Flute Essentials


Friday 14 November 2014 New York Time

(available until 4pm Saturday 15th 2014 Sydney time)

To claim your copy follow this link (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/481225) and enter the coupon code NN84H to receive your free copy

Flute Essentials Cover


My name is Drew Niemeyer and I am a woodwind technician working at Blow Woodwind and Brass in Brisbane. I am writing a series of books containing information, not about playing the flute, but about the flute from a more technical standpoint.

I have noticed that many parents and even many teachers know very little about what to look for in a flute, i.e. what good and poor quality is, and what a flute needs in upkeep and care. Many teachers are allowing their students to buy instruments that are almost guaranteed to cause frustration and disillusionment. Some instruments are completely unfixable and it is sad to see so many people give up flute for a reason such as this.

From my bench as a repair technician I see the results of the choices people make. Damage is more often caused by neglect than recklessness, and I speak to clients every day about how to care for their instruments properly. Flutes made with low quality parts are often very expensive to fix properly, and the result for these people is an instrument that is not working as well as it should most of the time.

I wrote Flute Essentials because this problem is so wide spread.

This first book in the series is a very broad (but concise) outline of what people should be looking for in flutes, how to go about purchasing one, how to care for it, as well as some tips about getting the most from the instrument when you do begin to play. It will be especially good for parents looking to buy a first flute, and teachers may also find the book useful to encourage parents in their choices.

Taking up flute can be a big commitment. Flute Essentials delves into the necessity of obtaining a good quality flute for enjoyment, describes how this can be done, and explains how it is within the reach of almost anyone that desires to have it.

For more information contact Drew at Drew@fluteessentials.com or visit the website www.fluteessentials.com.


About the Author: Drew has provided his services as a professional woodwind technician to musicians for over 20 years. His career has included teaching and performance, and has been highlighted by various prizes and awards. He is based at Blow Woodwind and Brass in Brisbane, Australia, and services clients throughout the Asia-Pacific Region.


View the Flute Essentials Press Release here

For information on purchasing flute essentials and to view a preview of this book please visit  www.fluteessentials.com.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

Please follow and like us:





It all started in 1983 when I was in high school and my music teacher sent an aspiring young student to do work experience with a woodwind repair man called Don Archer for two weeks  It was to become a journey that has continued to the current day, 31 years later. The place seemed to appeal to someone who wanted to spend time with instruments in hand between the study and practice of a novice player, however it was quickly expressed that to pursue this craft it would be important to study music in depth as mastery of an instrument is key to understanding the functional and mechanical aspects of it through playing and feeling the results of a well set up instrument.  This resulted in my studying undergraduate music studies at the Victorian college or the arts in Melbourne (1989-1991) and postgraduate study at the Sweelinck Conservatorium Amsterdam (1992-94) and then the ANU school of music (1995-96)

By this time I had found (between study and teaching/playing gigs) an English gentleman named Geoff Speed. It was under him that I really began to develop skills in repair of wind instruments. This gave the basis that would lead to more than just repair and flowed on to making of flutes, head joints, high end padding techniques that are a must in todays flute world and my business.

Working with Geoff, I  covered all aspects of repair, dent work, key fitting and alignment, and re-padding as well as understanding the acoustic needs of the instrument, pad heights, pad thickness. It was an intense time of learning how the instrument functions as well as understanding the needs of the player and how different players respond to the setup of the flute. Geoff also encouraged me to travel to the USA and attend conferences, visit factories and makers, to seek knowledge.

This process never stopped and I am glad for his initial encouragement to keep thinking about the instrument I was working on and seek people who knew more about the subject. Every year or so I would take time from my workbench to seek to better the skills that had now given me a full time business and supported me.

I first registered my own business here in Canberra in 1996 and called it “tritone” brass and woodwind repair and flutes in Canberra were one of the biggest parts of the business and initially the instruments were student flutes and intermediate flutes.

