprano, and the (not represented) next one is the C at four octaves and a prime, reachable by few basses and CB.

This suggests the next keyworks for the oboe family and similar: saxophone and tubax, tárogató, sarrusophone and rothphone, heckelphone.

The four covers shall be closed at rest (eases tightness) and have individual keys for cross-fingerings, plus three keys that open several covers by one finger action for the lower registers.


This keeps the alternate action of both fingers on one key at a time, but needs 7 keys for these fingers. Maybe in two rows as on the Boehm clarinet, and indexes shall move a lot. At instruments that reach it, the F requires two indexes, and one shall jump to an other key for some note sequences - or foresee an 8th key to open these two covers.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a visual impression of the keyworks applied to an oboe. It looks simpler than the usual keyworks (YOB-831, Yamaha over Wiki), more so as I carefully forget to detail the transmissions and the 3-5 pairs of concentric shafts. The example has two local tone holes per index, an option suggested on Jul 23, 2017: easier drawing not done previously.


The musician carries the instrument at the metacarpus to move the thumbs freely. The here undetailed gear shall be snappy to extend or assemble.

The small fingers may not need hole covers. I draw 3 register keys for no reason; the same side at both hands looks simpler to build. Notice the D key usable together with the register keys.

Synchronizing the lower tone covers was described in Jul 02, 2017's first message. Levers pass the movement from the low thumb shafts to the high cover shafts; as the gear ratio varies among the shafts, a key closing more covers better has a longer stroke.

Instead of the oboe's extra lowest cover, I suggest the many holes added by Stowasser to the tárogató's bell - here with two diameters and locations for efficiency. Their adjustment is finer, they permit a shorter (and narrower?) bell part without key transmission. The example has a longer upper joint but a shorter lower one.

The holes' positions and diameters must be redefined, since a goal was to suppress to closed holes below the closed-open transition. Now the distribution can vary smoothly for consistent sound quality and response. Double reeds demand narrow tone holes; keep the chambers to dampen the unpleasant highest harmonics; consider several holes per chamber like the bassoon has. One design strategy would decide whether the cross-fingered registers play a full or half note above the flute logic, then design the holes and the bore taper for intonation.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The oboe's visual impression here above gives a sensation of easy prototyping, but developing a woodwind, more so an oboe, is accessible only to excellent professionals. A prototype needs:

A tube. That would be the easier part. If you don't have grenadilla dried for 20 years, take a plastic like ABS. Allegedly less good, but it may suffice for a trial. It needs a bore too, by a special-made reamer: obtaining it from a reamer company is cheap but you'll get one single shape, hence the oboe will intonate horribly and fail at the third octave. Alternately, use 3D printing for the tube: flexibility to try shapes, but the material will probably spoil the sound.

Keyworks. Much easier: they can be of brass and ugly for a trial. They need pads which can be bought as sets for oboe. The pads must be placed properly at the covers, but all instruments workshops do it, and many musicians too. Bits and pieces from old instruments can serve too, in combination with banal brass rods and tubes. Most instruments workshops can tinker that.

Skills, and that a big problem. An oboe needs (non-negotiable) tiny tone holes at bizarre locations, plus chambers at the tone holes, and so on. This needs months of experimentation by the acoustician of an instrument maker. The bore must be adjusted simultaneously. I have only a part of this skill and lack experience. Maybe one or two dozen people have it on this planet, and not at the universities. Software helps but won't replace experience there.

So a "quick" experiment with an oboe, where you can plug some tone holes and bore new ones, will only tell if the fingerings are convenient on the two first octaves. It won't tell whether the instrument sounds better on the two first octaves, and even less on the third one, which won't work at all at the beginning. Though, it is my other goal to improve also the sound of the instruments.


A flute would be much easier to experiment. Its tone holes are at the expected positions, its fingerings for the third octave are logical, and modifications to the hole positions act as expected. No big change to the bore is necessary. Many tone holes can stay where they are for a first trial. I expect even the third octave to work (imperfectly) right from the beginning.

It could be as "simple" as: take an existing metal flute, braze the C joint to the main joint for the first trial, suppress the thumb C and the small C# holes, add big C and C# holes at the top, simplify the three G and G# holes (or leave these), move the D# hole at the C joint. Make keyworks, mainly from bits of existing flutes. Try the instruments on the three octaves, make an intonation curve, adjust the hole positions accordingly.

