tuning problems of the flute intermediate
I'm sharp in the high register and/or flat in the lowest
Sharp High Register:
I have been repeatly told when we tune up that i
am playing sharp- i can pull the headjoint out of course-
BUT it that the real problem? is it something I am doing
wrong? Is my embouchure not correct? The direction of the
air stream wrong? When I am practcing I watch on the
tuner & I am some what off- but not to the decree I
am told in the orch. ALSO- How do i determine, once
we are playing to sstay in tune with the rest of the
orchestra? How d oI play, watch the music & listen
all at the same time? What adjustments do I do when it
doesn't sound right? THANKS
There are several corrections you can make if you
play consistently sharp. There are some extensive
articles for you to download and read under
"Tuning" at: tuning.htm
Meanwhile, here are some quick pointers for you to check
- Check your cork
position in your headjoint. It should be at 17.3 mm from
the center of the embouchure hole. Some even move their
corks to between 17.5 and 18 mm. if playing an A442
flute. Check that your cleaning rod marker is measured
correctly too (many are not in the correct place.)
Determine if you're playing an A440 flute or not; ask
what is the scale of the model and brand of flute that
- If you're playing a Yamaha which may be built to play
as high as A443, rather than A440, you may need to pull
out the headjoint as much as 12 mm. for some players,
depending on embouchure. Check with a tuner all three D
naturals, overblowing low D to middle D, and then high D
using low D fingering.
Make further headjoint adjustments based on this kind of
- Many beginners are taught to aim the airstream high for
high notes, and low for lownotes. This only works for the
first year or so, eventually causing extremely sharp high
register playing if not checked and corrected by a good
teacher. As a novice or intermediate player, you instead
may have to think of the opposite: Aim the airstream
toward the left elbow, or even down to the floor for very
high notes, and aim the airstream straight across or
angle it higher for the low and middle register notes.
- Blowing hard to
play loudly causes the flute to go sharp. If you want to
play loudly, don't blow HARD; blow with a focused and
centered, penetrating core to the sound instead.
- To play loudly,
drop the jaw open and let the embouchure be loose, open,
and relaxed. Open the teeth, and open the mouth cavity to
Lips shoud never be
pinched tightly but should aim the air with poiseand
without tension. Trevor Wye's book on TONE (book 1 of his
series of practice books) has good crescendo and
diminuendo longtone exercises that allow you to develop
loud and soft playing while staying on pitch.
- Many self-taught
players place the flute too high on the lower lip,
causing sharp playing. Go to the library and order
through "Interlibrary Loan" the books by Roger
Mather (3 volumes) called :
"The Art of Playing the Flute".
His books will walk you through lowering the flute on
your chin to free the lower lip. In general: If your
lower lip is squished onto your teeth by the pressure of
the flute's lip-plate, you are placing the flute too
high. The pressure of the flute should be against the
roots of the lower teeth, and the blow-hole edge should
be at the red-line of the lower lip where it demarcates
the change from red to skin-tone.
If you have
extremely thick lips you may be an exception to this
general rule, so check with an experienced private flute
- Many self-taught players don't realize that they may
need to pull the upper lip down well over the teeth, so
that the airstream can be aimed downward using a long
upper lip. If they have a short upper lip, and do NOT
pull it downward, this can cause the lip-opening to be in
line with the front teeth, instead of well below the
front teeth. Experiment with lowering the flute on your
chin (see my articles too, as this is covered in brief)
and stretching your upper lip well downward.
Opening the teeth at the back of the mouth, and generally
flute lower all help in this regard to lower pitch.
"upper lip stretching down" is also covered in
the Roger Mather books mentioned above.
- Self-taught players might also accidenty be using an
"eeee" syllable to play the flute. Make sure
your molars at the back of your mouth are well apart
(like you have two blackballs between your back teeth)
and say "Ahhhhhh".
Open the throat like a yawn, and completely relax the
shoulders and chest.
A tight chest and hurling the air at high speeds from the
area also cause sharp playing.
You may also want to double check whether you're
accidently using the "smiley" embouchure, which
another member of Flutenet mentioned recently. A Galway
excercise to relax a "smiley embouchure" will
be found here.
This is an incorrect embouchure type that shows up from
time to time
among self-taught, or incorrectly taught students.
