Flute Punch

Archive for the ‘Intonation’ Category

Follows is some helpful advice on finding optimal placement for the headjoint cork on piccolos:

Set the cork so that the line on the cleaning rod is in the center of the embouchure hole. Then play, without changing fingerings (don’t lift the first finger), the bottom two D’s. Only lip them. You will probably find the middle D to be flat. Push the cork in a TINY bit. Try again. When they are in tune, check the high register. You might find the highest three notes to be hard to get. Now move the cork out just a tiny bit. The correct position is a compromise between the D’s being in tune and the highest notes playing easily, and is normally 1 mm or a bit more in (toward the piccolo body) from the ‘correct’  (line in the center of the embouchure) position.

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Here’s something you can totally geek out with: an informative article on an updated flute scale proposed by Trevor Wye and colleagues. Anyone looking to purchase a flute, whether new or previously owned, should read it. Even if you are not planning to buy a new flute built on this scale, you can still benefit from the contents, as it discusses in detail features of better quality flutes that directly affect intonation. Be sure to click through all four pages.

There, there, Band Director. We flutists know that 99% of you are not flutists, and we forgive you for that, as long as you grovel appropriately. Following is a tidy summary of a Facebook convo some of us had recently that produced a number of helpful tips that actually did help the flute section in question (gasp!).

Question:

Major flute intonation issues in my flute section. Some have the head joint way out and are rolling out and are still sharp. Others have other issues. Help me help them. I wanted to be there for them, but I wasn’t sure where the reed went . . .

Answers:

  • Check the cork. Put the end of the cleaning rod into the headjoint. The little line needs to be fairly centered in the embouchure hole.
  • Check alignment. The embouchure hole should be roughly inline with the keys. Students sometimes place it rolled too far one direction to compensate for improper embouchure or poor hand position (particularly the RH thumb).
  • Young students usually tend to pull the corners of the embouchure to tight. Adjust air stream by having the student pull the tip of their nose down. Try pulling down a bit more in the midrange and letting the nose up in the higher and lower ranges.
  • Don’t let students roll headjoints in and out while playing.
  • For beginning students, try having them pretend they are blowing out a birthday candle. This helps them get a more relaxed embouchure and the type of air stream that is helpful.
  • Posture should be correct but also relaxed.
  • Make sure they are not overblowing to hear themselves, particularly in a marching/pep band situation – when you can’t hear yourself, you have to rely on feeling – what does it *feel* like to play in tune, with centered tone. Younger players don’t have that yet, especially if they don’t practice much.
  • Give them general guidelines, like ” line up your head joints” or “tip your head down just a bit” (can help prevent sharpness in upper register, but you don’t want a lot of movement) or “blow a little lighter.”

Whenever I see a clinician working with a high school group (or some similar situation) and they work with the group on tuning, they invariably ask, “Can you hear that it’s flat/sharp?” and the students all nod their heads. I have to smile to myself, because the truth is, hardly any of them can hear the difference. But they all nod because each of them thinks he/she is the only one who can’t really tell who is out of tune and how to fix it.

I know this because I was one such student, and it probably wasn’t until my late 20s that I really started being able to hear differences in intonation. I never felt like I could ask for help with it because I felt somehow it was something I should have already known.

One of the first things every player has to to learn is how to tune themselves to the given pitch. It’s always easiest to hear the pitch when it’s given by a like instrument. But no matter what instrument provides the tuning pitch, a little trick that has been most helpful to me is to hum the pitch quietly to myself, leaning forward into the stand to hear myself better, if necessary. Once the pitch feels like it’s resonating in my head, I then play the pitch and it is much easier to find the center of the pitch.


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