Now that you have done the following

  • thoughtfully read through Part 1 of this article,
  • determined that you are up for repair,
  • are able to hold yourself responsible for whatever happens to your instrument, and
  • cannot make do with the current state of your instrument or do not have a repairperson to call, then please proceed onto Part 2.

This list is a work in progress. These solutions are limited to what I think can be done relatively quickly with minimal disassembly of the instrument. This is not an exhaustive list of solutions to problems but rather what I think many people can confidently take on while under duress. Only attempt what you are comfortable doing.

Problem: Key Won’t Come Up

Tools needed: screwdriver that fits the screw heads that hold your mechanism together, elastic or rubber bands, retractable ballpoint pen.

First a quick overview of flute keys. Most keys on your flute are open keys meaning that while at rest they are not against the toneholes. Your finger pressure closes them against the toneholes. Once you release your finger pressure, the key should return quickly to its normal resting position. To do this, flutes have rounded and flattened spring wire of different diameters generally threaded through small holes in the posts of your mechanism and running parallel to the body of your instrument. Except for the G-sharp key that is on the same rod as your G key, every padded key will have a spring associated with it.

Keys and tubing are fit onto steels (solid, metal rods) which are held between posts that rise vertically from the body of your flute. For non-Broegger mechanik flutes, the mainline keys on the body of the instrument are suspended between pointed or squared pivot points (generally pivot screws) that fit inside the steels. When you press a key, keys and steels rotate around these small pivot screws. On Broegger mechanik flutes and some pinless mechanisms, the mainline keys are held on long, threaded steels that are held fast within the posts. When you press a key, all the keys rotate around a stable rod.

For a key to come up to a natural resting position, the rod, key tubing, spring, and pivot screws all need to work together properly. Regular servicing of your flute helps keep all these part of the mechanism in good working order.

Solution:

  1. Screw is too tight or too loose
    1. Verify that all the screws are in correctly. If they come loose, then the mechanism will “flop around” and sometimes a key will not rise correctly. Conversely, on many student and intermediate model flutes the left hand steel (the one about two inches long that is threaded through the post that is associated with the C-sharp key depressed by the first finger left hand) is ill-fitting and therefore screwing it all the way in will cause the B-flat key to stay down. So take your screwdriver and examine the position of the screw heads that are in the flute posts. Think of the screws as long hands on a clock and note the position they are originally in: are they vertical relative to the body (i.e., 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock) or are they perpendicular to the body (i.e., 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock). Then while you are certain that they keys and rods are correctly aligned to the screw, turn the screw to the right 15 degrees or an hour at a time. If the screw was originally at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, now it should be at 1 o’clock and 7 o’clock. Then press the key and see if it is better. If not, you may have to tighten the screw a tiny bit more, or loosen it an by an hour (turning it left) to return it back to its original position.
    2. How do you align the keys and rod to the screw? Sometimes that you can see or feel that the mechanism is not running parallel to the body of the instrument. You can push it into position while carefully tightening down on the pivot screw. Or, you can very, very gently wiggle the mechanism while you hold it in place and tighten down the pivot screw. Many pivot screws have sharp points and trying to tighten them down into a rod that is misaligned could result in damaging the end of the rod. If you very, very gently wiggle the rod while tightening the pivot screw then you can feel whether or not you are “catching” the correct placement of the pivot screw in the rod.
  2. Spring is unhooked or not sufficiently tensioned

    Springs are slightly tensioned so that they curve in the direction of how the key at rest should remain. One end of the spring is threaded through a post and should not move. The free end should rest either behind a key in a goove or else behind a special spring holder that is part of the tubing.

    1. To hook the loose end of a spring, take the tip of your retracted ballpoint pen and gently push the spring behind its hook. I recommend retracted ballpoint pens because the ends are not sharp and they tend to be small enough to fit between spaces on flutes and piccolos
    2. If your spring seems to require retensioning, then use the retracted ballpoint pen to unhook it, use your fingertips to gently reshape the spring into a more pronounced arc, and then return the spring to its hook
    3. Note: Do not force the spring loose. Some springs cannot be unhooked without some disassembly of the keywork. This is generally true of the G key springs. If you feel comfortable disassembling your mechanism enough to unhook the springs, retension, rehook, and reassemble your mechanism, then go ahead. Otherwise, do not attempt this.
    4. If in the course of retensioning the spring, you may notice that the end in the post is loose. If this is the case, you cannot retension the spring.
  3. Last Ditch Effort: Rubber Bands

    If Options 1 and 2 fail then break out the rubber or elastic bands. Note: Rubber degrades silver. Use these only in emergency. I know they exist, but I have never successfully hunted down non-rubber elastic bands.

    1. Loop the rubber band around the key at its base where it connects to the rod — called the arm. Make sure the rubber band does not interfere with playing motion.
    2. The challenge is to figure out how to secure the rubber band so that the key will be pulled up. You may need to knot the rubber band securely around the key arm, then taking the other section, loop it up and around the instrument’s tubing as if you were slinging a hand bag over your shoulder and across your body. This implies that you have a rather flexible or long rubber band. But, it can work.
    3. If you use real rubber bands, then once you are finished REMOVE it from the instrument. Rubber reacts poorly with silver and will degrade it over a period of time.

