Larry Krantz Flute Pages: Flute Tuning

John Zornig on Flute 'Tuning'

  • I think "tuner" is a big misnomer. A "tuner" doesn't tune anything, it just measures the frequency of a sound. It has a needle (or lights) that is centered when the sound it hears matches a frequency that corresponds to a note in a scale that is equally tempered (i.e. piano scale). As we know, or should, the equal tempered scale is the one that was cleverly designed to almost never actually be in tune, even with itself.

  • Really playing in tune absolutely requires ears, knowledge, care, and skill. It requires a knowledge in some depth of how harmony works, and an ear for intervals. It does not, on the other hand, require a particular flute, although some flutes make it less tiring to play in tune than others, The main things to remember in tuning, I think, are:

  1. Notes are not in or out of tune, intervals are. In choosing what pitch to play you must adapt to the harmonic context.

  2. Tuners, pianos and xylophones are out of tune with themselves. They can be very disconcerting if you don't take this into account. Playing with a piano can actually give you a wierd feeling about your pitch until you realize that it's the piano that's wrong, not you.

  3. Playing in tune, particularly in complex harmonies, is very difficult, and intonation is sometimes a matter of choosing a compromise (together). Showing that you can make the needle on the tuner be in the center usually doesn't prove a thing, except sometimes that you are clueless.

  4. When adjusting the head on a flute (tuning) remember that your goal is to find a position that will allow you to play in tune with the least effort, in all musical contexts. To do that simply playing back an A is not good enough. Take that Irish fellow's advice and play arpeggios to check that the head position is optimal for the whole range and for your "normal" embouchure.

Reprinted from FLUTE with the kind permission of John Zornig.

Words of Encouragement
by John Zornig
Calla Fireman wrote:

  • Hello everyone,

  • Is anyone else suffering from the Blues as a result of hearing all that wonderful flute music at NFA? And here I thought I was finally getting somewhere with this great teacher and now I feel deflated like a sad balloon.

  • Now my little wedding and cocktail party gigs seem so insignificant. Can some kind person help restore my faith in my own playing? I've barely practiced once since returning and it didn't go so well.

  • I know I've lost perspective...but could use some help. Thanks in advance.

    Calla Fireman
    Ottawa, Canada

John Zornig replied:

    I understand. I'll try to share a little, and we'll see if it helps.

    When I hear a player, or lots of them, who plays much better than I can (yet), I do get a little twinge of ego-annoyance. I rather imagine that, being male, my ego involvement in my playing is quite large. Over the years, though, I've realized that there are tons of players who are both more talented, and more committed than I am, tons more who aren't, and also that there's a lot of room in the world for all of us.

    I'm certainly not saying that you should give up ambition; I haven't. But, I don't have to be better than everyone else in the world to be respected, admired, applauded etc. and you don't either I just have to know that I'm competent and getting better each day. Music performance does have competitive moments, but mostly it's about personal goals. So, I now look at great performances by other players as a) instructive - I try to understand what they do, so that I can do it too, and b) inspirational - I freely let them get to my emotions. The result is that I come back from conventions, concerts, masterclasses with a big zeal to practice. In fact, one way that I know that I've heard a really good player is that I feel that urge to run home and play. Just about my only frustration at the convention was that there was so much going on that I couldn't do that very much.

    I'm sure you play beautifully. And, if you don't think you play as well as you would like to, well, neither do any of the rest of us. We're all improving and we use each other for ideas and motivation - why not?

    So off to your next gig. While you're playing, remember the once-in-their-lifetime difference you're making for the couple who will always remeber that they didn't have just ordinary music at their wedding - they had a real flute player!

Choosing a Piccolo
by John Zornig
    Emily asks:
    I'd really appreciate it I someone could advise me on a piccolo...

Good for you, Emily. I'll do my best

First, don't spend your hard earned money unless you plan to practice on your new piccolo. A piccolo is a different instrument than a flute and will need separate practice.

You can actually get a pretty good piccolo for well under $1000 in plastic, a Yamaha for example. If you have the money a Zentner is a very good value at just under $2000, I think (unless Miles has raised his prices).

    Also I don't know if I'd want wood or silver or wood w/ a silver head.

I wouldn't bother with a silver head. Piccolos are quite bright enough with wood or plastic heads. For serious playing, silver heads have really become obsolete.

    Does Pearl make piccolos? - I really love my Pearl flute.

Many people do, but not nearly all good flutemakers make good piccolos. I've never heard that Pearl made piccolos. Think of buying a piccolo as a separate endeavor, like buying a saxophone.

    Would it be better to get a new picc or a better used one?

Well, of course it depends on the condition of the used one. If you find a used piccolo that attracts you, I'd recommend:

  1. have it looked at and played by an experienced piccolo player. You will not be able to tell, yourself, whether it's in good shape and plays well.

  2. add the cost of a clean-oil-adjust (COA) and some pad work to the price to judge what it will really cost. Even if the instrument appears to be in great shape, it is very likely to need at least a little work.

On the positive side, a used instrument can be more cost/effective. It's also "broken in" so that the probability of cracking is lower. Piccolos don't crack nearly as much as clarinets, but it's a consideration. If I were in your shoes, I would certainly look for a good used instrument.

Oh yes ... once you've bought your piccolo, it's yours. Some of your friends who don't have their own may try to borrow it, but I wouldn't lend it.

Good luck,

Reprinted from FLUTE with the kind permission of John Zornig.

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