Jen Cluff ~ Flute Tuning "How to"

Canadian Flutist and Teacher

Beginner's Tuning articles

Using the Tuning CD with your flute

The Tuning CD is a great new product for all musicians, and especially useful for flutists. To order one, simply follow instructions at The Tuning CD website. When it arrives, you'll read the instruction book which is very simple. Firstly, if you've never tuned before to a CD, then be sure and set the CD louder than your flute, so that the tuning changes will be more audible. Next, play the same note as the tuning cd (cut 1 is C, cut 2 is C#, cut 3 is D, cut 4 is Eb, cut 5 is E etc.) at an easy mezzo forte volume. If you are in tune, you will hear a beautiful resonance. If you are not in tune, you will hear "beats" which sound like rhythmic, repeating wavers in the sound:

ie: whah.....wha....wha..wha..wha,wha,wha.whawhawha....

In the above example, the note you are playing is getting more and more out-of-tune, because the "beats" are sounding closer together.

The "beats" become closer together the farther out of tune you go. The beat sound out farther apart if you are getting more and more in tune.

Here is an example of getting more and more in tune:

ie: whah, wha,.....wha...........wha......................whah..............................

Finally, when the note you are playing and the note that is sounding are "beatless" (no beats blatting in your ears), and are smooth and seamless, you are in tune.  Listen to this on mp3 to hear how it sounds with a flute playing in and out of tune while playing unison G-naturals with the tuning CD.

You can use the tuning cd for just about anything; longtones, etudes, pieces, sections of pieces slowed down, scales, simply press "repeat" on your cd-player if you are staying in one key for longer than three minutes. 

If on the other hand your etude or piece modulates and changes key (accidental sharps and flats will alert you to this) you merely find the new key-center and change the cut on the tuning cd.

Ask your private teacher for specific help. But this new product may change the way that tuning is taught! It is so much easier to use our ears directly, in order to train ourselves to play the flute in tune. Theory is too theoretical; what we all need is a drone playing, such as The Tuning CD offers, so that we can learn instantly how to play in tune. Best, Jen :>)

Read more about the tuning CD.

How does temperature affect the flute?

When the flute goes cold in temperature (unheated rooms, cold wind, air conditioning blowing on the flute, open window etc.) the pitch of the flute goes flat from the cold.
To correct this:
Blow warm air into the flute slowly several measures before beginning to play. If you are still very flat, even when the flute is pre-warmed, push in the headjoint 1 mm. at a time until you can easily play in tune with the prevailing pitch, using your normal tone and dynamic range.

When the flute gets hotter in temperature, the pitch of the flute goes sharper. Flutes are subjected to hotter spaces when: heating is turned too high, performance spaces are filled with audiences, sun shines on outdoor performance, hot lights onstage etc.
To correct this:
Gradually pull out your headjoint 1 mm. at a time until you can easily play in tune with the prevailing pitch, using your normal tone and dynamic range.

Over time I have learned to mark my headjoint setting using an idelible ink felt marker (fine point.) On my headjoint tenon I have one mark for A440 for a cold room and one mark for A440 in a very warm room. The two marks are approximately 4 mm. apart. I find it easy to adjust the headjoint as the two marks narrow the range considerably when quickly setting the headjoint up.

Jen Cluff

First time in ensembles?

Tuning solutions you can practice in advance

Tuning basics for ensembles

Question: I'm an amateur player and here's my question: When I play at home with playalong CDs my headjoint has to be in one position to be in tune, but when I go to band rehearsals, I have to pull it much farther out. Why is this?

Answer: There are a few variables that you have to eliminate when it comes to tuning to CDs vs. tuning in a live setting to other players during band.

