Teaching students to play the flute with the correct right thumb position is a challenge. The first notes taught on the flute (B-A-G) focus on the left hand so students tend to put the right thumb wherever feels comfortable instead of under the F key. Students sometimes place the thumb incorrectly to stabilize the flute when playing notes where most of the fingers are up, like C or C#. There are a few different thumb rests or supports to address this issue and the Ton Kooiman Prima Thumb Rest is the one we will look at today.
What's In The Box?
The Prima is a unique thumb rest in that it consists of two parts: a mounting plate which stays on the flute and a thumb plateau that is removed in order to store the flute in its case.
The mounting plate is tricky to install, so removing it every time you put your flute into the case isn’t practical. You will only remove the mounting plate if you decide to stop playing with the Prima either permanently or for a long period of time.
Silicone bands are used to attach the mounting plate to the flute and there is a silicone pad between the flute and the mounting plate to prevent the thumb rest from scratching the instrument. According to the makers, using the silicone bands and the silicone pad under the mounting plate allows the flute to resonate freely and prevents the thumb rest from clamping and damaging the tube of the flute.
For more detailed views of the Prima as well as information on how to install the thumb rest, please watch this installation video:
Does the Ton Kooiman Prima Thumb Rest Work?
Over the past few months I have had three students test out the Prima, for three different right hand issues.
Student Number One
The first student was one I inherited from another teacher. He held his flute with an extreme hitch hikers thumb, resulting in a very collapsed right hand. As soon as we installed the Prima, he was able to easily hold the flute properly and, given the semi-permanent nature of the thumb rest, I felt assured he would practise with the flute in this new position.
He used the Prima for four months to train his thumb to hold the flute correctly and then he chose to remove it, mainly because he didn’t want his flute to look different that those of his peers in his school band. He has continued playing with a proper right hand position, even without the Prima on his flute, and if necessary, he can go back to using it if his right hand starts reverting to its old position.
Student Number Two
The second student was a beginner who felt very insecure holding the flute. Her flute was rolling quite a bit and her right thumb was constantly moving, as she tried to keep the flute stable. I had her try several thumb rests and the Prima was her favourite. After two weeks of using it, she was surprised at how her had sound improved now that the flute was more stable.
The only issue she had was the fact that her flute no longer fit in her case with the mounting plate on. At first she wasn’t travelling very much with her flute, so she kept the case on her desk, put the flute in it without closing the lid and then covered it with a towel. This wasn’t a good long term solution but she loved the Prima so much that her father modified her flute case so that the flute with the Prima mounting plate now fits inside.
Student Number Three
The third student had issues with his pinky reaching the low C, C# and B due to hyper mobility in his this finger.
Having large hands, he really appreciated the added height provided by the Prima, which reduced his right hand cramping. After using the Prima for a few days, he didn’t see a big improvement with his right pinky finger issue. He would have happily continued to use the Prima for the extra height it provides except for the fact that his older Yamaha 480 series flute wouldn’t fit in its case with the mounting plate on.
Unlike some of the other thumb rests I have had students try, all three students felt immediately comfortable when playing with the Prima. Its obvious that a lot of thought has been put into how to make this thumb rest as comfortable as possible.
The Pros and Cons of The Prima Thumb Rest
1. The Prima is flat so it adds stability compared to gripping a round flute. The flute rolls much less and it feels much more secure. This can reduce tension in both hands and players may put less pressure against the lip.
2. Playing with the Prima on the flute is really comfortable to play with. Not only that but the angle of the thumb plateau can be adjusted for individual hands
3. The Prima encourages holding the flute with the proper right thumb position. It would be difficult to hold the flute with the tip of the thumb too far forward and impossible to hold it with a severe hitchhikers thumb. Not only that but the permanent placement of the mounting plate ensures a consistent correct thumb placement on the flute itself every time students practise at home.
4. The Prima adds some height to the flute’s tube resulting in a more open right hand with less cramping. This may make reaching the lower keys easier.
