What the Heck is a Gizmo Key? – Features of a Step-up Flute

By Posted in - Instrument Purchase & Shopping Tips & Step Up Instruments on December 19th, 2014 0 Comments

As a private flute instructor and sales associate at Miles Ahead Music, I have helped dozens of students and parents choose their first upgrade flute. The process can be challenging—step-up flutes have features that most parents (and students!) have never heard of. Typically, the process begins with the parent either visiting or calling the store with a statement like this:

“I’d like to buy my daughter an open-hole flute.”

This is always a fun opening question, one that always segues into a series of follow-up questions. How much do you want to spend? What brand do you prefer? What’s your plan for flute in the future? The list of follow-up questions is endless. Many people don’t realize the options that are available on flutes of all levels. Imagine yourself at a car dealership, where you go inside and tell the salesperson this:

“I need to buy a car, please!”

As they say, you’re opening a can of worms. Our young flutists often start out with an instrument we get from the music store; we say we want “a flute.” However, when flutists upgrade, we want “the best flute.” Suddenly, we have a staggering amount of exotic-sounding options to choose from. But flute shopping doesn’t have to be stressful if you do research beforehand. Today I’ll try to help ease the process a bit by discussing some of the most common features found on step-up flutes.

Open Holes

This is the main point of interest for customers potentially buying a new flute. Open holes are the most obvious difference between a student and intermediate/professional model instrument, and are present on almost every step-up flute. An open-hole (sometimes called French model) flute has holes in the keys where the flutist puts their fingers, similar to the keys of a clarinet or oboe. The flute will not play correctly if these holes are not covered—removable plugs are available to fill the holes if this is an issue.

You may hear that open holes make the flute sound better. Is this true? Personally, I doubt it. But open-hole flutes tend to be made with more care, higher quality materials and better sound than a student instrument. Open holes also encourage better hand position, which can help improve technique as well as reduce wrist pain. Of course, these benefits are harder to enjoy if plugs are left inside the keys.

Low B Footjoint

This is another feature on the majority of step-up flutes. The footjoint, or bottom part of the flute, features a longer tube with an extra key. This key extends the instrument’s range from low C to low B. The average flute player won’t be playing those Bs very often, but the extra tubing allows for an easier response in the flute’s third octave—a great feature in a register that can often be shrill.

Keep in mind that some flutists will have trouble getting out of the lowest notes on a B foot compared to a flute with a C foot. This is a temporary problem that is overcome as the student gets used to playing the extended tubing.

Gizmo Key

Also called a high C facilitator, the gizmo key is found on the low B foot. It’s a little lever that juts out next to the low C and B keys on the footjoint. Pressing this makes the highest notes in the flute respond more easily—we’re talking six or seven lines above the staff! It’s most commonly used on the high C two octaves above the staff. The gizmo key is fairly standard on step-up flutes, but occasionally you’ll find a flute without one.

Split E Mechanism

One of the most notorious notes on the flute is the high E above the staff. The split E mechanism adds an extra rod to the body of the flute, which automatically covers an extra hole when the flutist fingers the high E. That extra covering stabilizes this note and makes it easier to play, especially in quieter passages. Think of the split E mechanism as a bonus: not essential and not built into every flute, but a nice feature to have.

Some flutes, such as those with an inline key construction, cannot be made with a split E mechanism. Still want the benefits of the split E without actually having one? Our store has the option of a “high E facilitator,” also called a donut—it’s a ring that fits inside one of the flute’s tone holes. This is an alternative to the split E that can be custom fitted to your flute by our repair staff.

C# Trill Key

The C# trill key is an incredibly useful feature for the advanced flutist. Like the split E mechanism, this is a feature not found on every flute. This adds an extra key at the top of the flute’s body, which is operated by a little lever near the keys of the right hand. This lever is an alternative to some of the flute’s most awkward fingerings, and makes many difficult trills and fast passages much easier. While it requires learning and adapting to new fingerings, the C# trill key can be helpful when tackling college-level repertoire.

This is a quick guide to the most common features you’ll find when upgrading to an intermediate or professional flute. It’s good to know about these features, but don’t let yourself be intimidated by them; focus instead on how the instrument plays for the flutist and let that shape your decision. We always have a variety of step up flutes to choose from, and we are happy to let you or the flutist in your life try out as many as you would like! Contact one of our stores today to set up a flute trial and see some of these features in action!

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