Problem: Key Won’t Stay Down

Tools needed: screwdriver that fits the screw heads that hold your mechanism together, elastic or rubber bands, retractable ballpoint pen.

You have four or five closed keys on your flute: the two trill keys, G-sharp (unless you are a rare bird that plays an open G-sharp flute), D-sharp, and for some people the C-sharp trill key. These are held shut by heavy gauge spring wire. Most people don’t think much about these keys until something goes wrong. Common symptoms include: nothing plays (see the solution below), E-flats are fuzzy (maybe a poorly sealing C-sharp trill key), you can’t play anything below a G (maybe a poorly seling G-sharp key), or you can’t play below a low-E-flat (D-sharp key not sealing).

Solution:

  1. Retension the springs. This is difficult for the D-sharp, C-sharp trill, and the G-sharp keys and requires disassembly of your flute.
  2. A screw is loose or too tight. Make sure that the rods and pivot screws are securely in place. Read the section “Key Won’t Come Up” for how to tighten steels and pivot screws. Note: Trill key mechanisms on student and intermediate flutes and piccolos are notorious for not fitting well.
  3. Last Ditch Effort: Rubber Bands. Wrap them around the key to hold it shut. It may or may not be possible to tension the rubber bands enough to allow you to use the keys during a concert. For the D-sharp key you really have no choice — it’s an essential key for E-flat and your third octave A and you’d probably become confused not pressing it while playing. Because of the lever on the G-sharp key you should have enough leverage to play it during the concert. Note: If you use real rubber bands, then once you are finished REMOVE it from the instrument. Rubber reacts poorly with silver and will degrade it over a period of time.

Problem: Suddenly Nothing Plays on My Flute Except C#

Tools needed: screwdriver that fits the screw heads that hold your mechanism together, elastic or rubber bands, retractable ballpoint pen.

Solution:

  1. Spring has come unhooked or needs to be retensioned. Springs for the trill keys are either both located between the two, small trill keys or else one of the springs will be located behind the right hand keys. Both trill springs should be tensioned arch “forward” on the flute when you are playing. Please review the solution for “My Key Won’t Come Up” for a long discussion on retentioning springs.
    Note: The spring located behind the right hand keys is often difficult to reach unless you loosed the right pivot screw on the trill mechanism.

  2. Pivot screw is loose. Your trill keys are fitted onto a very long steel that is held between two posts. Make certain that these pivot screws have not come undone and therefore when the trill keys are opened or closed they are ill-seated on the toneholes. Review the solution for “My Key Won’t Come Up” for a long discussion on tightening and screws.
  3. Particularly on student or intermediate flutes, the trill mechanism may never have fit well. It has a great deal of play between the posts. In this case, the trill mechanism may slide laterally and thus the pads fall out of their proper seat. Look at the pads. Do they strike the tonehole on the pad where you see either a ring or depression? If not, sometimes you just need to nudge the trill mechanism laterally to reseat the pad. And then don’t use the trill mechanism during your concert.
  4. Last Ditch Effort: Rubber Bands. Wrap them over one or both of the trill keys to hold them shut. It may or may not be possible to tension the rubber bands enough to allow you to use the trill keys during a concert. Note: If you use real rubber bands, then once you are finished REMOVE it from the instrument. Rubber reacts poorly with silver and will degrade it over a period of time.

Problem: Suddenly I When I Play (select a note) that Note and Everything Below It Doesn’t Work. And I Got a Haircut the Other Day

Tools needed: Small embouchure and strong breath or a long, thin, stiff piece of paper.

It’s happened more than once to a client, so I’m including it as a possibility for an emergency flute repair. Sometime hair or particles of dust can get between the connections of your mechanisms. Connections are tiny, metal pieces found under your keys — or sometimes on the back of your keywork — that enables one key to interact with another. For example, when you depress the F-key, you are engaging the F# key immediately to the left of the F-key and the B-flat key which is way up in the left hand mechanism. When you press the F-key, ideally the F, F-sharp, and B-flat keys touch their respective toneholes with equal pressure. One key should not strike the tonehole significantly harder than the others, or else there will be leaks between the keys.

Therefore, if hair or dust gets between the key and the connection, then one key will strike harder than the others resulting in a leak.

Solution:

  1. Once you’ve isolated where the problem notes begin, while looking at the instrument depress the problem key. Look at how it reacts with the connecting keys. If you have a split-E flute, then the G and G-sharp keys will also have a connection versus being linked directly with a solid tubing. So be sure to look at the G key, too.
  2. If you see the “passive key” strike before the “active key” then you may have a “hairy issue”. For example, when you press your F key (active key) alone, if the F-sharp key or the B-flat key (passive keys) strikes before the F key this could mean that there is additional height under the connection to the other keys.
  3. Now find the connection. With most keys, this will be found right under they key and close to the rod. In the case of the F key, the connection to the F-sharp will either be under the F-sharp key or more likely behind the keys on the backside of the flute. The connection to the B-flat key will be on the backside of the flute.
  4. Press the passive key alone.
  5. Look at the underside of the connection. Do you see anything hanging loose under there?
  6. While you’re still pressing the passive key, blow hard on the underside.
  7. Now try fingering the active key again and see how it interrelates to the passive key.
  8. There are small pieces of paper, cork, leather, and foam secured to the undersides of the connections. Sometimes these can come loose and double over. If you see this, then take your piece of paper and use it to pat back down the doubled over connection.