Eventually high end flutes were coming into the shop, flues that required very special pads, materials that required different techniques to install and prepare for than the student Yamaha’s that were so central to the business.  My focus then shifted to concentrate on getting certified in these more specialised techniques, using pads that had the closest tolerances to 4 thousands of an inch, pads that were no longer soft felt type pads to the firm pads that would produce great results with the lightest technique. This means that the mechanics of the flute needed to run at the same tolerances. For this I started to visit makers, people like David Straubinger (who learned his craft from Bickford Brannen and developed the Straubinger pad),web002-1 Johnathan Landell (who learned is craft from Verne Powell) and Harry van Eckert who still makes flutes for Powell today. They all had their roots with one of the finest and oldest high end flute makers, Powell of Boston. This company took the louis lot design on in the late 1800’s to make really modern flutes, and then bought the Cooper system of tone hole placement to make a flute that had very good intonation.

This resulted in a great investment in education and tools and pads for the workshop, it transformed my understanding of the geometry of the flute, the dynamics of how the pads under the players fingers needed to feel and most importantly the understanding of the head joint, creating the sound wave (this is the place where the sound begins and its so important to the whole flute), how it behaves under different conditions and in the hands of different players.  These parameters now didn’t just include the setup of the pads but also things such as the fit of the head joint, the head cork and the spring action because the flute needs to operate as a whole and if one thing isn’t correct the entire instrument is affected.

Flutists are perhaps the most sensitive of all woodwind players at the high levels of playing.  Being able to work with them to achieve something that makes them feel like the instrument is really responding well and enables them to play easily across the entire range of the instrument is central to my craft.

web053-1By 2010 I had become a Straubinger technician and I had made my first sterling silver head joint and by 2013 I had made my first flute, a silver flute with open holes, low B, french pointed arms.

It took six weeks of hard work. Filing, making tubes for the body, head and foot joint. It was a challenge that required a type of patience that was new to me in order to really understand how the flute works, theory became reality and the end result was great.


Now it is 2014 and it’s my 31st year of instrument repair and my business ‘tritone” has existed for 18 years!

I am not surprised hat so much time has past as it really feels like it takes this long to understand totally what you are trying to achieve in this business.  Last year I became an agent for David Leviston’s shop ‘Flutes and Flutists‘ something I wish to continue into the future. Although selling flutes is part of the business I consider myself a flute specialist in repair and someone who has a great understanding of making flutes, not yet a great flute maker…..

My eight year old son is my apprentice, disassembling flutes and cleaning them, the place where I started. I hope he will travel this road along with me and continue after I finish.

web007-1 055web070-1


Dirk would be happy to answer questions from anyone interested in flute repair or anyone looking for a flute service in or near the ACT.  You can contact Dirk via his website at tritone.net.au

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic below also

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates


Please follow and like us:

Giuliani to Tango. Sally Walker – flute, Giuseppe Zangari – guitar


Concert review by Latham Horn

(The reviewer, Latham Horn, was the only flautist to successfully audition for Prof. Johanna Dömötör’s class at the Anton-Bruckner-Privatuniversität Linz, Austria, is also one of Sally Walker’s past flute students)


On a bright and warm last day of winter acclaimed duo Sally Walker and Giuseppe Zangari presented a lunchtime concert of Argentine, Australian and Italian music for flute and guitar in the delightfully intimate theatrette of the recently redeveloped Newcastle Museum. Both Walker – international prize winning flutist formerly of the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss am Rhein and Zangari – Italian Government scholarship recipient and faculty of the Sydney Conservatorium are lectures at the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of Music.

There was no need for programs as the performers communicated wonderfully with the substantial audience giving brilliant insight into each of the presented works.  The first work performed was the Callejon by Argentine composer Maximo Diego Pujol whom Walker will meet personally during a tour of South America later in the year. The Callejon originally existed as a work for voice and guitar, here presented as the Australian premiere in a new arrangement for flute and guitar.

The second work was the first two movements of the Grand Duo Concertante by Mauro Giuliani – the composer who is also the current subject of guitarist Zangari’s fascination and Masters research.  The first movement’s challenging technical passages for both flutist and guitarist were presented here with both control and wit – but the true artistry was evident in the second movement.  Walker’s flute sang like a great Bel Canto soprano with a tone and legato so transparent and intimate yet full of colour with a wonderfully complementing accompaniment by Zangari.

