When the subject of tuning comes up on flute, I always see students cringe and band directors throw up their hands. Help, they’ll say. How can my flute section play in tune? For my next few posts, I thought I’d tackle this issue, noting the most common problems I see and provide the best solutions I can.
Big Myth #1 – I only tune when my band director tells me I need to.
Students will often say to me they tuned their flute last week at the beginning of class. Or they checked their tuning cork and they’re in tune. These comments made me realize there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to play “in tune” on the flute. Generally speaking, you don’t “tune” your flute the same way a string player would tune their violin. Flute players take their instrument apart every day, so that affects our setup and intonation. Weather conditions, physical ailments such as congestion and fatigue, and the temperature of a room can all affect a flutist’s intonation as well.
Ideally, you’ll find your optimal flute set up in regards to headjoint alignment and distance pulled out from the barrel (more on these two areas next week), and then make adjustments with your aperture size, your angle of air into the flute, and even the setting of how open your throat should be. These techniques take much practice and require a trained teacher to mentor students through the growth process. Ultimately, you have to constantly evaluate your pitch as you play, and tune each and every note – every single day! This will allow you to play the flute with your best intonation, as well as enhance the beautiful sound you are working on.
Solution: Practice daily with a tuner to train your ear. This will also allow your embouchure to develop the muscle memory required to produce the perfect pitch when you need it! Try practicing long tones, octave slurs and pitch bending exercises to develop a flexible embouchure. Remember, it takes time to be consistent with your pitch. It may take months, even. But be patient, and make the tuner your best friend during your practice sessions!
Next Week’s Myth #2: To adjust your tuning, just roll in and out as you play. We’ll tackle headjoint alignment and flute angles.