Sue Miller – Cuban Flute Improviser, Writer & Academic

Learning the 5-key Charanga Flute – Practice JournalMarch 25th, 2020

5 key Flute Practice Blog

Polo Tamayo

This is a practice blog on my progress learning the 5-key wooden flute used in Cuban charanga. I had initial lessons in New York and Havana from Eddy Zervigón, flute player and bandleader of Orquesta Broadway. Polo Tamayo (Buena Vista Social Club) and Joaquín Oliveros. Their fingerings and practice advice were documented in my first book Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation (Scarecrow Press, 2014).

In the following two short videos I am following the fingerings these players taught me in 2011 but I haven’t as yet had time to learn the instrument – the Covid19 pandemic has led to me teaching my University performance students online and I have asked them to keep an audio-visual practice diary. I usually don’t ask students to do things I haven’t road tested myself and although I documented my practice in my PhD I did not record my private practice in video form, only band rehearsals and live performances – so here goes for some ‘practice what you preach!’

Day 1: Saturday 25 April 2020

Five-key Flute Fingerings:


After running through the fingerings I play a melody from Orquesta Broadway’s song  ‘Goza la Vida’ in third and fourth register:

My aims are to learn this instrument from today onwards by playing a little each day getting used to the fingerings and the bigger stretches required. I won’t be improvising on it until I have the technical chops but I will document my progress on this post.  I love the sound of the five-key flute by my favourite players – Richard Egües, José Fajardo, Melquiades Fundora and Eddy Zervigón and I have been imitating that sound on my metal Boehm system flute for some time  – you can hear this in my latest practice research video ‘Capturing Liveness’


One day I’ll be able to solo on this new instrument but for now these are the baby slopes – as you can see I’m still trying to remember the fingerings which are different to the metal flute, particularly in the high registers.