Pujol’s Viene y Va  (Comes and Goes) was next on the program. The outer first and third movements were full of excitement, joy and fire – a perfect complement to the stunning beach sun of Newcastle’s iconic Nobby’s Beach one sees on approach to the concert venue.   The second movement, a melancholic aria, was performed with absolute artistry of colour, dynamics and sentiment.  The next work Suite Buenos Aires (also by Pujol) included an impressive introduction for solo guitar, displaying Zangari’s technical facility and command of extended techniques.

The last work of the program was by Australian composer and guitarist Philip Houghton.  From the Dreaming has become quite popular amongst flutists with frequent performances around Australia and internationally in numerous arrangements including for flute and orchestra; flute and string quartet and in its original here presented on flute and guitar. In an impressionistic style Houghton illustrates images and scenes of the Australian outback and wildlife, with movement names including ‘Cave Painting’, ‘Wild Flower’ and ‘Gecko’.

This was truly an inspired performance featuring musicianship and artistry of the highest calibre, leaving this listener completely musically satisfied and with goosebumps.  After two rounds of applause the audience got their wish of an encore in Cambereri’s Capricciosa, a light and fiery Tarantella in a minor key full of technical bravura and character.  Walker and Zangari will tour Sweden in early 2014 upon invitation from Swedish ensemble Haga Duo.

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

Please follow and like us:

Treating Music Performance Anxiety

Do you suffer any level of performance anxiety?  Do your students?

Good news!!!!  It can be treated!!!!


Music Performance Anxiety (MPA) can occur immediately before a performance or be a build up of tension over weeks before the performance.

Symptoms can be very distressing and include sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, nausea, breathing problems, notational mistakes, robotic playing and catastrophizing that the audience are thinking negatively about the performance.

Many famous musicians have experienced it, among them Pablo Casals (frequently threw up back stage prior to performing), and Barbara Streisand (who did not perform for twenty years after a experiencing a memory lapse in a New York concert). It is estimated that up to 70 percent of musicians experience it at some stage of their careers.

Treatment programs have focussed on professionals or advanced students, however fifteen percent of adults, and twenty percent of school age Australians participate in music making. MPA is the most common reason for people to give up playing an instrument or singing.

Over several collaborative group sessions this program applies proven psychological treatments specially adapted for musicians. Negative thoughts about performance can lead to physical symptoms and errors in performance. The program aims to decrease anxiety and increase performance quality by examining negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours, while utilising the adrenalin release that often accompanies performance.

The researcher is a psychologist, musician, teacher and examiner (AMEB) currently completing a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) degree at Macquarie University. The program is free and open to any musician or singer. It is currently being delivered in venues across NSW (2013) and the UK (2014). The program can also be delivered at other locations provided there is a minimum of six musicians in the group.

All data collected is non-invasive and there is ongoing performance assessment throughout the program.

Please feel free to contact Naomi on 0409319985; or naomihallsstudio@gmail.com to enrol in a group, arrange treatment date if you have an interested group; or for further information.


Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
Please follow and like us:

Memorising a work…

Once one takes the step of deciding to pursue music at a tertiary level, and then moving into the professional world, the expectations for assessment, competitions, eistedfodds and performances change.  One expectation, which can often be a very daunting and scary experience, is being asked to memorise a work.  If I were to ask you, no matter what instrument you played, to perform something like: Mary Had a Little Lamb; or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; from memory, you probably wouldn’t have a problem!  But it’s when we start getting into longer works, such as concertos or sonatas, the whole process can sometimes seem impossible, let alone actually performing the work for a concert in front of people!

Throughout my Undergraduate Degree, I didn’t memorise anything.  There was no requirement in my recitals, I was comfortable with my music in front of me, and so I didn’t push myself to do it.  There were parts of my pieces that I could in fact play from memory, but that’s a very different thing from actually memorising an entire work and performing it.  When moving into my Honours degree, memorisation (for at least some works in the performance) was suddenly a requirement.  I remember reading through my subject guidelines, and thinking – memorising a 20 minute work and performing it – not possible!  The first piece I memorised was the Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major.  Personally, I think works that are well structured (Exposition, Development and recapitulation, or Rondo forms), like many works by Mozart, are the easiest type of music to begin with when first memorising.