An amateur can't do that usually, but some flute workshops can. I knew one man (he was 40+ in 1994) in Paris who did it - he let me try the sole and only flute worldwide that intonates properly, including the high G#, because he had moved the tone holes. He, or colleagues as good as him, could make a flute with my fingerings. Hence the quotes in "simple".

In contrast, developing an oboe with my fingerings, with a good sound, needs an oboe company, and probably not any company. Simpler trials will only tell if the fingerings are easy on the two first octaves.

The bassoon, which needs better fingerings more badly, is even more difficult than the oboe. If it can switch the octave around the C and still reach the high notes, fine... But I don't think so! Presently, it switches the octave at F, a quart higher (hence the many thumb keys), and the Heckel system has even 3 more tone holes, very high on the tube, for high notes. I'm still thinking at it. If I find promising fingerings, they will be badly difficult to implement: design a new instrument with tiny holes and intensive third and fourth octave cross-fingerings. Experience gained at the oboe may help.


Among the oboe-like instruments, a saxophone would be a much easier test vehicle for my fingerings.

Its big tone holes are more or less where one expects them, and the influence of their size and position is reasonable. Better: if you keep (at least for the trial) the D to F# keys for the upper register, you can neglect the cross-fingerings.

Then, you can just keep the tone holes in a first attempt, make the covers open at rest, and tinker keyworks according to my fingerings. The instrument will intonate badly (more so the short C) and have unequal sound quality, but this version already tells if musicians feel comfortable with the fingerings.

A second attempt would correct the sizes and positions of the tone holes, especially the ones that were previously followed by a closed cover. The regularly varying sizes and positions shall provide an even sound quality and ease of emission. More important than easier fingerings on a saxophone, whose throat C-C# are very dissimilar, and low Eb-D-C#-C too.

This must be easier at a soprano saxophone, as it fits no assembly between the Eb hole and the too high "D cover" (that emits the E). Synchronizing the thumb covers is also easier at a straight instrument.

At this second attempt, the tone holes can already be aligned at the body's upper face to simplify the keyworks. Starting from an existing instrument must be possible but not necessarily easier.

The third operation is to make the instrument intonate properly and try to reduce the sound quality mismatch at the octave boundary.

Then, one may check how interesting cross-fingerings are for the upper register. More interesting at lower saxophones, as their natural range is wider. My fingerings give full flexibility to their combinations, but a saxophone isn't very good nor logical at cross-fingerings, partly because of the wide bore, and I believe because of the chamber volume in the mouthpiece.

The tubax, low sarrusophones and low rothphones would need heavier redesign of the keyworks but benefit more from flexible cross-fingerings at the upper register.

The tárogató has smaller tone holes than the saxophone but far bigger than the oboe, and it uses only cross-fingerings at the upper register: it's an intermediate case.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

This how a flute can look like with the fingerings and keyworks proposed on Jul 02, 2017 11:21 pm. The reference is a YFL874HW, with the strongest low notes of all the flutes I tried.


The covers for the eight upper fingers are independent. Drawn with vented covers, in case they bring something. A pair of trill covers can outperform the lowest covers. My fingerings bring the hands nearer to the head, an advantage especially with alto flutes.

The musician holds the instrument at the metacarpus to move the thumbs freely; good handles remain to be found. The five lowest covers are open at rest and synchronized as proposed here on Jul 02, 2017 3:37 pm.

An alternative would ease the synchronization and the transmission between the joints, with the 2-3 lowest covers open at rest on a shorter footjoint and the others closed at rest on the main joint but often pressed open by the thumbs.

As this alternative would have the thumbs release a key when other fingers press some, I prefer the drawn first option, which also enables hypothetical register key(s) opened by the thumbs, with a cover at the headjoint used for instance above the third A.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is well known, but not by every musician: several notes on the Boehm flute use an imperfect combination of open holes which hamper the emission or the intonation.

Here are two examples of good notes, high E and high G. Following Obukhov where one note marked with a × is half a tone higher, the lowest line shows what notes a given tonehole can emit. On the flute they are nearly harmonic and have a pressure node at this tonehole's location, or more accurately, little below. High E and G open two properly located toneholes, which could each emit the desired note, and this reinforces the air column's resonance. It also spoils the unwanted modes of both individual toneholes, so that only the desired note resonates well. 3 and 4 being relatively prime in these examples, the next good resonance would be an octave higher, on modes 6 and 8.