The most important variables are temperature and loudness. When you play louder you will play sharper (need to pull headjoint out more). When you play softer you will play flatter (need to push headjoint in more to stay in tune.) It's quite likely you'll be playing louder in band then in your CD-listening area in your home, in order to match the loudness of the other players. At home, with your CD, you'll likely use less air, and play only to the walls around you (or the music stand in front of you.). This results in an overall drop in pitch. At band you'll probably use twice as much air-speed in order to hear yourself in the din :>) This will sharpen your pitch, and cause you to need to pull the headjoint out.

Next; Temperature:

When your flute is warm, it will play sharper. When it is cold, it will play flatter. Anytime you are in a room cold enough to require you to wear a longsleeve sweater or sweat-shirt, consider it cold enough (50-70 degrees) to require PRE-WARMING your flute. A cold flute that's been sitting in your lap while you wait for a few bars rest, has come from a cold car in winter, or a flute that's allowed to cool down in between warming up and tuning, is going to be flat!!! You must put three lungfuls of air slowly into a cold flute, with all the keys closed before guaging its tuning. In a warm room, if you're in a short-sleeve shirt and occasionally sweating (75 degees or higher---such as a band room full of people all excitedly blowing and warming the room up with their bodies) you will find the flute stays at a warmer metal temperature, and doesn't need to be pre-warmed. Beware of doors opening, or air-conditioning switching on automatically, however, and sending a cold draft through a section of the ensemble, creating havoc as it makes half the flutes go flat (those that are sitting in the draft.)

Also, when using CDs, remember that you'll need an electronic tuner to determine whether the CD is at A440 (U.S./Canada) or A442 (Europe) or even A444 (Orchestral recordings using European orchestras.). Also, some older "Music Minus Ones" have fluctuating tuning (ie: Rampal's "Bolling Suite") where each mvmt. can be in a different tuning due to old recording methods being unstable.

How to prepare for tuning situations: Get private lessons with a good flute teacher/performer. These lessons will help immeasurably in taking away some of the tuning variables such as:

- too large lip opening; or flute too high on lower lip; flutist rolling in and out with wrists to correct tuning; flute being from the '70s and having a poor 'scale' and therefore out of tune with itself; headjoint cork in wrong position; flutist blowing too softly or too loudly overall; flutist not knowing how to produce dynamic change WITHOUT blowing too hard or too soft etc. etc.

- use "The Tuning CD" (A 440) or get an electronic tuner for using at home to do dynamics exercises such as crescendo/diminuendo on long notes, while correcting embouchure to avoid playing loud and going sharp, and playing soft and going flat. (very common problem that needs to be addressed in about the 3rd year of amateur flute playing.)

- Once your teacher has checked your flute for tuning (headjoint cork, how much to pull out the headjoint when the room is either 70 degrees, or the flute is pre-warmed) put a fine line on the headjoint using a permanent fine-tip marker showing where you need to pull out to in order to play in tune at A440 (or the prevailing pitch for the country you live in.) I have TWO such marks on my flute. One for playing loudly, and one for playing ppp in a cold room. By having these marks on my flute I can make adjustments quickly. My particular embouchure requires that I pull out 5-7 mm. on an A 442 flute in order to play at A 440.

Caveat: Once you've done the above safe-guarding techniques against the common problems of tuning a flute and playing the tuning note in tune, remember that tuning moves constantly, and that it only takes a clarinet going sharp or flat, or a bass trombone who's got a loose tuning slide, or even a fan osscilating across a band room, to thrown the whole band out of whack.

Have a look at the other tuning articles and try to stay sane (and keep your instrument pre-warmed and use your ears wisely). :>) Best, Jen :>)

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Flute sharp in the high register? How to fix it?

Question: This is the first time playing in an amateur orchestra that includes piano, cello and strings and a few woodwinds. I was playing with "feeling" and thought I was playing quite well when the pianist stopped me and told me that my high G was incredibly sharp. What can I do to lower the high G? I went out and purchased an electronic tuner, and checked my flute against it, and although the middle register is fine, the very top notes above D3 are registering sharp, and the very lowest (below low G) are progressively flatter. I also have Trevor Wye's Book 4 of his Practice books series, called "Intonation" but the explanations are a little complex for me. Can anyone explain it all more simply? I've been playing 3 yrs. and have been working most recently on tone development. Thanks in advance.

