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?
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.