I think that the actual process when memorising is different for each person.  We all have different strengths with memory – some of us have a strong ‘eye’ memory or photographic memory, some of us have a strong aural memory and others strengths lie in our finger memory or muscle memory.  No matter which of these is your strength, we use a combination of these types of memory when memorising a work.

When I’m memorising a piece, my first step is to listen to it – A LOT!   Initially, I listen without the score to become familiar with the work aurally – this is where I learn about the shapes and contours of the melodies, the tempos and characteristics of sections, and how the piece flows together, and fits together as a whole work.  Once I’m satisfied with my aural familiarity, I then listen with the score in front of me – all before I even play through the work.  This gives me a visual idea of what is happening throughout the work, and in my opinion, starts to shape my photographic memory.

The piece I have been learning over the past few months is Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major – a wonderful piece, and thankfully, a very logically structured (for my brain!) work.  I had played this concerto before in second year university, so I had a basic understanding of its melody already, so I was already off to a good start aurally.

I remember at the beginning of this memory journey, I was feeling pretty stressed about memorising the entire concerto, and even though I knew logically how to go about it, it still seemed like such a huge amount of work! Once I felt I was familiar enough with the work as a whole aurally (combining my ‘ear’ and ‘eye’ memory), I broke each movement into their respective sections (Theme A, Theme B, Section A, Section B, etc), and then broke those sections into smaller bar groups. I was generally focussing on between 4-16 bars depending on the difficulty of the passage.  Some passages I was able to learn more quickly – generally anything that was slower and very melodic, while others required a little more work.  My process of physically learning those small sections, involved spending roughly 5 minutes on the passage, and then going away to a separate piece for another 5 minutes, before returning to my concerto and attempting to play that small section from memory.  This was my process throughout the entire concerto.  I would also always go back to the previous section and add on my new section several times, as well as starting from the beginning of the movement until I could play smoothly from the beginning to my memorised point.  I also made a point not to continue on in the piece, until I could play up to that point correctly – otherwise, I think it’s very possible to get lost or confused as to what material happens next.

I find that my visual and aural memory is mostly used within the slower sections and/or movements, and that my finger and aural memory are my strengths in more technical sections. Having said this, I can visualise how each section of the work starts – for the Reinecke Concerto, it opens the first movement on an F#, the first theme comes in on an A, the second theme a C# etc.  It’s also very important for me as a player, and I think anyone who is memorising a work, to feel comfortable starting from just about anywhere in the piece – if you can do this, you should feel pretty confident in how well you’ve memorised the work.

In many ways, memorising is not much different from learning to play a piece – a lot of it is practice, practice, practice – breaking the piece up into smaller sections, playing each section until you really know it, and then putting it all together, with some extra practice on the tricky bits.  Memorising is the same thing – starting with a small section and continuing adding sections until you reach the end.  Obviously, some people are faster than others at memorising – just as some people are faster at learning.  I think as long as you work through a piece slowly, understand it aurally, and are willing to put in the time and effort to really learn it, you’ll find memorising a work can be quite a rewarding experience.  And like many things, the more you do it, the less daunting it becomes!  Make sure to play it for family members, friends, peers, colleagues, and teachers in preparation for a performance so that you can become as comfortable as possible before performing it live.  Play along with as many different recordings as possible so that you are prepared for a number of tempos.  Don’t always start with the first movement of a work, or the beginning of piece, start with the second or third movement, or somewhere in the middle of a work – doing all of these things, should help you to feel as confident as possible.  Taking away that barrier of a music stand and connecting even more with your audience and your accompanist (orchestral, pianist or chamber) can be an exhilarating experience, so take the leap!


Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
Please follow and like us:

Flute Lessons via Skype

Having recently received some questions and comments regarding teaching private instrumental lessons via Skype, we decided that further discussion may help teachers and students to achieve a successful lesson while using this program.

What equipment do you need for a Skype Lesson?

This is a checklist for both the student and teacher, in addition to your usual face-to-face teaching tools.

