A Long Felt Want
For as long as I can remember
as a flutemaker (probably about 32 years at the time of writing!), I've wanted a better system
for tuning flutes. In the earliest days, I used a tone reference I
built myself - the handy little tuners available now were not even available
then! Then I got one of those handy little tuners. When Tatsuaki Koroda came out with his PC-based
Shakuhachi Tuner, and was then
prepared to make changes to it to suit my very specific needs, I
switched to that (and still use it!). But always, always,
something else was in the back of my mind.
So what's wrong with a
In a word, people! When
you sit in front of a tuner, and play a note on the flute, it's very
tempting to lip that note up or down to make it look more like what
you're hoping to see. Even when you are trying not to, you can't
be really sure you didn't. And when you have to pause after each
note, and note down the reading, then find your embouchure again before
passing on to the next note, it's tedious, time consuming, and another
source of error. And always, at the back of the mind is the doubt
- OK, now I know what I get in front of a tuner, but how do I know I
blow the same way when actually playing music?
And what would be better?
What I've always wanted is a
system that, as much as is possible, pulled me out of the picture as
observer, scribe and decision-maker. Something that:
I could just play into
without being made aware of any results (to keep me honest)
Let me play music, not notes
(to make it realistic)
Let me play for a while (so
that I would relax and play normally, and the system would have plenty
of good data to choose from)
Let me play the notes in any
order I wanted (so that if I play downward intervals differently to upward
intervals, or wide intervals differently to narrow ones, it could average
all that out)
Did all the note-taking (so I
could concentrate solely on playing)
Did all the collating and
presentation of results (so I wouldn't have to wade through vast amounts of
data, cherry-picking the flattering ones)
Decided on an objective basis which
notes were reliable enough to include and which should be excluded (to keep me
honest and in case I fluff a few notes in a long test piece)
Cover keyless and keyed flutes, low
flutes, piccolos, fiddles, any any anything else we might throw at it
Be quick and easy to operate, and
Would work for players as well as
I'm delighted to say we now have
it, and you can have it too, at no cost. New Zealand flute player and
computer scientist, Graeme Roxburgh happened to mention the development of a new
piece of music software at his University. As a data collection system it
looked ideal, and I wondered out loud to Graeme whether the authors would be
interested in developing it further. Turns out they are not, for the
moment at least, but, when I spelled out my long felt want, Graeme offered to
look into how else it might be achieved. The rest, as they say, is
history; the RTTA-Polygraph was born.
But wait, there's more!
Following hot on the heels of
Graeme's success, US whistle & flute player and programmer Scott Turner
has come up with a simpler RTTA he's called Flutini. Indeed,
Flutini can operate as the front end for the Polygraph, so you use it to
run both systems, giving you a wide-ranging palette of RTTA
And now, even more more!
I've vaguely aware that there
are things out there called iPhones. Young people these days, I
don't know, what's wrong with the old-fashioned public telephone booth?
And my with-it young friend, Canberra-based computer scientist and flute
player Dan Gorden, realised he could repackage RTTA as an iPhone app.
So now we are three!
Position Vacant: Android App
Which of course means there
is now a gap in the market - it would be great to be able to add an
Android RTTA app. Dan has offered to help such a development.
Sound like a fun project? Apply here!
A word on nomenclature
You'll find that the three RTTA systems have adhered to the international standardised nomenclature for
notes. This is a system that has to work for all instruments, including
massive organs and pianos. Consequently, you might be surprised to find
that the lowest D on an Irish flute is called D4, middle D is D5 and third
octave D is D6. The notes above D4 are all called 4 until we get to the
next C, which is C5. It might seem a bit strange at first, but you'll
quickly get used to it. Just remember D4 is flute low D.
Give it a go!
So, that's the brief background to
how this all started. Interested? Read on ...