Friday, February 19, 2010

Plugs in open-hole flutes

Dear Flutists,

There was a debate this week on one of the flute groups about whether plugging an open-hole flute, (especially with cylindrical acrylic plugs) adversely affects tone and tuning.
I recorded my tests and put some graphics with it. Hopefully the youtube sound is acceptable. Here's my test completed:

If the sound is unclear due to youtube compression, then you can listen to the same mp3 here at the sharing-files site.

And may I state that there was no sound-quality or clip editing done on this full, live living-room recording other than the last back-to-back comparisions at the very end. The whole thing was done in one take, no pauses.

I'm using an Altus flute with Bennett scale.
The flute is A-442, and the headjoint is set to play at A-440.
The plugs I used are about 1/4 inch tall and wide, are cylindrical, and do not hang below the pad on the underside of the keys.
My A and G keys are permanently plugged as I have wooden extensions on those keys.

Please comment using the comment button below. Thanks.


I am fully convinced that there is no harm in plugging an open-holed flute for ergonommic reasons, as long as the plugs are air-tight.

On my flute with its scale and key-height, the diffence in pitch is less than 1% on the most difficult-to-bend note, E2, played pianissimo. Also when played brightly for maximum resonance both plugged and unplugged, I hear no difference in resonance of tone.

If it is no more effort to sharpen a soft E2, and if I can play equally bright and ringingly with and without plugs on this dullest of notes, then why is it not a good idea to plug the open-holes for ergonomic needs of individual players?

Just last week I received a blog comment from a flute teacher who was concerned about an adult student whose bent or arthritic fingers could not reach the holes on the student's new open-hole flute. I suggested that plugging open-holes was absolutely the best way to go.

It made me think that there must be hundreds of teachers out there who are insisting that their students remove their hole plugs?
Based on what scientificly researched tests?

For me and my students, comfort and speed of technique are much more important than contorting your hands to a "one size does NOT fit all" flute keywork.

And for the past 18 years I have played with all the open-holes on my flutes plugged, except for the F-natural which I can reach easily and without effort.

After this week's further flute-group discussion I find that there seem to be numerous flute teachers who, for some un-tested reason, think it is less professional or less desireable to play a plugged open-hole flute, and I really can't see why.
Perhaps old scale flutes, or flutes with incorrect key rise perform worse than newer scaled flutes. I'd like to hear more about which brands plugs affect, and whether a good flute technician cannot double-check their key rise if plugs adversely affect the tone or tuning.

Additionally, I've written up all the historically available information I could find, about the development of the open-hole flute, and am surprised to find a lack of scientifically gathered measurements or experiments that have been done on the flute.
All the pertinent references I could find are now here, on my webpage.
So I hope that more pro-flutists and teachers will try the same tests, and come up with a more scientific approach to testing the effects of plugs on flute tone and tuning.

I hope this helps dispel myths that are not USEFUL myths. :>)

Open to comments, and sorry for the low excitement graphics.
Comments (1)
Anonymous Mark Middleton said...

Bravo Jen. I think those that state they hear a timbrel difference between plugged holes and non-plugged holes are actually experiencing a combination of what they hear as the performer and what they are feeling (more vibration when not plugged). Of course listeners do not hear what the performer hears and listeners certainly do not feel the vibrations under the performers fingers. I think that if a double blind test could be performed then the "plug nay-sayers" would be in for a shock. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:57:00 AM


Post a Comment