1. Computer

2. Reliable Internet connection

3. Webcam

4. Microphone

5. Speakers

6. A Printer/Scanner for sending notes, sight-reading or any exercises you may have written

7. Skype program or similar (eg. video call through Google Chat)

8. An agreed form of payment (Note: Bank transfers and cheques are not a good option for overseas students due to international account fees. A better option may be setting up a Paypal account, so the student can pay by credit card).

A lesson in this format can only be successful when both parties are organised. Anything that the teacher would usually show their student needs to be planned in advance. If this requires scanning or printing, the student needs to have their copy before the lesson begins.

Most computers now come with a built-in microphone, webcam and speakers. External, purpose-built devices can be used to achieve better quality. I have recently been using a Blue Snowball Microphone and have found the sound quality to be much better than my built-in microphone. The Snowball is a USB condenser microphone which plugs straight into your computer without the need for an additional power source.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Skype Lessons:


– You can teach or have a lesson with a teacher who is not based in your local area.

– Skype can work as a back-up when a face-to-face lesson is not possible (transport not running, snowed in etc.)


– Some teachers and students have reported that they feel disconnected from each other. There will always be a human element missing from a Skype lesson, as opposed to teaching face-to-face, but as long as the student and teacher are comfortable communicating with each other, successful lessons can still be achieved.

– Technical problems may interfere with teaching – power black-outs, internet connection problems, the teacher or student’s hardware and software not working.

– Even with a great computer and webcam, it is harder to see what the student is doing in this situation than in person. Teachers may need to ask the student to move or adjust the webcam from time to time.

– Some teachers have reported to us that they have experienced difficulties while teaching aural skills via Skype. This may have been due to the delay experienced while communicating over the internet, or due to the quality of the microphones and speakers. Jacinta Mikus came up with the following solution:

I have a few students in regional areas. We Skype once a week and try to meet up at least once (if not two or three times) a term in person. Have had great success with students doing well with exams and one way I got around the aural aspect was to record my own exercises…emailing them to the student and them recording themselves via voice memo on their phones and sending it to me.”

My personal opinion is that if this technology allows us to do something which would not otherwise be possible, we should use it! Skype teaching does require hardware, software and planning, but offers many more opportunities to teachers and students.

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
Please follow and like us:


Improving Your Scales – A LOT!

By Samantha Coates

The ScaleBlitzer app is the revolutionary new app that makes scales and arpeggios (and any other technical work) fun and interesting to play!

It’s an iPhone app that works on iPad too. ScaleBlitzer is changing attitudes to practice and making parents and teachers sit back and smile.


Enter in your homework

Rather than practice with a notebook in front of you that lists the scales your teacher wants you to practice that week, you can enter that list into the app and have it generate a huge variety of activities to do based on the keys you’ve entered. Not only that – ScaleBlitzer REMEMBERS your homework and KEEPS TRACK of your progress.


Rate your own playing

Everyone knows that effective practice requires listening to the way you’ve played something and deciding whether it needs more work or not. The ScaleBlitzer app has self-rating buttons for each activity, and it remembers which scales you’ve rated well and those you’ve rated poorly. You’ll get tested more often on the ones you’re having trouble with, until they start to improve.


Choose your difficulty level

There are five different modes in to choose from in the ScaleBlitzer app:

Warm-up: Easy practice methods like ‘ascending only’, ‘play twice’, or ‘no blowing, fingering only’!

Basic: No practice method given, just straight out no-frills instructions (e.g. like you would get in an exam)

Muscle Builder: Practice methods using such things rhythms and accents

Brain Strain: Harder practice methods, or a combination of two methods! (e.g. in a certain rhythm AND staccato)

Thrill Seeker: This mode is not for the faint-hearted! You’ll get some really tough methods, or sometimes THREE different methods to incorporate into one scale!


Many times there are practice methods that pop up with a simple reminder of good practice habits, such as ‘think about your posture’ or ‘think about your sound’.

There are also practice methods for long notes, such as ‘tonic only: hold for 6 seconds’.


Earn Points and awards

Progress and rewards will motivate any student. Not only do you accumulate points which are displayed on the leaderboard on the ScaleBlitzer website, you earn rewards for these points such as medals, trophies, and wardrobe items for your character!



