Open-Hole Flutes vs. Closed-Hole Flutes

Five of the keys on an open-hole flute are just that, open holes in the keys. When purchased new, these flutes usually 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-hole flute.

Does an open-hole flute sound better than a closed-hole flute?

So, a big question is; Does an open-hole flute sound 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, airiness, and poor tone. Good hand position improves natural movement which equals relaxed, faster, fluid fingers.

Improved volume and tone are 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.

Check out my youtube video that can help demonstrate and show you about these features on a flute: 

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 the 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 closed-hole flute as well.

I can slide easily enough on a closed-hole flute though. It’s possible, just not as easy until you have the finesse.

Some history to note is that many years ago, the French decided to begin using open holes on five 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 though. The choice between open or closed holes 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 would a player find open holes inconvenient?  

When they have a bandaid on the top of any of these fingers. The solution to this problem is to use a plug the flute came with to make it a closed hole flute again until the finger is all better and ready to play without the bandaid.

Are you a podcast listener? I have an episode waiting for you right here that talks all about this exact subject of open and closed hole flutes and the difference between them:

What is a French open hole flute?

The term “French hole” in flute playing simply means that there are holes in the 5 keys for two of the keys on the left hand and also for 3 of the keys on the right hand.

We say this is French because it was basically invented in France at the Paris Conservatory many years ago as a standard for higher-level students.

If a flute does not have French open holes, it is considered a flute with “Plateau” keys. This is the term for flutes with all of the keys being closed. Most student flutes have plateaued (closed) holes. This doesn’t mean that it is of lower quality though. Many student model flutes are made with high-quality mechanisms, and there are many of these same instruments that are made with poor quality.  

How can you know the difference between a low-quality flute and a high-quality flute?

The answer is that you really can’t know the difference unless you have done your homework and learned from the proper avenue. 

There are as many reputable flute makers in the world as there are those at the bottom of the list.

Which one is right for me – Open or Closed hole?

As a teacher, I always like my students to have the highest quality instrument they can possibly get their hands on. One reason is that a high-quality instrument will give the student the best fighting chance at sounding and feeling amazing as they play. It’s also true that closed-hole student flutes can be of high quality, so it’s not necessary to think you need an open-hole flute when first learning. But in years past an open hole flute used to mean that it was of higher quality besides meaning that it was designed for higher level players. Not true anymore. You have to know your instrument makers and brands. 

You can learn to play on either an open-hole flute or a closed-hole flute. Both will work beautifully for you. Just keep the plugs in the open hole until you learn more.

What is the purpose of the open holes anyway?

Finger placement and great hand position are kind of a work-in-progress for a while for beginner flute players. Once a player has learned the basics well they could use an open hole flute with much more success. This means that it will most likely be easier to learn on a closed-hole flute. When you work with a good teacher you will come to appreciate the reason for placing your fingers in the correct place on the key.

One good reason is that pressing the keys down repeatedly in an off-center manner will over time bend the key slightly in that direction. This will cause leaks in the mechanism which means tone issues for a flute player.

Finding a quality flute:

Finding a quality flute isn’t as hard as it seems. However, there are many new brands on the market over the past decade. These instruments are hit and miss, to say the least. Members of Learn Flute Online are able to have access to me to point them at the right flute for them and to make sure that its quality is the highest possible and also to answer any other questions about open and closed hole flutes. If you are looking for this type of help, join us. I’m here for you.

Have any questions? Comment below and I will help you out.

Rebecca FullerRebecca Fuller
Get Flutie with us! Learn and enjoy every musical minute.

11 thoughts on “Open-Hole Flutes vs. Closed-Hole Flutes”

  1. Ruth VanderWerf

    I have been playing for 70 years on a Haynes silver flute with closed holes. My father played a Haynes flute also. After his death I was not able to sell his flute because everyone wanted an open hole flute . My niece now has the flute but only plays occasionally in her church. What will my children need to do with my flute when I no longer play. 12 years ago the replacement cost was $7,600. It is more now. I have taken excellent care of the flute and have had it refurbished many times over the years. What would you consider a good resale price?

    1. Hi Ruth, thanks for the comment here about your trusty-old Haynes. Congratulations for keeping it in great shape all these years also. A new Haynes like yours is about $2500. The only way to get a good estimate on the exact one you have is to call Haynes company themselves and ask them. They can give you an idea, and also if they can sell it for you. Good luck! I’m happy you’re fluting 🙂 Rebecca

  2. 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.

    1. 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

  3. 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.

    1. 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

  4. 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.

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

  5. 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.

    1. 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)

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