If a flute has no split E mechanism, the tonehole emitting G# remains open for high E and makes it logically less stable.


Due to mechanical couplings meant for other notes on the Boehm flute, several notes use imperfect combinations of open holes. The high F# leaves open the tonehole for Bb and harmonics, half a note lower than the correct tonehole for B, making the high F# less stable than its neighbour F and G. The high G# opens the tonehole for C and harmonics, instead of the lacking tonehole for C#, so the high G# uses to be badly low. On most instruments, the high G# can't be fully corrected by the musician, who gets accustomed to play it out of tune.

This is what flutists should test at an instrument. Play legato repeatedly the high F-F#-G-F#- as pianissimo as possible, check when the F# disappears: it tells how difficult the instrument is on demanding détaché, fast, piano sequences. Play legato repeatedly the high G-G#-A-G#- without any lip correction, or simple intervals like Eb-Ab, and check the intonation: usually very poor. Play legato repeatedly the medium and high C-C#-D-C#- without any lip correction, and check the intonation by the index tonehole misused by the Boehm flute for C#. And of course, try the lowest notes forte and the highest ones pianissimo, but this doesn't result from mere hole combinations.


The explanation above is only a first analysis.

  • Even the flute's huge toneholes are inductive hence placed too high. Opening sereval holes for the third octave shifts the notes higher.
  • Makers of Boehm flutes adjust the toneholes' size and position ("scale") to improve the imperfections. But as each hole influences several notes, the adjustment is nontrivial and needs compromises.

About every flute today uses the (1972) Cooper scale, improved by Bennett. Its high A, despite opening the ill-placed tonehole for G#, is stable and in tune. Its high F# is in tune but imperfectly stable, its high G# is badly low, and both C# depend on each model. The New Cooper Scale is allegedly better.

I tried at a Paris repair shop the single only flute perfectly in tune because the expert had shifted the toneholes himself, but the low notes were weak. I tried around 2003 a new wooden flute by Yamaha with the "Type 4 scale" or its predecessor, which offers the strongest low notes ever and whose intonation is excellent, but soloist will supposedly dislike its soft tone.

So while better scales than Cooper-Bennett exist for the Boehm flute (wake up!), this tinkering is by nature limited and implies trade-offs. Further gains can result from small or big changes to the Boehm system.

  • Cooper had continued to experiment. For instance, he added at the thumb the missing C# tonehole. I ignore what mechanical couplings he foresaw and haven't tried such an instrument.
  • By making the eight high toneholes independent, my fingerings never open the wrong one, and hopefully avoid all trade-offs. The scale adjustments must be done again from scratch.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The cor anglais and baritone oboe have a pear-shaped bell
and to my ears, the resulting sound is seducing for five minutes but boring thereafter.

So I suggest, independently of the fingerings, to build them with the oboe's conical bell to get its narrow dark sound, and soften the lower notes using the same small holes near the bell as the tárogató has, as depicted there:

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The bassoon is by far the woodwind most in need of better fingerings, but also the most difficult to improve
Heckel made the last significant change a century ago.

It starts at Bb like many woodwinds but the second register begins higher and toneholes go to F, so the first register spans 20 notes plus Heckel's three holes for high notes. Its cross-fingerings span a major twelfth for a total of three octaves and a major sixth - the official range for which standard fingerings shall intonate decently; most bassoonists tell "four octaves", "four and a half", or "five". Many of the tone holes are tiny; some are very long too (about 60mm, almost a quarter wavelength at high notes) hence inductive and sit consequently very high on the tube, working almost like an ocarina.

Consequently, the bassoon has the most complicated keyworks, with many connections, alternate fingerings, and keys where you don't expect them. A fingering chart for the Heckel system:
9 and 4 keys at the thumbs, so charts show the left front, left rear, right front and right rear keys - part of bassoonists' snobbery. Note the flicked keys, half-open hole, four keys pressed simultaneously by one finger, resonance keys, numerous holes closed at rest, a cover for three tiny holes at once, and writing on bass, tenor and treble keys. Detailed views there:

This is how the range splits, including 16 holes able to open while the next lower is closed:


These fine people tried to put big tone holes at the proper places, often on a wider bore, and didn't succeed:

  • Triebert. His failed bassoon attempt is exposed at the Brussels museum.
  • Sax. His failed bassoon attempt is exposed at the Paris museum.
  • Gautherot. His sarrusophone sounds... It doesn't resemble a bassoon.
  • Guntram Wolf, during the computer era. He didn't market his bassoforte.

So let's see what can be done with the narrow tone holes and bore that double reeds demand. But since I want no closed tone holes below the closed-open transition, the hole positions and dimensions (aka "scale") will differ. This affects cross-fingerings and needs an important development time.

Hole diameters and lengths should vary slowly with the position. Consistent sound quality needs narrow holes at the throat, but I'd have holes of decent length with predictable effect on high notes. Presently, inductive holes let the beginning of the upper register sound half a tone higher than flute logic tells; could this be a tuning goal?


Here each upper finger closes one cover open at rest or opens with the proximal or medium phalanx one other cover closed at rest. The second set of keys is adjusted to each musician. Each thumb can close 1 to 6 of the lowest covers, so the musician alternates the thumbs like little fingers on the clarinet. Both thumbs manoeuvre the register key(s) too; adding some near the reed shall help play the contraforte
Does a fourth tone hole fit at the wing joint's top? Then all the fingerings can slip half a tone higher and the thumbs manoeuvre one cover more.

Here are fingerings for the first and second registers.


And these would be fingerings for the upper register according to simple flute logic which the bassoon does not follow due to its narrow tone holes: it tends to play cross-fingerings half a tone higher or more. So the diagram is merely an indication that these fingerings offer flexibility for cross-fingerings and cover the whole range - they even overlap nicely.


The Heckel bassoon needs action at the thumb covers for some high notes. With thumb covers all open, I hope it's unnecessary here.

As this fingering is highly regular, it lets choose a steady progression of hole diameter, length and position, which shall permit sound colour, ease of playing and intonation uniformly good.


I'm half pleased with the bassoon fingerings I propose here.

  • They need many transmissions between the joints. Don't disassemble the instrument and fold it more? But I like the bassoon shape.
  • Are they convenient? Unclear to me, and difficult to assess on the paper.
  • But they bring holes all open below the transition, positions and diameters of tone holes that vary regularly, fully flexible and regular cross-fingerings for the upper register.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Many high-pitched woodwinds, say one octave over a soprano, were tried. Only the piccolo flute is commonly used. The others are quite difficult to play, because the reed is too small and because the emission and intonation are bad and the timbre very hard.

At least the timbre and intonation result from the too short air column, which doesn't filter enough the high harmonics and is exceedingly sensitive to the reed's susceptance. Switching from C# on the saxophone's first register to the next D on the second register improves both, by resonating the second mode of a longer air column (this improvement results also from losses matching the reed and mouthpiece better).

So I propose to build high-pitched woodwinds that use only the second mode and higher, consequently with a longer tube.

A cylindrical tube would look very long for a high-pitched instrument, so I describe conical instruments like the tárogató, saxophone or oboe - extrapolation is easy. Sopraninos would be feasible but as long as altos. A piccolo is as long as a soprano to play an octave higher. As the pitch demands, the bore is very narrow, especially as compared with the length.

The modes 2 and 3 are closer to an other than 1 and 2, so fewer tone holes suffice. Fine, since my proposal has extra holes to use cross-fingerings on most registers so high notes reflect well and are easy to emit. Here's a description of the holes and fingerings.


8 tone holes make only the main closed-to-open transition for 9 notes and overtones; the sketch doesn't show the unused mode 1. 6 holes suffice if the higher registers begin at the bell as on the clarinet, but that's uneasy. The holes are narrow enough for a soft timbre, wide enough to emit the higher registers in tune, evolving with the position: similar to a clarinet. Both thumbs operate them all alternately with 8 keys, like the little fingers on the Boehm clarinet. The already described keyworks
synchronizes the covers. The four higher covers can be closed at rest and the lower four open at rest. A separable joint with the lower four holes (and four transmissions) is one natural choice.

The narrow bore and the small reed and mouthpiece shall excite the second mode when only these holes are open. One optional long and narrow octave hole, operated for instance by the right index' proximal or middle phalange, would stabilize this mode.

A separate set of 9 cross-fingering holes combine with the tone holes to produce the upper registers. They are independent with one finger each, except that for instance the left index operates also the highest hole with the proximal or middle phalange. Covers closed at rest ease playing, though coverless holes are cheaper. These holes are narrower to reflect the wave partly: only several holes including the tone holes make a good reflection. They must also be lossy enough to spoil the unwanted modes and can consist of several narrower holes under a common cover.

Four tone and cross-fingering holes can occupy nearby positions at the tube, though three works too. The cross-fingering holes are expected nearer to the pressure nodes and the half-wide tone holes higher on the tube.

Here blue means a closed hole. The corresponding key action varies.


The number of lone open holes increases regularly with the modes:

  • Zero for mode 2 (but optional octave hole)
  • One for modes 2+3 and 3+4
  • Two for modes 3+4+5, 4+5+6, 5+6+8 and 6+8+9
  • Three for modes 8+9+10+12

The reflection improved by more open holes eases the emission of high notes.

The low-intonating mode 7 isn't used; combine with the slightly high modes 6 and 12?

The fingerings don't limit the range; written F# is already ambitious.

An aspect sketch and hints to the construction may come some day.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a possible aspect of the piccolo reed instrument.

I've drawn a single reed instrument because the rare Ab clarinet achieves the target range and its reeds exist in catalogues, while I doubt oboists' lips survive one octave more.

The apex of the conical bore must be truncated very little. The miniscule reed imposes some small susceptance, but the mouthpiece's volume must be  reduced. A double reed would help here. Like a clarinet but unlike a saxophone, the mouthpiece fits in the body with no additional volume. The reed seat of an Ab clarinet mouthpiece may fit the task; the longer instrument permits more tip opening with softer reeds.

To ease the piccolo flute's high notes, thick grenadilla walls beat metal, hence grenadilla here - or polymers, I still have no opinion.

The section from the mouthpiece to the thumb keys is more easily bent, for instance to make a sopranino of decent size. Here a piccolo is as long as an oboe.

The result resembles a narrow, higher pitched tárogató. Call it a gatito?


I omitted on the sketch many items where partly hidden. Other are over-simplified, for instance four movements need four shafts or two pairs. And, well, there are probably some mistakes.

The keys that make the cross-fingering holes closed at rest to ease the fingerings put the holes behind the hands on my sketch. Improvement would be welcome.

Here 4 tone holes on the upper joint are closed at rest and 4 on the lower are open at rest. This lets transmit 4 movements. 5+3 holes are possible with a slight fingering change and a longer wooden main joint.

The holes brought by Stowasser are closer to the bell's rim on this higher instrument.

If the cross-fingering holes double-serve as tone holes, they can reach without gap the first mode pedal tones, but the instrument must favour the highest modes through the bore width, reed and mouthpiece size, position and size of the holes.

Marc Schaefer, aka enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here an attempt of fingerings for the clarinet family.

The chart begins at Eb since most bass clarinets include it, and because a Bb soprano can then play scores for the A soprano.

The tone holes are all open below the main closed-to-open transition. Timbre and intonation can be more even, and it solves the Boehm bass clarinet's flow noises, especially at the right middle finger's B. The speaker keys don't double as bad tone holes.

Something lets hold the instrument at the right palm or at both so the thumbs are mobile.


The left thumb moves no tone hole, only speaker keys, for instance three on the chart. Adolphe Sax had already put a speaker key at the barrel, outperforming the left index tone hole, and the Marchi system has it too with some refinementsé_d’instrumentation_et_d’orchestration.djvu/158
it shall be present here too. A single action could even open speaker holes near several pressure nodes if useful.

Each of the eight upper fingers changes the height by a full note. The right thumb raises them by half a note, like the right index does for two notes on the oboe. A description of the keyworks should come.

Register switches are easier than on the Boehm clarinet. Two trill keys are kept. All other trills use the normal fingerings. Only the thumbs must switch between buttons, the right one for two trills, which isn't difficult on the bassoon.

Common Boehm clarinets use already the standard fingerings for the three first modes of the air column with good intonation: 1*F (fundamental), 3*F (12th) and 5*F (17th, opening the left index and right pinkie) up to the high F#. They use cross-fingerings for 7*F and 9*F, but the added speaker key on the Marchi system reportedly spares this: I'd like a fingering chart for the Marchi system, please! My fingerings are expected to ease the emission of 7*F and 9*F without cross-fingerings as they open all holes below the transition, but because they don't open isolated tone holes, they should make hypothetic cross-fingerings less efficient. If the wave reflection suffices, 5*F reaches the altissimo C#, excellent for the soprano.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is how the keyworks can raise the sound by a half-note on thumb action.

