The era of large-holed 8-key flutes started with Charles Nicholson
arriving in London in about 1816 with a flute modified by his father,
and subsequently wowing everybody with his tone, power and skill.
We've looked elsewhere at Nicholson's view on tone and how to get it,
reproduced from his book, a School for
At the other end of the century, Richard Shepherd Rockstro also
produced a book "A Treatise on the Flute",
1890. By then the 8-key flute was being slowly phased out in
favour of the new post-Boehm designs, although it would be wrong to
dismiss them entirely, plenty were still in use and plenty more were
still to be made.
Between Nicholson and Rockstro lay the golden days of the 8-key flute,
and all the great names we associate with it - Nicholson himself,
Prowse, Rudall & Rose, Boehm, Siccama, Pratten, Hudson, Boosey
& Co. So let's see what Rockstro had to say about tone and
how to get it at the end of the period.
I've made a few changes to punctuation and layout to
clarify the text, and snipped material unrelated to the
topic. I have included some stuff not on tone where it relates to
what you have to do to get a good tone. I've retained Rockstro's
section numbers so you can
easily correlate it with the original. Any comments of mine
will be [in square brackets]. The "old flute" is the 8-key
conical, the "modern flute" is the Boehm or a variant thereof.
Notes with 1 apostrophe (e.g. b') are in the bottom octave, c'' is the
note above b' and marks the start of the second octave.
Even after snipping some material, there's a lot in here, and you
really need to go through it carefully if you to understand it.
If you don't have time for the lot, look for the stuff in bold - I've
tried to highlight the bits I think have the most to say. If
nothing else, try out the experiment in §746 to see where your
normal tone fits in the range compared to that which Rockstro is
723. The Placing of the Flute to the Lip.
The head of the player being first placed as directed in the last chapter, let the
flute be adjusted to the lower lip, on no account lowering the head
towards the flute. It will be found convenient to place the flute, at
its first contact with the lip, rather below its true position, in
order that its final adjustment may be effected in an upward direction.
After contact it may be raised sufficiently to cause the inner edge of
the mouth-hole to rest against the edge of the red-part of the lip,
supposing the mouth-hole to be of the proper size, and the lip to be of
average thickness. Under certain circumstances this rule would, of
course, require modification, but in any case a sufficient portion of
the lip should be left free to protrude so that it may cover from one
to three-quarters of the area of the mouth-hole, as may be required.
Placing the flute too high would be likely to hinder this necessary
protrusion, and to cause a dragging downwards of the lower lip, which
might create a fold or crease between the flute and the teeth. Such a
inevitably cause the lip to swell, and might be productive of much
inconvenience and discomfort.
724. The exact height of the flute must
be so regulated that the stream
of breath, the air-reed, issuing from between the lips of the player
may be conveniently directed against the outer edge of the mouth-hole,
and it is of the utmost importance that the centre of this hole
should be precisely opposite to the centre of the opening between the
lips. The mouth-hole must be inclined
towards the lips so that its
outer edge shall be somewhat raised above the level of its inner edge,
otherwise it will be found impossible to obtain a good tone without
bowing the head.
[Note that Rockstro understands
that the jet must hit the far edge of the hole, whereas Nicholson
preferred to imagine it all went down the hole.]
Some difficulty may be experienced, at first, in adjusting the
mouth-hole correctly to the lip. In course of time, the lower
lip becomes so sensible to the touch of the flute that the adjustment
becomes a mere matter of instinct, but before that result is attained
may be found convenient to feel the outer edge of the mouth-hole
lightly with the upper lip. A good master can, of course, guide his
pupil rightly, but a looking-glass will be of little service in
showing how much of the mouth-hole is covered or uncovered. Some
players adopt the objectionable plan of putting out the tongue to feel
for the mouth-hole, actually licking the flute. It should scarcely be
necessary to warn anyone against this offensive and odious custom,
which is, however, not by any means uncommon.
725. Only a moderate amount of pressure of the flute against the lip is
necessary. This pressure should be exercised in a slightly upward
direction, and should be no more than just sufficient to give the
instrument a firm basis on which to rest. Violent pressure would cause
swelling and soreness of the lip, even if the flute were
judiciously placed. Permanent swelling of the joint, of the first
finger of the left hand, attended with considerable pain, is also a
not uncommon result of excessive pressure.
726. The Management of the Lips and the Lower Jaw.
The theory of sound-production in the flute has been explained in
chapter III, §§84 to 112. We have now to regard the
subject from a practical point of view, and to consider the means
by which to obtain a tone possessing very desirable quality, and free
from any objectionable admixture of extraneous sound.
If the front teeth be even and of moderate length, the lower incisors
falling naturally behind those of the upper jaw; if the lips be of
average thickness, and endowed with strength, flexibility, and
smoothness of surface; if, also, the chest be capacious, Nature
may be considered to have conferred every physical requisite for the
production of perfect tone. By perseverance, however, the ill effects
of most of the common impediments may generally be, to a great extent,
surmounted. The least inconvenient of these are abnormal receding of
the lower jaw, and excessive thickness of the lips: the most serious
are the projection of the lower beyond the upper teeth; weakness,
thinness, or insurmountable roughness of the lips, and, worse than all,
shortness of the upper lip combined with excessive length of the
727. The receding lower jaw may be rectified by pushing it forward,
placing the front teeth edge to edge so that a strip of paper can be
held between them. A little practice will render it easy to hold them
in this position, which may afterwards be modified according to
circumstances. The thick lips may generally be made thin enough to
answer every practical purpose by stretching them very tightly across
the teeth. Persons with thick lips generally find it easy to produce a
powerful tone. The possessor of an "under-hung" jaw may sometimes
succeed in drawing it back sufficiently to prevent its causing serious
inconvenience, or he may so bring forward his upper lip as to obviate
the ill effects of the prominence of the lower teeth. Weakness of the
lips may generally be entirely overcome by diligent practice. A person
with very thin lips will hardly succeed in producing a powerful tone,
but he will possess a great advantage over those with redundancy of lip
in the facility with which he will acquire delicacy and softness.
Roughness of the lips is
seldom incurable; the frequent application of cold-cream, or some
other appropriate unguent, will generally remove it, and its recurrence
may be to a great extent prevented by cultivating the habit of keeping
the mouth closed, breathing only through the nostrils. If the roughness
cannot be cured, it may be regarded as an almost insuperable obstacle
to flute-playing, and the same may be said of the unfortunate
combination of a very short upper lip with very long teeth.
728. It is obvious that the first step towards the production of fine
tone must be to make the instrument "speak." This may be readily
effected, in a rough kind of way, by placing the flute to the lips, as
indicated above, and blowing against the outer edge of the mouth-hole,
but as the quality and the command of the tone will depend on the
direction, the shape, the size and the force of the air-reed, it will
be well to study the action of the lips, and the formation of the
aperture between them, before a looking-glass and unfettered by the
contact of the flute.
729. It is desirable that the aperture should be in the middle of the
lips if their configuration, and that of the teeth, admit of its being
in such a position, but this is not a very important point, and the
advantage of a perfectly central opening lies chiefly in its
appearance. Some writers on this subject have, as I think, attached
undue weight to it: on the other hand, Quantz gives his opinion as
follows: "He who has very thick lips will do well to make the opening
towards the left side of the mouth instead of exactly in the middle."
Two of the best English players of the last generation, both pupils of
Charles Nicholson, formed the aperture towards the side of the mouth.
One of them, Joseph Richardson, formed it to the left of the
the other, Samuel Thornton Saynor, to the right. The last
celebrated for the power and brilliancy of his tone.
730. Amongst many good reasons for making the opening on one side
or the other, may be mentioned the following:
Those who are able to do so, should always make the opening exactly in
the middle of the lips, but those who cannot, should make it as near to
the middle as possible. The orifice should resemble a barley-corn in
- The presence of any irregularity of surface in the middle
of either lip.
- The presence of a projecting incisor in the lower jaw,
which would cause pain or inconvenience if the flute were caused to
press the lip against it.
- The absence of perfect correspondence in the position of
the upper and lower incisors, preventing the central divisions of the
teeth from being vertical to each other when the teeth are placed edge
to to edge. In such a case it will generally be found convenient to
allow the centre of the opening in the lips to be as near as may be to
the central division of the lower teeth.
The arcs formed by the edge of the uncovered portion of the mouth-hole,
and the upper edge of the labial orifice, should be nearly concentric,
and the cusps of the orifice should be in a line parallel to the flute. False intonation and impure
tone would be the almost inevitable consequences of neglecting this
731. In order that the breath may be properly directed, the upper and
lower rows of incisors must be nearly opposite to each other; the lips,
if kept close to the teeth, will then be level, or nearly so. If
sufficient pressure be exercised at the sides of the mouth, on the wind
being gently forced between the lips, the opening through which it
passes will naturally assume the desirable fusiform shape [i.e.
tapering at each end]. The aperture may at first be allowed to have an
exterior length of about half an inch, and by carefully avoiding
any turning inwards of the lips, it may be made to form a tube, of
considerable length, extending from the teeth to the outer orifice. By
increasing the strength of the wind current and the pressure of the
lips against each other, still avoiding turning them inwards, the
opening may be gradually reduced without being materially altered in
shape. The upper lip should then be stretched across the teeth, as in
the act of smiling, the blowing being continued. The stretching of the
lip must be regulated according to its thickness and to certain other
matters hereafter explained, but it should generally be moderate.
732. No precise rules can be laid down for regulating the distance
between the upper and the lower teeth, as so much will depend on their
length and on the thickness of the lips. It may, however, be stated
generally that the distance should be as little as circumstances will
permit, in order that the surfaces of the lips may be brought into
contact sufficiently to give the tubular opening adequate length from
its interior to its exterior orifice; the breath will thus be prevented
from spreading unduly before it reaches the edge of the mouth-hole.
The lips should always be everted during playing [the inside surface
should be turned outward], not only that the air-reed may pass over the
smooth, moist parts of the lips which are not generally exposed to the
air, but especially because the requisite shape of the opening cannot
be otherwise maintained. How far it may be desirable to evert the lips
will depend on their general conformation and on their thickness.
733. Those parts of the lips over which the wind has to pass must be
kept moist, but not wet enough to cause the risk of any saliva passing
out of the mouth with the breath. As a further precaution against this
risk, the amount of saliva retained in the mouth while playing must be
carefully regulated. In moistening the lips, the tongue need never
protrude to the extent of a quarter of an inch; the less, indeed, the
734. The chin should be exercised by being slightly pushed forwards and
drawn backwards. During the performance of these operations, the lips
should be firmly pressed together and their surfaces caused to slide,
one over the other, while breath is forced between them. By the
alternate protrusion and retraction of the lower lip, caused by the
action of the chin, the upper lip remaining almost stationary, the
direction of the breath may be changed at the will of the operator.
The greatest care should be exercised to prevent the cheeks being
puffed out by the wind forcing its way between them and the teeth. They
should be drawn in sufficiently to bring parts of them between the
upper and lower back teeth,so that if the mouth were suddenly closed
they would be bitten. The beginner will probably experience a slight
pain in the muscles of the cheeks, which may be regarded as
satisfactory proof that he is making conscientious use of them.
735. The Production of Sound.
After the acquisition of some
command of the lips and the chin, the flute may be placed to the mouth,
in the manner indicated, while the upper and lower rows of incisors are
opposite to each other. There should then be no difficulty in producing
the note b' by blowing gently against the outer edge of the mouth-hole,
but the tone will, no doubt, be at first of a hollow and generally
The lower lip being subjected to
the pressure of the flute, its position will be thereby slightly
altered while that of the upper lip will remain unchanged, the air-reed
will therefore be deflected. If the chin be drawn back, so that this
deflection may be gradually increased, a marked improvement will take
place in the quality of the tone; the pitch will also be changed,
becoming flatter than before. It will be found a useful and instructive
exercise to draw the chin back gradually, and at the same time to turn
the flute inwards, causing the sound ultimately to attain its limit in
flatness; then, by reversing these processes, to cause the sound to
attain its limit in the opposite direction, in neither case allowing a
harmonic to take the place of the fundamental sound.
The exact mean, between the
lowest and the highest pitches possible, is the true pitch of a
well-tuned flute, and at this pitch only should it be played.
736. The outlines of the theory of intonation are given in the first
part of this book, and the consideration of the details of this
important subject from a practical point of view, will be found in
subsequent pages. It may be stated, in passing, that a flute will
generally give the best quality of tone when sounded at its mean pitch,
but the question of intonation may be set aside for the present, and
efforts may be made to improve the tone, regardless altogether of
None of these alterations should be made at random, but the effect of
every change of method should be carefully noted, otherwise a good
sound might be produced by mere accident, and the student would
probably be unable to ensure its repetition or even its continuance.
Some guide as to the necessary force of the breath may be found in the
fact that a practiced fluteplayer, with lungs of fair capacity,
should be capable of sounding the note b' uninterruptedly for thirty
seconds. The subjects of respiration and the general management of the
breath are fully treated in chapter XX.
- Varying the tension of the lips.
- Turning the mouth-hole inwards or outwards.
- Raising or lowering the flute on the lip.
- Altering the deflection of the air-reed.
- Increasing or diminishing the opening of the lips, by
greater or less compression.
- Increasing or diminishing the force of the breath.
[Snip. Rockstro wanders off
on the topic of tonguing before returning to discussion of tone]
745. The Production of the Notes from c' to c" , inclusive.
When the note b' can be articulated clearly, and produced with a fairly
good tone, a', g', f and e' may be taken in succession. Each note must
be attacked firmly with the tongue; repeated many times, and held for
some seconds at each repetition. Then the next lower one may be
attempted. In descending the scale it will be found necessary to
enlarge the labial aperture; to increase the force of the breath, and
to tighten the upper lip by drawing it over the teeth, turning the
corners of the mouth slightly upwards, as previously directed. For all
the notes of the first octave the lower incisors should be kept
somewhat behind those of the upper jaw, in order that the air-reed may
be sufficiently deflected to produce a firm, resonant tone, free from
any trace of dullness. Turning the outer edge of the mouth-hole towards
the lips may at first seem to produce the same effect as drawing back
the chin, but although there may be some resemblance in the results of
these two movements, as regards quality of tone, it will soon be found
that turning the mouth-hole inwards not only causes the tone to be
thin, but also flattens the pitch below that just mean which it is so
important to preserve.
746. An experiment to discover the best tone
It would be impossible to describe exactly the quality of tone that the
student should strive to obtain. He should, if possible, hear
frequently some good flute-players, and select one of them as a model
for imitation. Most persevering persons will succeed, sooner or later,
in producing the kind of tone that they admire.
Failing the opportunity of
hearing tone worthy of being set up as a standard, some guide to the
best quality of tone producible from a good flute may be found by
experiment. A moderate command of the muscles of the mouth having been
attained, place the flute to the lip; turn the mouth-hole well
outwards, then, with a loose upper lip and a large air-reed, produce
softly the note g' with the dullest, or most hollow, tone possible.
Such a sound will be nearly simple, that is, it will be almost free
from the admixture of partials: see chapters V and VI.
[Rockstro is more-or-less
describing the modern art-music approach to embouchure. But then
Slowly turn the flute inwards,
at the same time tightening the upper lip; reducing the size of the
air-reed, and increasing the force of the breath. If the experiment be
carefully conducted, the sound of g", the first partial [the second
harmonic], will gradually come into hearing, and the quality of the
tone will be proportionately improved. On further carrying out the
directions last given, the g" will become more and more prominent,
while the lower sound [the fundamental, g'] will by degrees become
merged in the higher until it will at last be scarcely audible. The
tone, at this time, will be almost destitute of volume, and, as a
consequence, it will be hard and thin, but midway between the two
extremes of dullness and hardness, will have been found the true
brilliant tone of the flute. See §§229, et seq.
747. By reversing the process,
the best tone may be recovered, and this should be practiced
unremittingly until it can be obtained with certainty.
Some firmness of tone having been acquired on all the notes from b' to
e' inclusive, the remaining notes of the first octave may be practised.
On a good flute, in proper order, there should not be much difficulty
in descending to c', but should success not be achieved at first, the
following hints on the probable causes of failure will be found useful.
748. If the desired note utterly fail to sound; only a rush of wind
being audible, the failure may be attributable to:
- The imperfect closing of one or more of the lower
- The pursing up of the lips, causing the edges of the
opening between them to become corrugated, and the stream of air to be
consequently irregular in form.
- The wind being directed towards the right or the left side
of the mouth-hole, instead of straight across it.
- Insufficiency in the rapidity of the air-current. The
last-mentioned fault is the least likely to happen, as beginners
generally blow too violently.
749. If, instead of the desired fundamental, one of the harmonics
should sound, this may be due to:
- One or more of ,the upper finger-holes being imperfectly
- Excess of rapidity in the air-current.
- Insufficiency in the size of the labial aperture.
- The mouth-hole being too much covered.
The last-named fault may be caused by:
- Turning the mouthhole too much inwards.
- Placing it too low on the lip.
- Allowing the lower lip to project too far over it.
Other frequent causes of failure to produce the lower fundamental
sounds, are the too backward position of the chin and the bagging
forward of the upper lip. In either case the outer edge of the
mouth-hole will be too close to the upper lip to allow the air-reed to
attain the requisite size, for the production of low notes, before
striking the edge of the mouth-hole.
750. On a properly constructed modern flute, the c" may be blown
similarly to the b', but the c"#, on account of its necessarily small
hole (see §§360-4) and the shortness of the column of air
employed, will require to be rather more tenderly treated; increased
firmness of the upper lip may also be necessary. In forcing the
tone on this note especial care will be required to prevent the pitch
The ordinary veiled c" of the old flute is naturally too sharp, and,
being also weak; therefore requires great care in its production. The
upper lip should be kept as firm as possible, and the chin should be
drawn back, so that the position of the air-reed may be almost
vertical. The c"# of the old flute always requires sharpening.
751. The Production of the Notes d" and d"#.
When fingered in the ordinary manner the notes d" and d"# cannot be
considered to form part of the first octave, or register, of the flute,
inasmuch as they are harmonics of d' and d'#, assisted by opening the
c"# hole as a vent-hole. See §§149 et seq.
Neither can they be considered to belong to the notes of the second
register, because all these are played as unassisted harmonics. The d"
fingered as the assisted harmonic of d', is more easily sounded than
any other note of the flute, and, but for the skill required for the
perfect closing of the holes, it might be advantageously selected
for the student's initiatory practice. On a good flute the note, when
thus fingered, should be blown similarly to the b'; if blown in the
same way as the notes of the second octave it will be too sharp. On the
old flute the d" is invariably too flat, and will therefore require the
chin to be brought well forward. When this note is fingered as a
fundamental, ex. gr. the 'open d" ' of Mr. Carte's flutes, it will
require even greater precautions than the c"#.
A slight increase in the tension of the upper lip, and in the pressure
of the lips against each other, will generally be required for the
production of the d"#, as on many flutes this note has a tendency to
crack, particularly when blown softly.
752. The Production of the Notes e" to c''' inclusive.
These notes being ordinarily played as harmonic octaves unassisted by
vent-holes, and being therefore fingered in the same way as their
respective fundamentals, their production must necessarily depend on
the peculiar management of the breath. It has been shown in
§§91-2 that the harmonics of the flute may be produced by
simply increasing the strength of the air-reed. The necessary strength,
or stiffness, of the reed may be obtained, as Sir John Herschel points
out (see §§ 91-2), by blowing more strongly, but it is
obvious that this method could not satisfy the requirements of
musical art. Were there no other means of producing the harmonic sounds
of the flute, all the upper notes of the instrument would be loud in
direct proportion to their height, and all the lower notes would
consequently be comparatively weak. Taking into consideration the
inherently piercing quality of the sound of high notes generally, and
the importance of this being counterbalanced by efficient power in the
lower notes, the flute could scarcely be pronounced fit to rank amongst
the instruments of music if its higher notes could only be produced by
strength of blast.
753. Although the harmonics of the flute may be sounded by force, we are
happily independent of this, and the necessary speed of the
wind-current, or, in other words, the stiffness of the air-reed, can be
obtained with the greatest facility by simply reducing the size of the
labial opening. If greater pressure of the lips, against each other, be
exercised, the tube formed between the lips will become longer, and
therefore the aircurrent, being less inclined to spread, will
retain its velocity for a greater distance.
Other important advantages gained by pressing the lips together for the
production of the harmonic sounds, are the condensation of the air-reed
in its passage between them, which of course adds to its stiffness, and
the protrusion and eversion of the lips, which, by shortening the
distance between their orifice and the edge of the mouth-hole, produce
a further effect in preventing the spreading of the air reed. It
may be taken as a positive fact that, cœteris
paribus [other things being equal], if the compression of the
lips be gradually and continually increased during the sounding of any
fundamental note, the harmonic octave of that note will supervene
[literally: over come] as an infallible consequence. It must be
self-evident that in order to effect any great increase in the pressure
of the lips against each other, it will be necessary to reduce the
tension of the upper lip across the teeth.
754. An octave harmonic, obtained by the means indicated above, will be
too flat, as compared with its fundamental, unless some precautions be
adopted to prevent that result, and the flatness of the upper note will
be inversely proportional to the strength of the air-current. It has
been explained that the pitch of any note may be raised, without
increasing the force of the breath, by:
The first of these methods would be improperly employed in tuning an
octave harmonic, because it would cause the mouthhole to be more
uncovered for the higher than for the lower note, which would render
the production of the harmonic difficult and uncertain on account of
the increase in the length of the air-reed which would thereby be
- Turning the mouth-hole outwards.
- Elevating the head.
- Pushing forward the chin, while keeping the upper lip close
to the teeth.
The second method would be as improper as the first, and its adoption
would be followed by precisely similar results, turning the mouth from
the flute amounting to the same thing as turning the flute from the
mouth, except that the movement of the head has a more ungainly
The third method is the only justifiable means of producing the
unassisted harmonics in tune, unless, for the sake of a particular
effect, the higher note is required to be much louder than the lower
one, in that case the increased strength of the breath is a sufficient
765. Each of the notes, from e'' to
c''' inclusive, will require a slightly different pressure of the lips,
and a slightly different position of the chin. The pressure of the lips
and the advancement of the chin must be directly proportional to the
height of the note, and inversely proportional to the strength of the
In tonguing the higher notes of the second octave softly, or even with
moderate strength, it may be found convenient to allow the tongue to
strike a part of the palate rather nearer to the teeth, and generally
to occupy a more forward position in the mouth, than for the lower
notes, but the most stringent precautions must be taken to prevent
contact of the tongue with the teeth.
756. The principles of sound-production set forth in this chapter were
advocated and explained in more or less precise language, by Quantz
(1752), Devienne (1795), Hugot and Wunderlich (1801), Drouet (1827) and
many others, but of all the writers on this important subject, Quantz
has been the most explicit. I have met with many players who have
instinctively produced the notes of the second octave in the manner
here indicated, without knowing that they did so, but I have never
heard anyone play these notes softly and in tune by any other means,
and I believe it to be simply impossible to do so.
757. In the preceding remarks, c'" has been considered only as a
harmonic octave, but this note has many fingerings on the old flute,
and almost everyone of these requires a special method of blowing.
Further information concerning these matters will be found in the next
758. The Production of the Notes c"'# and d"'.
The precautions necessary for preventing excessive sharpness of pitch
in the notes c"# and d" must be reversed in playing c"'# and d"', or
these notes will be too flat. The c"'#, when taken as a harmonic octave
of the c"#, may be played perfectly in tune on a well-constructed
flute, but as on modern instruments the c"# hole is always necessarily
smaller than the others (see §§360-1), and as small holes
give flatter harmonics than large ones (see §346), the chin must
be placed further forward for the c"'# than for any other note except
the d"', which generally requires similar treatment.
No rule can be given for the production of the c"'# of the old flute.
The remarks on the c"' of this instrument, in the preceding section,
are equally applicable to the c"'#.
759. The Production of the Notes above d"'
Almost all the high notes of the old flute have a tendency towards
flatness; this tendency is much more strongly marked in some notes than
in others, but as a general rule all the notes of this instrument,
above d"', require great compression of the lips, in order that they
may sound, and considerable advancement of the chin, in order that they
may not be too flat, in fact, the notes are false unless corrected by
On all the best modern flutes the chief precaution to be observed in
producing these notes, is to avoid any further pushing out of the chin
than for the corresponding notes of the second octave. Compression
of the lips, in direct proportion to the height of the sound, will of
course be absolutely necessary for their production, but the notes
require no correction in their intonation, as on these flutes they are
true unless rendered false by the player.
On flutes of modern construction with ill-placed holes, the remedy must
be adapted to the circumstances. It will often be found necessary, on
such instruments, to drawback the lower jaw, and at the same time to
turn the flute inwards, in order to arrive at any approach to
correctness of tune. See §§594, 668-9, 673 and 680.
760. The position of the tongue may be about as forward for the notes
of the third octave as for those of the upper part of the second
octave, and the tension of the upper lip must be relaxed as the
pressure of the lips against each other is increased.
761. The remarks on the importance of economy in the expenditure of
breath, for the production of the first series of harmonics, will apply
also to the notes of the third octave. It is obvious that sufficient
force of wind must be applied, in order to obtain the desired power of
sound, but the increase in the rapidity of the air-current, necessary
for the actual production of the higher notes, should be obtained
rather by vigorous action of the lips than of the lungs.
The necessity for correct intonation, in all musical performance, is so
self-evident that it would be unnecessary to draw attention to the
importance of the subject, were it not for the unfortunate fact that
many players, on both wind and stringed instruments, appear to consider
perfection of tune as being simply a desirable consummation if
attainable without too much trouble, or without the sacrifice of some
comparatively unimportant accomplishment on which they particularly
pride themselves, such as expression, tone or execution, and though
perhaps few would be bold enough to give utterance to such sentiments
in so many words, yet many, by their manner of playing, evince their
real opinions clearly enough to justify these remarks. Now, without
desiring, in the least, to underrate the value of any other point of
excellence, I would urge that intonation is, to say the least, the
most important point but one in the whole range of the art of music: it
may even be considered to include the playing of correct notes,
inasmuch as all musical sounds depend upon pitch for their identity.
763. A flute tuned on correct principles will be in tune only when
blown at its mean pitch, the influence of the manner of blowing being
inversely proportional to the distance of the notehole from the
mouth-hole. The mean pitch and the mean strength of tone being
maintained, and the precepts given in the preceding sections of this
chapter being followed, the happiest results may be easily obtained. If
a player will insist on blowing sharper or flatter than the mean pitch,
he must have an instrument made expressly to suit his vicious method.
If he will blow too sharp, the flute must be made longer; the holes
(contrary to an assertion of Boehm's) must be placed more closely
together than would otherwise be necessary, and vice versa.
Good English flutes are generally, and always should be, made of such a
length that when blown at the medium pitch, and the slide is drawn out
an eighth of an inch, they may give an a' with 452 vibrations. When the
mean pitch of the instrument is known, it is an excellent plan to test
the accuracy of the blowing by means of a tuning-fork of similar
standard: see Sect. 300.
The method of preserving the intonation during those inflections of
tone so necessary for musical expression will be presently indicated.
764. Flutes of evil construction, whether by reason of imperfect boring
or ill-regulated positions of the finger-holes, must be compelled to come into tune, and the
player must not hesitate to sacrifice everything else, if necessary, to
gain that end. I am here assuming that, for no matter what reasons, a
man is wedded, for the time being, to a particular instrument, and that
this is a bad one. In that case let him consider true intonation as the
one thing needful. It may be difficult to attain, but it will not be
impossible, and perseverance, with careful attention to the
foregoing directions, will help him to find the way to achieve his
object. Let him therefore follow the advice of excellent Robert Herrick
" Attempt the end, and never
stand to doubt;
Nothing so hard, but search will find it out,"
765. The Use of the Tuning slide.
As no flute, without alteration of
its length, can be advantageously played except at one particular pitch
(see §§325 and 356), every flute-player should try to
good or the bad points in the tuning of his instrument.
It will be evident that the intonation of a well made flute must be
injured by elongation above the finger-holes [i.e. extending the
slide], and also that if these be
too far apart the tuning will, on the contrary, be improved by such a
procedure. In §327 it is shown that the defects caused by altering
length of a correctly tuned flute, can be to some extent obviated by a
judicious change in the manner of blowing; therefore, in flattening the
pitch of such an instrument by means of the slide, care should be taken
to draw this out sufficiently to compel the blowing to be sharper than
the mean pitch of the flute.
The excess in the drawing out of the slide, and the consequent
sharpness of the blowing, must be regulated by the amount of flattening
required. It is almost impossible to play in tune on a properly made
flute if its pitch be flattened more than a quarter of a tone.
The ameliorating influence of the position of the "cork" or "stopper"
is described in §§328-332.
766. In tuning to another instrument, or to a tuning-fork, the flute
should always be brought up to the temperature which it is likely to
reach during playing. The readiest way of effecting this object is to
finger c', and, placing the mouth-hole between the lips to breathe
through the tube. Several notes such as a', d',d", a", a', may then be
sounded, so that their true bearings may be obtained, and finally a
good, firm a' of medium strength may be given, and compared with that
of the accompanying instrument.
Should it be necessary to alter
the pitch of the flute, let the slide be adjusted according to the
above directions, carefully guarding against the slightest attempt to
alter the pitch by the blowing. In order to avoid being tempted to fall
into this error, it is always advisable to sound the flute before
hearing the pitch of the instrument with which it is desired to bring
it into accord.
The a' of the old-flute being a badly veiled and generally uncertain
note, it is better, when practicable, to select g' as the tuning note.
This gives a far more accurate idea of the average pitch of the
instrument than a'. In order to find the bearings of the notes, it will
be well to sound g', d', d", g", g'.
[Snip - a section on notes
769. The Tone of the Flute.
No instrument is susceptible of so much variety in the quality of its
tone as the flute, and for this reason it requires the greatest care
and discretion in the production of its sound. One of the chief aims of
every flute-player, should be the preservation of the natural charm of
the instrument, and in this. as in so many other matters connected with
music in general and the flute in particular, it is well to remember
Apollo's advice to his son: "In medio tutissimus ibis." [loosely: the
middle path is safest].
The most perfectly lovely
quality of tone that can be obtained from the flute is the exact mean
between the hard, thin, penetrating tone, which, somewhat resembling
that of the hautboy, is almost nasal in its character, and the open,
hollow sound which is similar to the cooing of a dove.
770. The hard, thin tone, which
is obtained by covering too much of the mouth-hole; by over tension of
the lips; by excessive protrusion of the upper lip; by insufficiency in
the volume of the air-reed [too thin an aperture through the lips], and
especially by the combination of all these faults, is greatly admired
by many persons, and it certainly has the advantage of being brilliant,
but it is not the true tone of the instrument; it is inflexible in the
highest degree, and it is invariably attended by flatness of pitch. It
will be remembered that the partials are always excessively prominent
in the hard tone.
[Is Rockstro at odds here with Nicholson
, who seems to advocate such
an approach and such a tone? And perhaps with the hard tone of
the modern Irish flute-player? Is Boehm's enthusiasm for the
fuller, softer tone starting to impinge on British sensibilities?]
771. It follows, as a matter of
course, that by uncovering too much of the mouth-hole; by undue
relaxation of the lips; by excessive protrusion of the lower jaw; by
the employment of too large an air-reed, and particularly by the
combination of all these faults, the hollow tone will be obtained. This
is far less objectionable than the hard tone, but it should only be
employed for the sake of contrast, and never excepting in a piano [i.e.
C. N. Weiss (182+ circa) attached much importance to the effect of
these cooing sounds. He called them sons creux, in opposition to the
sons pleins of the French. The latter expression should not be
understood as indicating the hard, hautboy-like tone, but the full,
round, brilliant quality that is truly characteristic of the flute.
M. Terschak, in his well-known fantasia "La Sirene," gives the
following direction for the employment of the hollow tone: "On imite
ici le son de la flute d'amour." [Imitate here the sound of the
772. It will hardly be necessary to repeat that by a judicious
modification of the before-mentioned influences, the mean between
extreme hardness and hollowness may be obtained. This is the true
quality of flute-tone, which should combine, as occasion may require,
power or softness; sufficiency of volume (as opposed to thinness);
brilliancy (as opposed to dulness); sweetness (as opposed to
harshness), and clearness (as opposed to impureness): See
§§229 to 238.
773. The only qualities in the above list, which require further
consideration, are clearness and its opposite, impureness.
Clearness is one of the most essential qualities of flute-tone,
but it is unfortunately the point in which players are most prone to
err. It can only be obtained by eliminating, as far as possible, the
sound of the breath, and this must be effected by scrupulously avoiding
the least waste. All the breath that passes the lips should be employed
in making tone; all that is allowed to pass without being so utilized,
not only distresses the player unnecessarily, but tends to cause that
intolerable hissing sound which is so prevalent amongst players on the
flute, and which gives occasion for one of the greatest and most
frequently deserved reproaches that are urged against the instrument.
Another objectionable sound, often made in flute-playing, is an
involuntary guttural exercise of the voice, in fact a grunt. The habit
of uttering this sound may be easily overcome by a little perseverance.
774. The presence of the partials, in a certain degree, has been shown
to contribute to the excellence of tone. They are, of course, far less
prominent in the second octave of the flute than in the first; the
third octave is almost free from them, but the notes of this octave.
are exceedingly liable to the always detrimental influence of the lower
attendants* (see §§192-3 and 228); it should therefore be the
constant effort of the player to prevent, as far as can be prevented,
the occurrence of these objectionable sounds, which, perhaps more
than any other cause, tend to destroy the clearness of the upper notes.
[*lower attendants - the sound of
the fundamental or other harmonics heard underneath the note being
aimed for, usually because the embouchure has not been fully optimised
for the desired note.]
775. The Management of Flutes of various Materials.
The relative excellence of the different materials of which flutes are
constructed is discussed in §§3II to 321, and my
preference for ebonite, with the reasons for that preference, are duly
recorded therein. A few words of advice as to the manner of avoiding
the besetting faults of wood and metal, will be useful to those who
have flutes of either of these substances, and to whom it would be
inconvenient or distasteful to change their instruments.
776. The chief fault attributable to a modern flute of wood is
coarseness of tone. The best means of counteracting this fault is to
use as little wind as possible, therefore the lips should be
sufficiently compressed to keep the air-reed small, and the blowing
should be as gentle as may be. The tendency to hardness, which
might be induced by the compression of the lips, may be overcome to
some extent, by keeping the upper lip well away from the outer edge of
777. The chief fault attributable to flutes of metal is shrillness
of tone. This may be counteracted, in a certain degree, by the
employment of a large air-reed, and by abstaining from too much tension
or compression of the lips. Although little force of wind is necessary
for the actual production of sound from a metal flute, yet a far
greater quantity of breath must be expended in obtaining a certain
strength of tone from such an instrument than from a similar one of
different material, unless objection to shrillness be altogether
waived. Those who have acquired, and are unable to discard, the
peculiar method of blowing that is best adapted for a metal flute, may
be expected to prefer such an instrument, but it by no means follows,
as some would wish us to believe, that such a method and such a flute
are the best, however well they may be adapted one to the other.
Whew, a lot there, eh? And some interesting stuff. Rockstro
had obviously put a lot of thought into this topic and how best to
convey it, given how difficult description of sounds and how to get
them is. The experiment in deriving best tone gives us a way of
judging what Rockstro was looking for - something halfway between
cooing of doves and the sound of an oboe. It enables us to decide
where our preferences lie compare to his.
More on tone and holding the flute:
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