Jen replies:

The following info. is the most basic starting point for a novice/intermediate player looking for help with intonation problems in ensembles. I hope it is helpful.

 The basic tuning problems of the flute are as follows:

Playing loudly causes the flute to go sharp.

Playing softly, with slow air, causes the flute to go flat.

Playing at a high angle (bottom lip aiming the air more upward) causes increased sharpness.

Playing at a low angle (top lip aiming the air more downward) causes increased flatness.

Uncovering the blow hole (placing the lower lip at less than 1/4 coverage) causes sharpness.

Covering the blow hole (lower lip covers more than 1/3) causes flatness.

Learning how to manipulate all the variables can make you crazy with too much to think about, so the very simplest answer to practicing intonation is to spend a small amount of time every day working at

a) experimentally bending all your flute's notes (discussed below) as Trevor Wye suggests as well as additional time spent on:

b) singing the phrase you're about to play using your voice (an octave or two lower than the flute is fine), so as to develop your natural instincts

c) listening to recordings of the piece so as to develop your understanding of how the harmonies affect the tuning

d) In rehearsals and performances: Hearing the notes you're about to play "in tune" just seconds before you play them (Pre-hearing). This will help your body/embouchure/air change much faster to match the desired pitch the split second before you play the pitch ,rather than afterwards (which is usually too late.)

Remember that the most noticeably out-of-tune notes are the longest held notes. Very short notes, or running sequences of notes go by so fast that few people notcie the tuning of them. So spend most of your time on the longer notes in any piece.
Other tuning considerations:

Each note on any given brand name of flute can have a tendency to be sharp or flat depending on how the distances between the holes have been calculated by the manufacturer.

Notes that tend to be sharp on most flutes:
Middle octave: C#2 (especially on old scale flutes.)
High octave:C#3, E3, F#3, G#3, B3, C4

On new scale flutes (Cooper or Bennett scale), the C#s have been
corrected to be less sharp.
Correction for sharp notes:
- Blow less loudly, use less air speed

- Cover more of the blow-hole with the lower lip by guiding the lips forward into more of a "kiss-shape" so that they travel over the blow hole together

- Aim more downward with the upper lip

- Relax the body, face, jaw and neck (too much tension can lead to sharp playing overall.)

- In extreme circumstances, use corrective fingerings that flatten sharp notes. ie:
Sharp C#s: Add RH 2 & 3 to stabilize flute for blowing more downward
Sharp E3: Remove RH 4 to flatten
Sharp F#3: T1 3| 2 4 to flatten
Sharp G#3: Add RH 2 & 3 to flatten
Sharp B3: T 1 3| [tr-keys1&2]3

Other alternate flute tuning fingerings can be found at:
Notes that tend to be flat on flutes:

Low octave: E1, F1
also: possibly low D, C# and C if player unconsciously rolls in, plays with too little air, or blows at too low an angle.

Middle octave: Possibly: A2, Bb2 and B2
High octave: Bb3
To correct flatness, you can use an electronic tuner in order to bend the notes upward in pitch by:
- Uncovering the blow hole so that lower lip retreats. Experiment with moving the lip corners back, and to the sides, so that the lips become closer to the teeth and less 'kiss-shaped'.

- Blow with faster air and from lower in the body

- Aim upward so that the air entering the flute is aimed at a higher angle.

-Seek to hear the upper over-tones in your sound quality ( imagine you can hear a faint D3 while playing D1)

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Using a tuner:
A tuner is only a reference device for individual notes on the flute.
No actual instrument actually follows the tuner's pitch all the way up and down its compass. The human ear prefers stretched octaves (octaves wider than the tuner will show) and this is why the tuner is not useful to determine what humans will actually do with a pitch in performances or rehearsals.