In "smiley embouchure" the student pulls the
lips back tightly, so that they are drawn thinly across
the teeth, making the sound thin and spitty in the high
register, and also very sharp.
Instead the lip corners should not be locked or tightly
drawn back, but should allow the lips ample movement
forward, so that the lips can flow between being drawn
back and thin for the low register (to avoid playing
flat), uncovering the blow hole, and alternately, be
gradually pushed loosely forward in the lip centers, or,
some may say, slightly pursed, to cover the blow hole up
to 1/2, in order to play in the high register.
Get a professional flute teacher to demonstrate this for
you if you suspect you are playing with the lips drawn
tightly back, and stretched thinly across your teeth in a
suggestions to conquor sharpness
Your questions indicate that you may not be studying
privately with a flute expert. You may wish to start
taking lessons with a top-notch teacher who will be able
to show you all these points.
As far as learning to play in tune using the EARS, this
will greatly be improved by ear-training lessons, working
with CDs (playing along
with famous flute players on recordings), by ordering
"The Tuning CD" and working with it
extensively, and by learning to sing in tune.
Good luck and let us know your discoveries.
thank you lisa & jen for all of your advice- we just
moved & i don't have a job yet- as soon as i do i can
then take lessons- i have a pearl 665- i don't have a
metric ruler to i go one from the web- the distance from
the cork to the middle of the emb. hole is 22 mm. i don't
know what the inside diam. is- thanks k flute
The diameter of the headjoint is tapered so that it
becomes narrower as you go toward the crown, and larger
as you go toward the tenon. The diameter at the center of
the embouchure hole is usually between 17 and 19 mm, with
most flutes measuring at 17.5 mm.
More on this at:
Look for the articles by Joe B. on "Tuning your
flute" and "flute
Personally, I suggest you leave the cork where it is and
consult a flute teacher or expert, before moving the
You measured it and
found it at 22 mm. ? That makes me wonder if you're
measuring it correctly. I thought you had said that your
cleaning rod marker showed to be right in the center of
the embouchure hole.
22 mm. would be wrong by 5 mm .
Accidently, perhaps, you may have over-tightened the
crown assembly, over time, gradually pulling the cork too
far outward. However if you had done this, your flute
would tend to play FLAT, not sharp.
Did you know that tightening the crown pulls the cork
The fact that you have to pull the headjoint out 3/4 of
an inch in order to play in tune leads me to
believe that there is something askew with your method of
blowing the flute.
I listed all the
factors I could think of in my original answer:
- flute too high on the lower lip (air travelling too
short a distance from lips to flute.)
- flute embouchure too tight or tense
- blowing too hard, too much air.
- flute blow-hole too uncovered, lips need to travel
forward to cover more.
- upper lip is not pulled downward enough
- lips too tight against teeth
- flute rolled out too much (rare.)
- jaw too far forward
- angling the airstream too high etc.
You may want to wait and solve this problem with
your new teacher when you find them. It's very difficult
to "see" what you're doing over the net.
All other answers to "Playing too sharp" have
already been posted at:
Q: Help, my low
register is flat (but my mid and high range are okay on
the tuner!). I'm playing a Yamaha flute, and the cork is
correctly set, and I'm a flute teacher.
A: Dear low-register flat-sufferer,
I realize that you're a teacher and you have probably
tried all these things already, but here are some
experiments I give to any new students of mine who have
this flat-low-register problem:
Raising the pitch of the low register:
Put your tuner up on the stand and mark down on a sheet
of paper exactly which notes are flattest and by how
much. This will tell you where you started before trying
the rest of the suggestions, and give you real feedback
about any improvements.
1 a). Check to see (use a mirror) whether your lower lip
is only covering 1/4 to 1/3 of the blow hole when playing
low notes. If it is covering more:
- Stretch the lip corners horizontally back along the
teeth so that you thin the lower lip, drawing it back to
cover only 1/4 of the blow hole.
- While maintaining only "+ coverage, continue to listen
to the tone, and experiment with the upper lip's
flexibility, making adjustments to discover and hold a
centered, pure tone.
1.b) NOTE: Don't attempt to play the low register too
quietly at any time for the next few weeks, and during
the rest of the experiments. If anything, play louder
than you think you should. The flatness could be
exacerbated by too-slow an air-speed.
