How to Hold Your Fife - I
Holding the fife can be a difficult problem, particularly for a beginner. When playing an A, B or C#, it can be especially challenging. Different people hold the fife in different ways. I have one way that works for me. Keep in mind, if you have another method that works, that is fine with me. This is a precise description of how I do it:
all six fingers down on the 6 holes, my right thumb is directly under the 4th
hole, from left to right. The right thumb presses firmly in an upward direction.
My right pinkie is always flat against the upper surface of the fife, with a firm downward pressure. That tends to cantilever the blow hole end upward, which is useful. My lower lip and left hand can then secure the blowhole end against my lip.
left thumb is NOT directly under the first finger hole, but in more of a vertical
position on the inside surface of the fife, closer to my face. As I look at that
thumb, it is actually the left side of it that is touching the surface of the
With the firm downward pressure of the right pinkie it will eventually get tired, but it will get stronger over time with practice. You may even feel a strain in your right wrist at first. I ALWAYS have my right pinkie pushing down, no matter what fingering I am using.
Place the three fingers of your right hand on the corresponding holes, pinkie firmly down, with right thumb directly under the fourth hole and the blow hole against your lip and you will see that is it so stable that there is no fear of dropping it, and you are not using your left hand at all! The right pinkie is crucial.
Flautists who take up the fife have a major problem holding the fife because, on the flute, the right pinkie has a key beneath it. They are usually taught to hold the instrument with the right pinkie elevated. I know people who play with the that finger up and I can't comprehend how they do it. However, if they have figured out a way to hold the fife securely, so be it! I won't argue with them. I am only trying to help.
The left pinkie is not so important. It is aligned with the right thumb, pressing with its tip against the side of the fife. Not too much pressure required. I hope that describes the process in a helpful fashion.
How to Hold Your Fife - II
One of the greatest causes of delay in learning to play the fife is improper posture. Right from the beginning, when trying to sound those first few C# notes, if one is seated there may be a problem. This can be compounded by slouching back in a chair or leaning forward to read music. My recommendation is simple: play while standing.
Better yet, practice while standing in front of a mirror so you can observe the positions of both the instrument and your hands. Keep the following ideas in mind:
1. The fife should be in a horizontal position, or as close to horizontal as you can get it. It involves a bit of stretching in the muscles of your right shoulder, but it is worth the effort. You will get used to it. The closer to horizontal the fife is, the greater the sound volume that will be obtained and the easier it will be to sound notes. Trust me.
2. The fife should be perpendicular to the line of march; the bore of the fife should be aimed at the right curbside. This also adds to the efficiency of the airflow AND the volume.
During colonial times, the fife was often played in the home but, in the military, the louder the better. Any apartment dweller who has a fifer living nearby is well aware of just how loud this charming woodwind is. If you follow the above instructions, you have my personal guarantee that you will definitely be heard. Your fife will also be much easier to play. I will provide some photos as soon as I can locate a pretty fifer to pose for them. You don't need another picture of me up here!
- Ed Boyle
ŠE.W.Boyle, 2001 (All Rights Reserved)