What’s the Difference Between an Open Hole and Closed Hole Flute?

open hole flute

Open hole flutes became popular at the turn of the 20th Century. The anti-Germany sentiments of the time sent an influx of French flutists to America’s great orchestras, and thus influencing America’s flutists to the French’s standard open hole flute. A century later open-holed keys, also known as French Keys, are a standard feature for most intermediate and professional flutes in the western world.

Closed Hole Keys Benefit Young Students

Closed-hole keys, also known as Plateau Keys, come standard on beginner student flutes, albeit there are professionals who still play closed-hole flutes due to its consistent acoustic. Teachers, however, find closed-hole flutes beneficial for beginners, because the keys completely cover the holes regardless of the size of a student’s tiny fingers. Having one less skill to learn, students can concentrate on things like basic fingering and embouchure control. As anything in life, though, when you have stability, you lose flexibility. The closed-hole flute has a consistent acoustic sound, whereas the open-hole keys have a wide range of opportunities for special effects.

Open-hole keys allow advanced flutists to perform a wide range of special effects.

Open-hole keys come standard in most intermediate and professional flutes. The open-hole key flute is known for its ability to perform a wide range of special effects that is required for contemporary and Avant Gard music. Open-hole keys allow “pitch shading,” multiphonics (sounding two or more pitches at the same time), reaching the fourth octave, and glissandos (rapid slide through tones, one pitch to another), all of which are standard effects for contemporary music.

Does an Open Hole Flute Sound Better than a Closed Hole Flute?

This is a highly debated topic and the flute community is decidedly split on the issue. Dr. David Klee offers his opinion is this flute pro-tip video. 

Should beginners learn how to play flute with an open-hole or closed-hole flute?

open hole flute plugs

There is an argument for beginner students to learn how to play on an open-hole key flute from the start. It is argued open-hole keys force students to learn proper finger position from the start and encourage better hand position.

If an open-hole key flute is purchased for a beginner student, special plugs can be placed in the holes temporarily until the student is ready for more advanced special effects.

Consider also that when you are ready to move on to the next level flute, an open-hole flute is much easier to sell in the U.S. due to its popularity in all of North America.

Summary

The closed-hole key flute is the easiest for a beginner student to learn how to play flute. Many professionals also prefer a closed-hole flute due to its consistent acoustics. However, if you prefer or intend to play contemporary music with special effects then an open-hole flute is the way to go.

For answers to more Frequently Asked Questions about Flutes be sure to check out our BIG Flute Buying Guide.​