Finger Posture

Having good finger posture is important for an injury-free experience when playing the dizi. Unlike other woodwind instruments, proper finger posture for the dizi changes according to the general size of the dizi, and with it, the number of tone holes on it.

For clarity, we will first talk about general principles behind the correct finger postures before considering the following categories of dizi:

  1. 6-hole xiaodi
  2. 6-hole bangdi
  3. 6-hole qudi
  4. 7-hole dadi
  5. 8-hole beidadi

The main differences among these different categories of dizi include the number of fingers involved, and the position of the phalanx used in covering the tone holes.

General Principles

The importance of good finger posture cannot be over-emphasised. The over-arching principle behind having good finger posture is that of ergonomics and looseness.

Ergonomics refer to the way the fingers contact the dizi body and the tone holes. Everyone's hand are different, with different finger spans and digit length, so it is necessary to tweak the basic holds to a form that works well for the individual player. That said, a good ergonomic hold on the dizi is one that allows the mass of the dizi to be evenly balanced without undue stress, and also one that minimises the amount of unnecessary stretching of the fingers themselves. This general ergonomic principle is further detailed in the categories of dizi that follow. Broadly speaking, it is a matter of tweaking which of the phalanges and where on the phalanges the tone holes are covered with.

Looseness refers to the generally relaxed manner in which the tone holes are covered with the fingers. The tone holes should never be ``pressed'' just to cover them---it is important to use only enough force there is to cover the tone holes. The reason for this is straightforward: if one were to ``press'' the tone hole, to lift it back up will require a release of the excessive force in the ``press'', followed by lifting the finger up. Naturally, this will cause additional delays.

The reverse form for looseness holds as well: when the fingers are not covering the tone holes, they should not be too far away from them. Ideally, the fingers should not be more than 10mm away from the tone holes they are supposed to cover---any closer will flatten the note that is being played, and any farther will incur a greater delay in covering, or a greater amount of force used.

Another way to obtain a good ``loose'' hold is to ensure that the fingers have a small bend in them to prevent any locking of the joints. This can be easily understood by trying to make the letter `C' with the fingers.

6-hole dizi

All 6-hole dizi share the same assignment of fingers as shown below using the terminology from parts of a dizi and in the orthodox stance:

The left thumb is either directly below the index finger of the same hand, or a little displaced to the left to provide a fulcrum point for the dizi. For those with hypermobile thumbs, they can even be held sideways to support the dizi itself. At no point should the left thumb bend towards the middle finger and beyond of the left hand.

The right thumb can be directly below the index finger of the same hand, or be a little displaced to the left of index finger to act as another support point. Note that the right thumb should not be placed too far to overlap into the space covered by the left hand. Naturally, the right thumb should not bend towards the middle finger and beyond of the right hand.

The left hand pinky can either touch the body of the dizi, or be allowed to hang loose depending on the type of grip that is used.

The right hand pinky often acts as the last point of contact for fingers on the dizi. It contacts the dizi in the most natural position on the top surface, and can be allowed to move together with the right hand ring finger if need be (i.e. when a trill using the right hand ring finger is executed).

6-hole xiaodi

The xiaodi (小笛) is the range of dizi that spans near F4 to around E7. The distance between the tone holes tend to be very tight, and thus the best contact point of the fingers to the tone holes are the tips of the distal phalanges of the finger or the zhijian (指尖).

xiaodi finger posture
Diagram of the correct finger posture for the xiaodi. Notice how it is the finger tips that are being used.

To create a half-covered hole, the finger tips are pulled closer to the palm to uncover a bit of the tone hole.

xiaodi half-hole finger posture
Diagram of how to half-cover a tone hole on the xiaodi.