2. Check to see
(use a mirror) that when you descend to the low register
that the head stays still, the jaw stays in normal
position and that the lips don't make sudden
movements to dip and blow deeply into the flute.
Instead: Keep the airstream horizontal (as much as
possible) and experiment with dropping the lip centers
open VERTICALLY (straight
down, like an elevator) so that you've created a larger
lip aperture in the center of the lip aperture. AVOID
blowing at a low angle as you descend down to the low
Dropping the lips open vertically to make the lip hole
taller will slow the air down quickly (moving through a
suddenly larger opening) and will give you almost no
angle-change to the airstream.
This is useful not only as a tuning experiment (tone may
not be strong at first) but in other applications, allows
for a super-quick descent into low register for fast
3. Start your long tone exercises (Moyse/Wye--descending
and after 10 minutes or so, ascertain the perfect tone
for Bb1 ( the Bb that is on the center line of the
According to Gareth Morris, author of "Flute
Technique" (pg. 15-20) it is possible to consider
"Bb1-with-great-tone" as the perfect embouchure
for all notes below Bb1, all the way down to low C.
If you maintain this Bb1 placement and don't TRY to alter
it, see if you can play by semitones all the way down to
low C. If you can do this, you can eliminate all
angle-changing and play slightly sharper in the low
register without effort.
4. Use the "Listen to the high overtones"
experiment in Fiona Wilkinson's book "The Physical
Flute" (carried by www.fluteworld.com )
She has you imagine the overtones over each low fingering
as a ladder of pitches going up in front of you.
Aim to hear the highest overtones in your lowest notes:
- First overblow a low D, low C# or low C, and listen to
each harmonic above that's available above the
- Then play the low note while still getting a hint of
the sound of the high harmonic above.
(this will also stop most flutists from accidentally
angling downward too far for the low note, as their ear
becomes focussed on the upper harmonics and overtones.
Lower lip starts blowing more upwards by overlapping the
upper lip slightly---used to be called "Jaw
Forward"----but jaw mvmt. is problematic, so use
lip-angling to aim UP.)
6. Use Robert Dick's "Tone Development Through
Extended Technique" to play short phrases with
"throat tuning" (singing an octave or more
below your flute sound, but humming along in unison while
you play.) This will increase "singer's
support" to your ab muscles and add a richer tone to
the low register in general.
7. Raise the center of your upper lip a tiny amount
(almost microscopic) by pulling up on the connector
muscles from the nose to the center of the upper lip. You
want to create a tiny arch in the upper lip's aperture.
Some players play flat in the low register because they
bring the upper lip down too far, over-squashing the lip
aperture into a long thin slit with a flat line where the
upper lip is forming the lip hole.
Let there be an arched-roof shape to the lip hole.
This increases the audibility of upper harmonics, and
also raises the
pitch of any note (a useful resource in all three
8. Finally, if all else fails; triple check your cork
placement with several different cleaning rods. Some
cleaning rod markers are off by 3 mm. and some flutes
have anywhere between a 17 mm interior diameter to 19 mm
I personally own 4 cleaning rods, of which only ONE
matches my repair-person's!!! (and that's the one I use
to set the cork.) However, in Edwin Putnik's book
"The Art of Playing the Flute" he suggests that
professionals may move their corks up to two or three
turns off center to adjust for their own tuning needs.
The method is:
- Draw out the headjoint to play A440 in tune.
- Play low D into the tuner, and then overblow it to the
two higher D2, D3 and be sure and make the MINIMAL
embouchure adjustment----just air-speed if possible.
- move the cork a quarter-turn of the crown-tightening at
a time (pulling the cork outward), until the three D's
are as close to in-tune is possible. Then re-check the
whole flute's tuning overall again.
It is no problem replacing the cork to its original
position (loosen crown and push in) and to experiment
going in the opposite direction, but remember to only
change it by fractions of a millimeter. (less than a
One of the "flat low register" sufferers tried
changing to another headjoint and discovered that only
ONE of their headjoints played flat in the low register.
This warrants further investigation, as both headjoints
were Yamaha brand with two different cuts. Perhaps they
were mis-manufactured? Or the corks need to be adjusted
in an unusual or quirky way? Would love to know more
about THIS phenomenon..
Principal Flute; Vancouver Is. Symphony
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