Open-Hole Flutes vs. Closed-Hole Flutes

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.

Questions? What have you learned? Leave a comment below.

Rebecca Fuller Flute TeacherRebecca Fuller



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  • Alphonsus Geerlings

    Reply Reply September 16, 2013

    Thank you, that was clear.

  • Maria

    Reply Reply January 8, 2014

    I have a beautiful open holed flute. The holes are plugged and I’m terrified to unplug the holes in case I can’t make a good sound. I’ve been playing for 2 years and I’ve had this flute for one year without ever attempting to play with the open holes.

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply January 10, 2014

      It’s okay. You can leave them all plugged if you want. Or you can start taking them out one at a time starting with the easiest key. (usually your right hand index finger)

  • Saw

    Reply Reply January 12, 2015

    Thanks for this very comprehensive explanation! Previously I had the impression that open-hole flutes were for the advanced players, the pros, the “cool crowd” who did not need to rely upon the crutch of closed holes.

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply January 27, 2015

      It’s just not so. Either flute (closed hole or open hole) is a great option. It all boils down to preference nowadays. ~ Rebecca

  • Laura Payne

    Reply Reply February 19, 2016

    Thank you. I went through a crisis of confidence recently because I could not manage open holes. I’ve been playing for twenty years, but developed wrist inflammation through piano playing – even a short amount of playing on an open hole flute brings it back so I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I am sad that I will not be able to master extended techniques, though you do mention it is possible to achieve some effects on a closed hole flute. Could you provide more information about such techniques?
    Many thanks.

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply February 27, 2016

      Hi Laura, this is a great comment here. You are so right that it is not really worth it (or important) to use the holes in the ‘open’ position. If it bothers any part of your body, you just simply do not need to keep the plugs out. I actually always play with the last hole still covered. My right hand ring finger is naturally curvy, and it bothers my wrist also to unplug it (after much repetitive motions). I think it’s a good idea to have a mini-course all surrounding these types of extended techniques. I don’t use all of them all the time, but when you need/want them it’s great to know! Thanks – I’m happy you’re at peace with those plugs. 🙂 Rebecca

  • Angie

    Reply Reply April 12, 2018

    I bought an open hole flute because every other player in my community band had one. I strugggled with it for years before buying silver plugs. Now, I love my flute. I am the only one with plugs. Oh well.

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply April 17, 2018

      Hey Angie, no worries on using plugs. It’s totally okay. Remember that it doesn’t change your sound. Try to keep your fingers in the spaces the plugs are though to help you with hand position. Glad you’re playing in the community band! Fun Fun ~Rebecca

  • Jesse

    Reply Reply January 20, 2019

    I’m so glad to read this. I bought a Pearl flute many years ago when they first came to the US, a solid silver head, body and foot (B foot) and it had closed holes, which was what I was used to with my beginner flute. It still sounds great a couple of decades later. I’ve often wondered if I need to go through the process of switching over to open hole. I may go open hole someday, if only for better finger technique, but your explantation of why open hole flutes sound better due to the fact that manufacturers nearly always put open holes on higher quality flutes was important to me, and makes perfect sense.

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply January 22, 2019

      Yes Yes, Jesse. Glad this resonates with you in your stage of the game. Perfect! ~R

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