where wildly different is perfectly normal
Real Life Scaffolding
Real Life Scaffolding

Real Life Scaffolding

Real Life Scaffolding


That’s a picture of my flute right there. Notice anything unusual? Yes, the headjoint is pretty smeary, I hadn’t wiped it down yet. And the lighting isn’t the best, it’s been foggy all morning. Oh! That white thing snapped onto that bar? What’s that?

That’s my real life scaffolding.

Technically it’s called a c# extension and it’s an expensive piece of molded plastic that snaps onto my flute’s main rod. It allows my left index finger to be less cramped and painful, and I play faster and more cleanly. Not many people use these, or even need them. Most flutists play just fine with the keys set up the way they are, no problem. Others, because of injury or arthritis, have extensive modifications made to their instruments. I fall somewhere in the middle. In grad school my teacher and I experimented with different setups for me, various modifications that would eliminate and prevent hand pain while allowing me to strive for excellence. For awhile there I had all sorts of things clipped and velcroed onto my flute, but now I’m pretty much just down to the c# extension (and only because I’m still searching for a right hand thumb squooshy; Dr. Scholl’s quit manufacturing my perfect solution). Over the years the temporary modifications I’ve tried (including taping my pinkies into curves for several months as an undergrad to break the terrible habit of playing with locked and double-jointed pinkies) eventually fell away, leaving the one remaining that I still need and may need indefinitely. I’m good with that.

Does my c# extension make me better than others? No, not by a long shot. There are still plenty of flutists out there much better than I, that’s for sure. Does it give me an unfair advantage? Nope, it just allows me to play without pain and helps prevent injury to me. Shouldn’t I remove it now, since I’ve improved so much? While I could play without it, and play well, I’d be straining my left hand and index finger well past pain and into injury territory; just because I’ve improved with the assistance doesn’t mean I no longer need it.

So where am I going with this?

Scaffolding is simply assistance. Removed IF deemed no longer necessary by the person using it, kept if needed, given freely and without judgment. It’s not an advantage, it’s not cheating, it’s not unfair.

It would behoove the education system to remember this.


  1. KatharineS

    I haven’t seen this before, or really even thought about it, but it’s such a good idea. People’s hands are all different, but the flute (and other instruments) have a very standard configuration. I suppose the curved headjoint for younger players is an example of this too.

    If this kind of adjustment had been around back when I was playing a lot of trombone, I probably would have used a stand like this http://www.ergobrass.com/ to support the weight of the trombone – I used to get a lot of shoulder pain playing a solid Bb/F instrument. And I would have also learnt about what exercises to do as well, seeing playing the instrument as more than just picking it up and playing it.

    I basically gave up the viola and violin because of the back pain it caused, I must see what hacks might help with that.

    Interesting idea to link this kind of scaffolding to education – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Something to really think about.

    (And ‘behoove’ is an awesome word…)

    1. Jen

      Yes! The curved headjoint would be another example. 🙂
      I love that the musical world has no problem with advancement based on ability vs age, and that scaffolding is no problem. It’s never an issue.

Whaddya think?

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