More Than Just A C# Trill

By Erik Nugent
The name “C# Trill key” is just way too small for a key that does this much. It is kind of the opposite of a Gizmo key, a key with a great name that does very little. C# trill is an extra key that increases the cost and value of a flute. On the flutes that have it, the C# trill key tone hole is located on the back of the flute between the thumb keys and the small trill key toneholes. It has a lever that is played by the first finger of the right hand and is right above the Bb trill key lever.

The C key (first finger left hand) has a very small tone hole. This is because it must perform two functions: 1) the pitch of a C# comes out of the open tone hole 2) When playing a middle D and Eb it is a vent to make the note more stable. Because the C key must perform both duties it ends up compromising on the tone of the C#. The ideal C# tone hole would be just as big as the thumb key tone hole.
To correct for this the C# Trill key was invented. It has a nice big tone hole with an independent mechanism. That means the key can be played by the right hand along with many left hand fingerings. This offers easier trills and fuller sounding notes.
Here are some of the most often used alternate fingerings, trills, and tremolos that the C# trill can produce:

  • A more full sounding and better in tune C# in the 1st and 2nd octaves: finger a B and add the C# trill key. Play it into a tuner and switch back and forth between an open C# and a C# trill/B and see how much you have to adjust.
  • Quick trills that are easier to finger for C-C# and B-C#.
  • Quick trill for High F#-G#, a cumbersome fingering. Just play the high F# and trill the C# key.
  • Quick trill for High G-Ab, a very odd fingering. Play the high G and trill the C# trill key.
  • Quick Trill for High Ab-Bb, Mahler likes to use this one a lot. Play high Ab and trill the C# Trill, D trill and D# trill (D# trill is located between the E and D keys).

There are many Tremolos you can get with the C# trill key as well. I love the sound of playing the tremolo while playing the chromatic scale with the left hand:

  • In the 1st octave you can tremolo to C# from G, Ab, A, Bb, B, and C
  • In the 2nd octave you can tremolo to C# from A, Bb, B, and C
  • In the 1st octave you can tremolo to D from G, Ab, A, Bb, or B by using the C# trill and the D trill together.
  • In the 1st octave you can tremolo to D# from G, Ab, A, Bb, B by playing the C# trill and the D# trill.

Special Notes

The high Ab is difficult to play soft and in tune. Try playing it by fingering the middle Ab (every finger on the left hand down) and adding the C# trill. Switch back and forth between the two fingerings and play quietly and with crescendos and decrescendos. You will notice a lot more subtlety on the C# trill fingering.

Opening note for Debussy’s “L’apres-midi d’un Faune” is a C#, the C# trill/B fingering will make it much fuller and you won’t have to adjust to be in tune.

There are more effects that can be created from the flute with the use of the C# trill. Once you have practiced and come to understand these, just playing around and trying the C# trill key with different fingerings might help you discover new and fun sound effects you can make as well. It is amazing just how much one key can add to the instrument!