6-hole bangdi

The bangdi (梆笛) is the range of dizi that spans near B4 to around B7, and overlaps with the xiaodi (A) and the qudi (E). The distance between the tone holes are moderate, and thus the best contact point of the fingers to the tone holes are the proximal tail of distal phalanges of the finger or diyijie (第一节), i.e. the fleshy part of the finger tips nearest to the obvious crease line.

bangdi finger posture
Diagram of the correct finger posture for the bangdi. Notice how the fleshy part of the distal phalanx is used.

To create a half-covered hole, the distal phalanx can be rocked along the tone hole so that the farthest end is lifted off the dizi tone hole, uncovering a bit of it.

bangdi half-hole finger posture
Diagram of how to half-cover a tone hole on the bangdi.

In some cases (e.g. tone holes involving the ring finger) the distal phalanx needs to be shifted left-wards (i.e. towards the embouchure hole) slightly to create a half-covered tone hole. This technique works for all dizi that are larger than the xiaodi because each of those dizi has enough lateral room for the finger to be displaced to the side.

bangdi half-hole finger posture alt
Diagram of how to half-cover a tone hole on the bangdi using an alternate means. Notice that when performing the offset, it is important to move the finger leftwards or towards the embouchure hole or chuikong---this is to better satisfy the acoustic properties of the dizi.

6-hole qudi

The qudi (曲笛) is the range of dizi that spans near F4 to around E7, and overlaps with the bangdi (E) and the dadi (B♭). The distance between the tone holes are moderate to large. The best contact point for the left hand is still around the diyijie (第一节), while the best contact point for the right hand is nearer that of the intermediate phalanges or di'erjie (第二节).

The reason for using the intermediate phalanx on the right hand is to smoothen the grip as the spacing of the tone holes increase the lower the dizi we go. Some players with large enough hands can still hold the qudi the same way as one might hold the bangdi, but that will slowly become increasingly harder the lower we go.

qudi finger posture
Diagram of the correct finger posture for the qudi. Notice how, for the right hand, the fleshy part of the intermediate phalanx is used.

To create a half-covered hole, the intermediate phalanx can be rocked along the tone hole so that the farthest end is lifted off the dizi tone hole, uncovering a bit of it.

qudi half-hole finger posture
Diagram of how to half-cover a tone hole on the qudi.

A similar lateral offset trick like in the bangdi can also be used for those half-covered tone holes involving the ring finger---how to do this has been demonstrated in the bangdi section.

7-hole dizi

All 7-hole dizi share the same assignment of fingers as shown below, with the naming conventions of the tone holes starting with 1 on the most distant tone hole compared to the embouchure hole or chuikong (吹孔):

Note that the 7-hole dizi is technically a ``new'' type dizi or xindi (新笛). It differs from the 6-hole dizi in that it has a new tone hole for the right ring finger that replaces the right-hand half-covering of hole #2 on an equivalent 6-hole dizi (see the numbers in the parenthesis---they represent the ``equivalent'' 6-hole dizi). This is fortuitous because as the pitch of the dizi goes lower, the spacing between the tone holes on the right hand get increasingly larger. Having that extra tone hole simultaneously solves an intonation issue (i.e. a semi-tone) and an ergonomics issue at once.

Naturally, this means that it is virtually useless to consider half-covering holes 2 and 3.

The right thumb position follows the same idea as that of the 6-hole dizi---either directly below the right index finger or extended away to the left.

The left thumb position is dependent on the player's grip. One common way is to hold the dizi body with the left hand the way one would hold a concert flute, i.e. with a ``shelf'' made from the proximal phalanx, with the index, middle, and ring fingers of the left hand stretching out to reach tone holes 6, 5, and 4 respectively.

7-hole left hand concert flute style
Diagram of left hand showing concert flute grip.

The alternative grip is to expand the thumb more like how one would hold and play on the 6-hole dizi. The main advantage of this grip over the previous is that the left thumb continues its purpose of being a fulcrum for the dizi. Because of that, we will consider this finger posture instead.