Each of the eight upper fingers moves two linked covers to change the height by a full note. Additional holes make the half-notes; their covers are open at rest but often closed:

  • when the thumb doesn't press the raise key;
  • when the facing finger doesn't press its key;
  • or when the next lower finger presses its key.


The views use the European projection method. Rings can replace some covers, and some fingers can act at the higher tone hole position. The right thumb's button that closes the lowest cover is displayed but not its keyworks. The transition between RH and LH joints isn't accurate.

All tone hole positions are open below the main transition. Zero or only one raising tone hole is open, if no cross-fingering is intended. Releasing one isolated finger for cross-fingerings would open two tone holes, or even three when using the raise key, bad - instead, additional speaker key(s) shall bring the altissimo register. Meanwhile I've read direct testimony that they do it on the Marchi clarinet and spare cross-fingerings.

I've excluded some variants:

  • The thumb must raise the sound when pressing. Release to raise would be inconvenient to play. But this demands springs acting against an other.
  • The right thumb acts on both hands' tone holes, for easy transitions between the hands, and to leave the left thumb for the speaker keys.
  • Opening all the raising tone holes below the transition would ease the keyworks, but the raise key's spring can't close eight covers. As described, it closes one, and the front fingers close the others - each front finger moves up to 4 covers.

This system needs 1.5 tone hole per half-note. It seems to have more parts and links than a Boehm clarinet, but they are easily tuned, very uniform and mostly small and local. It saves most trill keys, the Boehm little fingers keyworks, has a single transmission between the RH and LH joints. The force needed from the front fingers must be optimized, and then this system looks very convenient to play.

A clarinet drawing should come.
Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a possible aspect of a clarinet with the Dec 25, 2017 fingerings. I miss the elegant and simple keyworks of the Boehm system. At least playing shall be easier.

Projection follows the European method. Many background items are omitted. Right angles are only for simpler display. There are errors, certainly. Click for full size.


The 17th hole is at the barrel's top as Sax and Marchi-Selmer did for the clarinet, not at the mouthpiece as Eppelsheim does for the soprillo. At the barrel, it is far too low for the top of 5*F register, but the 12th hole helps there. The Marchi system opened both keys and had a dual opening 17th hole: the reasons are expected to apply here. More register keys are possible, automatic ones too.

The joints are as long as on the Boehm Bb clarinet with low Eb. The raise key, at the right thumb, is split in two but meant for simultaneous use: tolerances and assembling get easier, with only one transmission. The third button at right thumb closes the lowest cover. Some undisplayed means let hold the instrument at the metacarpus.

The left hand is one tone higher than on the Bb Boehm, the right is as on the A boehm; it can be higher to shorten the upper raise key, but then the keys of right ringfinger and pinkie interact.

At an Eb clarinet, some left fingers could close pairs of adjacent half-notes without covers, and the right hand use three rings. Though, I doubt a 17th key spares cross-fingerings at a small clarinet. Shallower or less narrow tone holes at the throat would ease the 5*F register without cross-fingerings, and split holes hopefully keep throat notes soft; this applies to the Bb instrument too.

Lower instruments are easier, if accepting the range to altissimo C#.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a different attempt: a clarinet with automatic cross-fingerings.

Other people proposed automatic cross-fingerings before. I suppose this instrument part wasn't from a flute
but from such a clarinet, because (1) its 18 tone holes +end fit a clarinet (2) open holes some 9 positions apart make sensible cross-fingerings at a clarinet, not at a flute (3) the speaker key isn't desired at a flute but is at the usual position for a clarinet (4) a flute needs more flexibility to play the third octave (5) the missing length fits a barrel plus mouthpiece. This could also resemble a clarinet McIntyre system generalised to both hands, but movements resulting from two adjacent fingers suggest automatic cross-fingerings. I wish I could try the movements or have pictures from different angles. Opinions welcome!

