Jen Cluff ~ Basic Tuning Intermediates

Canadian Flutist and Teacher

Basic tuning problems of the flute intermediate

Help, I'm sharp in the high register and/or flat in the lowest register.

Also see:

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

Dear K
 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:

Meanwhile, here are some quick pointers for you to check into:

- 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 you play?

- 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 overblowing.

- 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 say "Ah".

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 teacher.

- 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 placing the
flute lower all help in this regard to lower pitch.

 This "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 shoulder
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

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 "smile" shape.

________________end 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.

Jennifer Cluff

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 _______________________
Dear 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:
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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 cork.

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 out?

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:

best, Jen


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:

Set up:
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 register.

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 leaps.

3. Start your long tone exercises (Moyse/Wye--descending by semitones)
and after 10 minutes or so, ascertain the perfect tone for Bb1 ( the Bb that is on the center line of the staff.)
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 )

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 fundamental.
- 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 registers.)

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 diameter.
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 hair's width)

Final note:
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..

Jennifer Cluff
Principal Flute; Vancouver Is. Symphony

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