7-hole dadi

The dadi (大笛) is the range of dizi that spans near B3 to around B6, and overlaps with the qudi (B♭) and the beidadi (E). The distance between the tone holes are larger than that of the qudi. The best contact point for both the left and right hands are that of the intermediate phalanges or di'erjie (第二节), with possibly the exception of the right pinky (always distal phalanx or diyijie (第一节)), and the left ring finger (usually di'erjie, but can be diyijie if tone hole #5 is offset).

The dadi is where we start seeing the tone holes being offset to better fit the ergonomics of the player---the G dadi is the first to show the offset of tone hole #1 for the right pinky, and the F dadi is the first to offset tone hole #5 for the left ring finger.

At this point, there are few if any people who can still use diyijie to cover the holes.

dadi finger posture
Diagram of the correct finger posture for the dadi. Notice how the fleshy parts of the intermediate phalanx are used for both hands except for the left ring finger, and the right pinky.

To create a half-covered hole, the intermediate phalanx can be rocked along the tone hole so that the farthest end is lifted off the dizi tone hole, uncovering a bit of it.

dadi half-hole finger posture
Diagram of how to half-cover a tone hole on the dadi.

A similar lateral offset trick like in the bangdi can also be used for those half-covered tone holes involving the left ring finger or the right pinky---how to do this has been demonstrated in the bangdi section.

8-hole dizi

Technically, there are three different ways of assigning the tones on an 8-hole dizi. One is optimised for emulating the 6-hole dizi while eliminating the pesky ring finger half-covering of holes which as an assignment schema like the following (numbers in parenthesis correspond to a hypothetical 6-hole dizi):

This type of 8-hole dizi is a relatively modern invention designed to address the difficulty of sounding the semi-tones that involve the ring fingers of both hands---additional tone holes for the pinkies are drilled between tone holes #3\ &\ #4 and tone hole #1\ &\ jiyinkong (基音孔).

We are not that interested in that first form because the finger posture for that is similar to that of the 6-hole dizi in general, and the tone holes for the pinkies are exactly where the pinky fingers were to rest on the dizi body anyway. And more importantly, this does not help with the beidadi.

Another way to assign tones to the 8-hole dizi is to take the extension done on the right hand like in the dadi and apply it to the left hand as well, which ends up looking something like this:

The final way to assign tones to the 8-hole dizi is to use the same schema from the previous way, and shift tone hole #8 to the left thumb instead for better stability---this converts the grip of the left hand to be that of the concert flute grip (mostly with first phalanx or diyijie tone hole covering). Players of the xiao (箫) will recognise this as the standard tone hole assignment for their instrument as well.

Of the the last two tone assignments to the 8-hole dizi, only the last is ergonomically more sound. And that is the type of tone hole assignment where we demonstrate the correct finger posture.

8-hole beidadi

The beidadi (倍大笛) is the range of dizi that spans near G3 to around E6, and overlaps with the dadi (E). The distance between the tone holes are large. The best contact points for the right hand remains as being near the intermediate phalanges or di'erjie (第二节), with the caveat that the stretch gets larger the further we are from the G dadi.

The left hand's best contact points are determined by the offset of the tone holes. If there is a thumb hole, then the concert flute grip is needed, i.e. with a ``shelf'' based on the proximal phalanx used to support the body of the beidadi while the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers of the left hand cover tone holes 8, 7, 6, and 5 respectively.

beidadi left hand concert flute style
Diagram of left hand showing concert flute grip on the beidadi.

The right hand's grip is the same as that of the dadi, i.e. the use of the intermediate phalanges or di'erjie for all fingers except possibly the right hand pinky.

beidadi right hand finger posture
Diagram of the correct finger posture for the right hand of the beidadi. Notice how the fleshy parts of the intermediate phalanx are used except for the right pinky.

Half-covered tone holes are rare on the 8-hole beidadi since the commonly half-covered ones are already taken care of with the extra tone holes. The only holes left that may require half-covering are tone hole #4 and tone hole #1. They are best served with a small lateral offset instead of the rocking action that is usually used (see the bangdi section on how to do this).