5. Unlike some other thumb rests on the market, the Prima won’t scratch the flute and it allows the tube of the flute to vibrate freely without distorting the round tube of the flute.
1. With the Prima mounting plate on your instrument, your flute may not fit in your case.
2. Installation of the mounting plate is tricky. Students may want a technician or an experienced teacher to install it. Removing the mounting plate daily to store it in a case that isn’t large enough is therefore not an option.
3. The left trill key may hit one of the silicone straps. This happened to one of my students after three months of use when the silicone strap slid a little bit.. We just cleaned the silicone straps again with alcohol so they wouldn’t slide and reinstalled the Prima, and it fixed the problem. If this doesn’t work for you, or if the tuning of your flute is affected by the strap’s placement, the manufacturer suggests having a repair person remove a tiny slice of cork from under the trill key. You can also try using a narrow strip of sand paper to remove a little bit of cork.
4. The position of the thumb is restricted to under the F key since the silicone straps must wrap around it. Some flute players are more comfortable with the thumb a little more to the left or right.
The Prima and The Flute Case
The main downside to the Prima is that the flute with the mounting plate won’t fit in all flute cases. It fit in four of the eight cases I tried here in my teaching studio.
If your case does not have a solid ridge between the body and the foot joint, it will most likely fit:
Some cases that do have a ridge between the body and the foot joint will work but some will not, depending on the width of the groove made for the body of the flute and the amount of cushioning or extra space there is in the lid of the case (the thumb rest makes the flute sit higher in the groove).
Cases Tested With the Prima Mounting Plate Installed on the Flute:
Cases Where the Flute with the Mounting Plate Fits:
Some Yamaha student cases (the 221 from 2000-2015 and 222 from 2016-present worked)
Miyazawa (both old and new cases)
Some Powell flute cases
Cases Where the Flute with the Mounting Plate Do Not Fit:
Older Yamaha 211 series (case with the handle on the short end)
Yamaha 400 and 500 series*
ProTec Max universal case
Jupiter student flute JFL 700 series
Gemeinhardt student flute
Some Powell flute cases
If you have a case that isn’t mentioned that either DID work or did NOT work with the Prima mounting plate installed, please leave the flute brand and model number (and year of purchase if possible) in the comments below. Please note that I can't guarrantee that the flute with the Prima mounting plate will or won't fit in all cases mentioned above; it is possible that flute cases have changed from one year to the next.
*Another flute teacher mentioned that she has had success with the Yamaha 581 by angling the keys of the flute body towards herself when she puts it in the case. The end of the body with the Prima won’t rest completely in the case but apparently you can still close the case without damaging the flute.
Some solutions if your flute with the thumb plateau doesn’t fit in your case:
1. If you don’t travel with your flute, store your flute on a flat surface in an anti-tarnish fabric bag (you can buy one on Etsy). Be careful if you have cats or small children who may knock it over!
2. Have a flute technician (or a friend or family member who is handy) cut a part of the lined tray in your case so that the thumb plateau fits. You can use an X-acto knife to cut the fabric lining and then either an X-acto knife or a Dremel rotary tool to cut out a small part of the plastic. You can then glue the fabric lining back in.
3. Purchase an inexpensive universal case (like the ProTec Max) or a used case and have a technician alter it as described in point 2 above. (A flute teacher might want to invest in an altered universal case to loan to students who are trying the Prima).
The Ton Kooiman Prima Thumb Rest is definitely an excellent solution for training students to play with the right thumb in the correct position on the flute. I think it is the best on the market for dealing with this issue, mainly because the semi-permanent position of the mounting plate ensures that students always practise at home with the thumb in the correct position. Since the Prima also adds stability it also reduces tension, either in the right hand or against the chin or even in the left hand.
Just make sure you or your student have a way to store your flute with the mounting plate in place!
For more information, please watch the video I have made reviewing the Prima: