The excellent (and the useless) gadgets on my flute!

The excellent (and the useless) gadgets on my flute!

Sep 24, 2018

Last blog post, I gave you a quick video tour of my flute. The brand, the metal, and why I like my flute.

This week, I give you a flute tour that shows you all the gadgets and "features" of my flute. The excellent ones, andthe useless ones!

I go through these 7 features, and let you know whether they are excellent or useless:

  1. Split E mechanism (it's awesome)
  2. B foot (I hate them)
  3. Open holes (love them, but you don't have to)
  4. Offset G (most flutes luckily have this nowadays)
  5. Pointed arms (whatevs - they just look pretty)
  6. Extra trill keys (hmm, cute, but not necessary)
  7. What metal your flute is made out of (now we're talking! Some dirty little secrets in here!)

But there's something I should have mentioned in the video about point number 7...

I talk about the "craftsmanship" of the head joint contributing to the good sound - that it makes more of a difference to your sound than the metalsused in the head joint.

Well, when I say craftsmanship, I'm referring to the way the embouchure hole is cut. A tiny difference in an angle, a tiny difference in the sharpness of a corner, the hairs-breadth difference in thelength of an edge all make a huge difference to the sound!

It is THIS, more than the metalthat creates the good sound of a good flute.

But! Above all of this, the WAY YOU PLAY THE FLUTE - your learned skill - creates 90% of the sound that comes out of the flute. (Which is good news, because you can continually get better at this!)

Jane xx 

In this video, I'm going to go through a bunch of features that you can have on your flute. And I'm going to tell you my opinion on them. There's another video that describes my flute, the brand of my flute, what it's made out of, etcetera.

Okay, here we go. Number one, split E mechanism. This is awesome. You know that your flute has a split mechanism by this little bar here. It means you have an extra little rod here and what it does, this is the best thing in the world, it means that these two keys here can work independently. If you push that one down, the other one doesn't go down. So they work independently means that when you play high E -with a split E mechanism, that key, that hole can be closed. And that hole is open, which means that the high E comes out really easily on a flute. Best thing ever. On a flute without a split at E mechanism, high E is really hard to get and it sounds like this. That's what happens. And it's hard to get straight away. I mean, you could see how easy that was just then I was trying to play it wrong and it came out right?

The only kind of problem with a split E mechanism, which is really not a problem is that when you play high F sharp on a flute with a split E is that it feels harder. Cuz E is so easy that high F sharp feels hard. It's really not a bad thing. It's just something to get used to. I give a split E mechanism, five stars out of five.

Number two, and this is the other end of the star spectrum. C foot versus B foot. Just hang on a sec, I'll go get the B foot. This is a B foot versus a C foot. You can see that there is an extra key on the end. This just means that if you use a B foot, you can play down to a low B instead of a low C. Now that's a cool party trick, right? The only problem is most composers don't write down to B for flute because back in the days, even like 20 years ago, 30 years ago, flutes didn't have the foots feet. And when most music has been written, it certainly didn't exist. So most music is only ever written down to C for a flute.

Now, when you play a B foot, there is an extra key called, literally called the gizmo key. That must be put down when you play high C, the highest note on the flute, which is, you know, it's a little awkward. But here's where it gets really awkward. If you are playing lots of high notes using all the high fingerings and you are switching between those notes and high C, this has to go on and off. When I play, I find it very difficult to be doing this when you're doing high notes. So I think this is a major, major downside for a B foot, which is why I don't play with one. I play with the C foot.

The other slight downside is it's heavier. And it changes the centre of balance of your flute, which personally, I don't like. If it doesn't bother you, that's fine. So a B foot gets one star. I could give it zero, but it is kind of cool playing down to a low B. So I give it one star out of five.

Okay. Number three, open holes. You might have noticed that my flute has holes. Now, when you are being sold a flute, they sell it to you by saying that it sounds better. I think this is kind of true and kind of not true. So I tried this the other day. I tried plugging up my holes with plugs which are made out of cork but you can get them made out of plastic, too. Five of these, I plugged up my holes like this. In fact, I'm gonna do it now. And you can judge for yourself if you can hear a difference, I bet that you can't. And I have a theory about why. I'll put the plugs in and then I'll play to you plugged up. Let's see what it sounds like.

To get them out by the way, this is why there are dots on each one, cuz you need to push through with a pencil or pen and then they all come out at the end. I'll play the same thing. I reckon you couldn't hear a difference for two reasons. One, it's a recording with a microphone. Not in real life so the subtleties you might not be able to pick up. And here's the reason why I think that you can't hear a difference because when I pull out the plugs, it sounds really resonant to me. And it's because the sound is coming out of the holes straight up to me, straight up to my ears. When I plug it up, the sound is going much more further away from me or it's starting here and going out rather than coming out from the keys so I can hear a difference.

But I think to you, if you were standing in front of me, I think you would still hear the same thing. Like whether it's coming from here first or from here first, I think you'd still hear the same thing. So yes, the open hole flute does make the flute sound different, but I don't think it is at all enough of a difference to make you sound like a better player. However, open whole flutes get four outta five stars. Personally, I'd give them five because I really like it. It feels really tactile and nice. If that's a good reason, it feels nice. And you have a bit of control over tuning as well. Like, say you need to unexpectedly adjust tuning to match someone else that's out tune or you just need to suddenly have control of your pitch in a way that you can't do with your embouchure. You can crack open a key like this. So watch this finger. Obviously, you wouldn't need to do it that much. That was for a demonstration, but you can crack it and just inch the pitch up if you need.

Number four, offset G. I'll explain what that is. Sometimes when you're buying a flute, it will say offset G or inline G. See this G key here. See how these two keys are shifted down and they're not in line with the rest of the keys. That's called an offset G. Some flutes and that's generally older flutes, they're in line. Now, this is quite personal for me. It gets five stars because I've tried playing on an inline G and I really struggle to cover this hole because my middle finger is so long compared to the rest. I think anyway, well, that's what it feels like. So I like offset G. Most flutes these days are offset GS.

Okay. Number five thing is called pointed arms. If you have a look at the keys of my flute, there's a line little thing that comes down and sits in the middle of these keys like this, these arms. Better flutes tend to have them. And student flutes tend to have the opposite, which I'll show you. Okay? This is not a pointed arm. This one, see that's just round there and there's no little arm coming in. This is just from a student flute and this is my flute. So the selling point in a shop, they say that it's like mechanically more aligned or something. I forget what they say, but really it's aesthetic. It just looks prettier. If there is any kind of mechanical advantage to it, it's super marginal and not enough to make you a better player.

Okay. Number six is extra trill keys. All flutes have these two trill keys, some flutes have an extra trill key which I can't even remember what it trills between. If you've got it on your flute. Great use it. And if you don't, it doesn't matter because there are other ways of trilling. 99% of flutes don't have any extra trill keys. So you don't really need them. That doesn't get a star rating because I don't have them. I can't legitimately give it a star. Maybe if I got an extra trill key, I would totally love it and give it five stars, but I've never had a flute with that. And I feel kind of fine without it.

Okay. Number seven, this is a pretty cool one. This doesn't get a star rating because it's kind of a bit controversial and I can't really rate it. It is what metal your flute is made out of. Most student flutes are made out of something called nickel silver, which is a mixture of pretty much everything, but silver. Then as you go higher in flute levels like a good student flute, they'd be silver plated. So Sterling silver plated. And then the next level up is that the head joint will be solid silver and the rest will be silver plated. Then the next level up is all solid silver. Then the next level up parts of your flute will have bits of gold or titanium I mean, platinum. And then next level up you'd have solid gold things. At that level, things get extremely expensive.

Okay, so the controversial bit. People that make flutes and sell you flutes for lots of money will say that the material that the flute is made out of, makes a big difference to the sound or makes a difference to the sound. Now in my twenties, I thought that that was not true. I just had this theory that they were just trying to sell you really expensive things like these nice metals in a flute, kind of like people sell jewelry. It's more like for the prestige of it, not a theory that it didn't make any difference whatsoever. That it was the craftsmanship of the flute that made them sound good. So much so that when I was again, in my twenties, early twenties, I really wanted to, just for fun, commission a flute to be made out of something like tin, some really cheap metal that could be made into a flute. And I wanted to prove kind of to the world that it didn't make a difference to your sound or it didn't make a big difference.

So I never had that flute commissioned. I still find it would be really fun and interesting to do because part of me still thinks that, but here's fully what I think now. I think there's a good chance that the metal does make some kind of difference to your sound. But I think it's marginal compared to how much of an amazing sound you can get if you play the flute well.

And the proof I have for this is if I gave my flute to a flute student, they would still sound like them on my flute. I would be able to tell that it was my flute, cuz it does sound different, but not so different that it suddenly makes them a better flute player. Likewise, if I played my student's flute, their student model flute, I would still sound like me. So the bottom line now is that I think the metal in a flute probably does make some marginal amount of difference to your sound. But that's the key word I think it's marginal. And the difference that you actually get with good flutes. So for example, this head joint has platinum and gold in there and is solid silver, the reason this is so good is because of the craftsmanship of it. I kind of concede that there's a chance that the metal plays some part in that sound, but it's just marginal compared to the craftsmanship. And again, that isn't as important as the way you play the flute.

So in summary, the way you play the flute is 90% of the sound. Then I think it's 9.9%, the craftsmanship of the flute. So the quality of the flute mechanically, everything has to be good. And then I think that final 0.1% is the metal. That's the little percentage, 10th of a percent that I give the menta. Those figures are mine. They are not statistics that are written anywhere. I think 90% of the sound of a player is themself. Then almost 10% is their flute and how good a flute they have. And I think only a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of that is the metal that it's actually made out of. It's the craftsmanship that makes it a good flute. If you want a description of my flute that I play, the brands, etcetera. There's another video on that. It's a really short one. I will either see you in that one or see you again shortly. Bye.

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