Here are already the fingerings I propose:


The upper fingers close directly 8 tone holes, the thumbs on one more near the bell, all spaced by a halftone. The corresponding covers or rings act on more tone holes that I call "consequent": if the next higher hole is closed, an open finger hole permits to open two consequent holes 9 and 10 halftones higher. Mode keys at the thumbs choose which consequent hole to open, or both, or none.

  • One open consequent hole 10 halftones higher vents the mode 5 in addition to mode 9 by the first open finger hole. This improves the reflection to play the highest register.
  • One open consequent hole 9 halftones higher vents the mode 3 in addition to mode 5 by the finger hole. Upper second twelfth.
  • Both closed to play the mode 3 by the finger holes. Lower second twelfth.
  • Both open to play the mode 1 vented there. Upper first twelfth.
  • Both closed to play the mode 1 vented at the finger holes. Lower first twelfth.

At usual clarinets, the tone holes get narrow at the throat. They could be slightly wider as cross-fingering holes, and they should be to emit a clear upper first twelfth here through just two open holes. Though, narrow holes also increase the losses to match the reed and mouthpiece when the air column is short. I propose to put several smaller holes under one cover to reduce the inductance but keep the resistance of the higher holes - on other instruments too.

Register holes are not displayed but necessary. The 10 halfnotes interval for mode 5+9 can probably emit a bad mode 3+5 too, so a register hole(s) shall impose the mode, just as for the lower second twelfth. More buttons at the thumbs can combine or not the action on consequent holes and on register holes. The lowest finger cover is also used alone or combined with one or both consequent tone holes. I'd put the same buttons at both thumbs, like the pinkies have at the Boehm clarinet.

Some trills need extra hardware that paperwork can't determine. But one thumb tone hole more, plus its consequent hole, would solve that cleanly.

  • Between modes 1 and 3, for Bb-C. One more hole above the consequent holes, own key.
  • Between modes 3 and 3+5. Two more holes above the finger holes, with two keys?
  • Between modes 3+5 and 5+9, combine the previous trill keys?

These fingerings fit small clarinets better: the Eb, the Ab (or better high Bb for the repertoire). They need one joint for both hands, better including the barrel for a register key there. They limit the range to high D#, nice for a small clarinet but not for a bass. They let move 1+2+2 covers per finger, hence not too big ones please. And as small clarinets rely more on cross-fingerings, automatic keyworks with optimum venting ease them.

With adapted intervals like modes 2+3 and 3+4, similar fingerings and keyworks would fit conical reed instruments: soprillo and sopranino saxophones, higher tárogatók, higher oboes, sarrusophones and rothphones, plus the ones I forget.

Difficult keyworks hampered all attempts, but a sketch should come - later.
Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a possible aspect of the clarinet with the automatic cross-fingerings proposed on Jan 07, 2018. Uncomplete, as the trill keys, register keys, and transmissions to the thumbs are not displayed, buttons for the ring fingers and pinkies neither.


Most consequent holes are doubled, because a position can be opened by a closed-to-open transition of the finger holes with one mode key or by the next closed-to-open transition with the other mode key, and separate covers do that.

Pairs of consequent holes that react the same way to the finger holes (but respond to different mode keys) use here long concentric shafts reaching the finger holes. A consequent cover is open at rest but often closed:

  • When the lower of its controlling finger holes is closed, pushing directly.
  • When the higher is open, so its rest spatula pushes down.
  • When the proper mode key pushes on the consequent cover.

As a variant, if the long shafts act indirectly on the consequent covers, only half as many shafts are necessary: five single or 2.5 concentric pairs per side. The same logical function of finger holes, carried by one shaft, can then close two consequent covers. More springs and corks in series, fewer long shafts.

Alternating the hands chromatically eases the hole-open-or-next-closed operation. Both hands are but higher than the right one on a Boehm clarinet.

The mode keys use four shafts, superimposed by pairs hence not all displayed on the sketch. Each mode key acts on consequent covers of both sides, and has right and left shafts for that. I don't detail the transmission from the thumbs; the buttons can optionally be split in right and left too, for simultaneous use, easing the adjustments.

Usual Eb clarinets have one joint for both hands, useful here. As on some Ab clarinets, no separate barrel on this sketch: this eases a register hole there, but a reamer alone won't make the bore.

As far as I understand the instrument at the Library of Congress from the picture
it works differently from the system I describe. But there are strong similarities.

The system for conical reed instruments would resemble much.

Marc Schaefer, aka Enthalpy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this