I suggest instead working with "The Tuning CD" which is calibrated to account for the standard stretched octave.

Many say that the piano or organ is an exception, but on the other hand, many good piano tuners also stretch octaves to make the piano ring. If you wish to read about this see
tuning links.
So do not be too hard on yourself about being too sharp on the highest notes of the flute.
Even in professional orchestras (if you take an A440 orchestra on CD and play along with the flute player) the pitch tends to stretch all the way up the scale until the flute players are playing much higher than 440 in their upper register.
How to use the tuner:
Your quest is to find how to lower and raise every pitch on the flute approximately 20 cents flat, and then 20 cents sharp in anticipation of every possible tuning situation that may arise in the future.

Most situations will only require you to be near the "in tune" mark and then make a small adjustment, but the experimentation makes you flexible and fast at making small changes.

On the pitches mentioned above that are sharp, lowering them below the center mark ("in tune mark") on the tuner may be very difficult, and raising flat notes above the "in tune mark" by 20 cents may also be very difficult.

Do not sacrifice your tone quality too much while experimenting,---simply discover what works and how to do it easily.

However when playing with an ensemble, the various pitches may well have to be anywhere in this 40-cent span due to the differences between equal temperament (which is the tuner's setting for "in tune") and Pythagorean tuning (used by string players), Just Intonation (used by choirs and singers) and "Stretched octaves" used by orchestras and piano tuners.

[For more on the types of tuning systems see Flutetalk Magazine, articles by John Barcellona on flute intonation in issues: Nov 2004 & Dec. 2004 and links to similar tuning articles here.]

An electronic tuner will NOT tell you about what pitch you'll actually have to play in an ensemble setting, as any pitch is possible.

Also, due to temperature fluctuations in the hall you're working in the flute may also not be playing in tune due to the air becoming cold and then warm.

Note, cold air makes flutes play flat, and many other instruments play
sharp (strings, clarinets, pianos, etc.)

Note: Warm air makes flutes play sharper, and many other instruments
play flat.

Additionally, the tuning never stays still (with the possible exception of a well-tuned and temperature-stable piano.) There are many possible tuning tendencies for ensemble members to play flat or sharp due to human error, chord type, instrument difficulties, or other factors, (ie: clarinets get sharper as they play more softly, where as flutes tend to go flatter as they play softly.)

Therefore your best bet in working with a tuner is to follow Trevor Wye's intonation exercises in his Book 4- Intonation, and learn to:

a) Bend notes gently in either direction so that your embouchure and air-stream are well-trained in quickly moving higher or lower in pitch as the need arises.

b) Overblowing low fingerings, to learn how to effortlessly play perfect octaves. Compare overblown fingering pitch to "real fingering" pitches and try and match them (good work out for the developing embouchure. See "Tone Development through extended technique" by Robert Dick.)

c) Silently singing while playing, in order to tune the body to the pitches that are being played on the flute. (Robert Dick's book also good for these exercises.)

d) Learning to bend pitches very quickly using the variety of angles and air-speeds outlined above.

e) Learning special tuning fingerings for special occasions.

f) Learning to crescendo and diminuendo while staying in tune on a single pitch. See Fiona Wilkinson's Vowel Dynmaics in "The Physical Flute" book.

Your ensemble example:
If you must play a very loud high G, and it's too sharp, and no other technique works, or is desireable....a corrective fingering would be:

 1  3|     34  played ffff with good centered tone.

The above is a high F#3 trill fingering that gives a good G3 that if blown with very fast air, is an in-tune loud G3. Fingering used: "Carmen Fantasy by Borne" William Bennett Masterclass.

However, I would simply aim downward, use less air speed and play the G3 lower in your amateur orchestra piece, as the above fingering would be TOO flat for anything other than a fortissimo.

Hope this helps, Best, Jen :>)

Also see more flute tuning articles:

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© Jennifer Cluff