Hi Folks,

I am curious how many of you play wooden flutes with keys, and if so by what makers? I have been playing a keyless blackwood flute by Jon Cornia for the past few years, but would like to get a keyed instrument sometime. As far as keys I am thinking Eb, long and short F, G#, and Bb should be enough.

Its going to take a bit of saving as keyed flutes are not cheap. I have heard good things about Copely flutes and his prices seem reasonable.


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I play a blackwood 8-key Pratten by John Gallagher (Elkins, WV). I've owned LOTS of flutes and I'm pretty sure this one is my "lifer". NOT cheap, but worth it! Dave Copley makes great flutes, too. I've owned 4 of his (4-key blackwood, keyless blackwood, keyless Delrin X 2). I still have one of Dave's keyless delrins with silver rings, elliptical embouchure, and C-nat thumbhole - think this one's a "keeper", too.

Pat Plunkett

I am also looking for information on wooden flutes with keys. I bought a Casey Burns folk flute pretty much blind, but found myself lucky in that I really love it. As I become more proficient I am sure I will start looking at keyed flutes. How do I determine how many keys are enough for my purposes? I also do not feel like I know enough yet to even know what my purposes are! : )


Well i think an Eb, G#, Bb, long and short F key should be enough to get you most of the keys that dont fall easily on a keyless flute. If you want to play below the bottom D you could get those keys on the foot of the flute, i think C and C#? 

www.mcgee-flutes.com has some good reading on this.

I know some folks make a C natural key but that is easily accomplished by cross fingering.

I was borrowing a german keyed flute from a friend and he offered to sell it to me at a very nice price. I considered, as it would have been a cheap way into a keyed flute, but i had trouble to playing it up to pitch and the holes were quite smaller than my keyless flute. I felt it did not have as much power. But my friend sounds nice on it, so perhaps is me as a player.

Dave Copley makes wonderful flutes (and I'm not saying that just because he also lives in the Cincinnati area and we take lessons and play together at the Riley School of Irish Music!). I do know that if you can't afford to get all the keys at once, he will make the flute with the key blocks, and you can add keys later.

In terms of importance of keys, the G# is the most useful. After that, the 2 F-natural keys, the D#/Eb key, and the A#/Bb. I wouldn't bother with the low C and C# keys, as they are awkward to use on most flutes and you can play up an octave. The right-hand C-natural key can sometimes be useful, too.

I play a German keyed flute that I got for a ridiculously low price years ago. The quality is quite variable; some are quite good and others are quite horrible! I was lucky and got one of the former, which I love. The holes are smaller and they do tend to be quieter. But as John Skelton has says, if you want a loud wind instrument, pick up the saxophone!

I agree with all that Rick says above. The only real reason I have a 8-key is that I got a pretty good deal on the flute. I WILL say that 8-keyed flutes DO look cooler, though! I also think that the C-nat key is important. It's probably the key that I use the most, actually. No matter what you do, half-hole or cross-finger, the C-nat does NOT "pop" as much or sound as strong as what you can attain using a key.

Yes, I am starting to see how the G# and F natural would make sense. 

My friend lent me a smaller holed german keyed flute for a while. It had a nice tone  and all the keys functioned well, it was just alot quieter than my Cochran which I think is patterned after a Rudall. I almost bought it but I took it to a couple sessions and just always played it flat, even with the head pushed all the way in. Perhaps thats my shortcomings as a player. I wanted to like it, as he offered it to me as a nice price.

Might be a Db flute rather than a D! There are still a few kicking around.

I play a Copley 4 key and I'm quite happy with it.  The feel of the G# is great.  I don't have a long F key and I don't miss it.  The short F feels like a trill key on a modern system flute.  If speed is required just half hole it.  If nothing else the keys keep the instrument from rolling off the table when you reach for your pint.  The long B flat would be handy if you play in the keys that need it or like the piper grip.   John Risinger

I play a keyless wooden flute by Eugene Lambe.

It's a lovely flute. Right now it's on his way to Ireland to Eugene for a big checkup/overhaul.

It hadn't have enough love and care for quite a few years.

I also still wonder if I like keys or not. I like a lot of other music as well, so keys will make this easier. Don't know if I'll ever play it though.

Crossfingering works good with faster tunes, but when playing an slowair, for example, the key's may make a better tone.

On the other hand there's some debate about the difference in sound/tone between keyed and unkeyed holes. The keyless holes seem to give a stronger tone then the keyed ones, where the air has to escape through a smaller gap between the edge of the flutehole and the pad of the key. I have no experience with this however, since I don't own a keyed flute.

Might be worth investigating, though.

I figured I should post an update. After talking to fellow flute playing friend's I realized I didnt need keys enough to justify the $2000+ cost for a new keyed flute. At sessions I can play almost all the tunes that come up, and if its in a weird key I will just sit out. Or get more whistles. 

The other factor in this decision is that a friend was selling a Bryan Byrne keyless and made it available for me to try out for a few weeks. I liked this flute so much and realized that a deal like this was not going to come along very often. Bryne has a long wait time and the price on this one was very fair. So I bought it. 

In the future I may decide to get an instrument with some keys but for the immediate future the Byrne will allow me to grow plenty as a player.


I play a 6 key (Eb, short & long F, G#, Bb, C)  flute by Stéphane Morvan and bought it second hand. That means the design of the keys don't fit to the size of my fingers, especially the long F. For the other keys, there is no problem. So if long F is important for you, check that it fits to your upper hand pinky.

To play irish music, as most tunes are generally with 1  (2 ?) flat up to 3 sharps, it is obvious that so as to avoid half holing/cross  fingering, you will need a Cnat key to play in C and G (and there relative modes), plus F short to play in C (plus relative modes), plus Bb to play in F (ditto), plus Eb to play in Bb (ditto). The Cnat is nice too to produce a good high C (especially if you cross finger Cnat like that oxx ooo, for a right handed player)

The Cnat and Eb keys have further advantages on keyed flutes to produce better in tune C#, by pressing Cnat and  a more open, clearer E by using Eb key (though some fluters prefer the darker tone of a low E without the Eb key). And if you wish to reach the third octave, the 6 keys are quite mandatory, but in this case you'll have a lot of cross fingering to work !

As I play breton music too on this flute, the keys help a lot (the key signatures being commonly C, G, F, Bb, Eb).

For other types of music involving lots of sharps and flats, a Boehm flute will largely do the job for a far less expensive price than a wooden flute (and even it does the job in irish music, see Joannie Madden, with the advantage of a powerfull sound but, is this me ? no "hard" Ds). But if you insist for a wooden flute and full chromatism you can play like this (Malou Carvou on flute) :



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