ScaleBlitzer is the revolutionary app for flute technical work practice and is currently on special for $2.99. Prelim and Grade 1 are included, and you can buy additional packs for up to Grade 5 technical work.

It is currently available for piano, flute, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet, with more instruments coming soon.

Check out the ScaleBlitzer app in the App Store



All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
Please follow and like us:

Developing Tone on the Alto Flute

Tone is an aspect of flute playing that takes many hours of critical listening and experimentation. The alto flute can produce a tone that is richer, deeper and warmer than the c flute, but it does not leap out of the alto as soon as we start playing. Like the c flute, the alto will sound best if you take full, deep breaths, create a large open space inside your mouth, have a relaxed and open throat and are covering just 20% or so of the flute’s embouchure opening. I cannot emphasize enough that a deep and full breath is critical to getting a big sound. Your body is an amplifier for the flute sound, and the more space you create inside your body, the deeper and richer your tone will be. A flute breath involves the entire torso, it is very similar to yawning. Think “Ah.” Work with a teacher to help discover how to make this kind of breath a default breath when playing the flute. Here is the link to my video on breathing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcB9PSgsDkc

To find your clearest tone possible, focus on the lips. Most people’s lips have an opening that is much too large. The target area for the air inside the flute is similar in shape to a thin ribbon. The opening in the lips should be comparable to avoid wasting air; it is basically a small and somewhat flattened oval. If you can see the opening in your lips in a mirror, it is too big. The best aid I have found to work with students on the lip opening size is a straw used to stir coffee. Get a mirror and one of these straws. Put the straw between your lips and blow through it strongly enough that you can hear the air hissing out: keep blowing and remove the straw. Observe how small the opening is and what muscles are involved in maintaining that small opening. Then get your flute and play any note. Observe the opening in the lips. We are trying to get as close as we can to the opening size of the straw because this will result in two wonderful things; you will use less air so you can play longer phrases and, you will produce a solid and clearer tone. I deal with this topic in my YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaeHSbGyGWM

Some people aim the air a little too high into the headjoint, resulting in a loud, hissing, unfocused tone. Some people cover too much of the flute mouthpiece opening, resulting in a clear but soft smothered tone with no dynamic range. A teacher can help you find the middle ground.

The lip position for alto is very similar to the lip position of the c flute, it is only slightly more relaxed. If I had to put a number on it, I would say 15% more relaxed. If your lips on c flute are already too relaxed, you may actually need to firm up your lips more than they are. This will help your tone on both instruments. If you like your tone on c flute, just keep the corners of the lips soft when playing alto. Usually we are playing alto because we like the less edgy and warmer, rounder sound. On alto, play with a sound less like an arrow and more like a warm cinnamon roll.

Spend time playing slow, simple melodies on alto so you can think about your tone and what you would like to improve about it. I have a collection of favorite pieces I use for this purpose. If you want to improve your tone, you must spend time listening to it without the distraction of too many notes. If you don’t like what you hear, you have taken the first step. Take step two and decide to do something about it.

Copyright Mar. 2013, Chris Potter


About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates


Please follow and like us:

Alto Flute: choosing a curved or straight head-joint

People who are interested in purchasing an alto flute must make a decision whether to get a curved or a straight head joint. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and people should try each design before deciding. Most entry-level altos can be purchased with either head joint or both head joints.

If you are a flute choir director purchasing an instrument that several people will use, I suggest getting an alto with both head joints. You will have short people and tall people, people who just can’t balance the curved head well, and people whose hands hurt if they play a straight head.

The primary advantage of a straight head joint alto is that the intonation is better in the third octave. It is not as good as a c flute’s intonation in this octave and you will still make some adjustments, but it is better than the curved head. The reason the intonation is better with a straight head is that makers are able to make a continuous taper from the crown end of the head joint to where it joins the body of the flute. If you look at your c flute head joint, you will see that the crown end of the head joint is smaller than where it goes into the body. This was one of the design features found to be necessary to improve overall flute intonation.

Some people prefer the more flute-like physical relationship of the straight head alto, it feels very similar to what you already know and there is just the one adjustment needed to line up the mouthpiece with the body, just like the flute.

The big disadvantage to the straight tube is that if your arms are short, the right hand has to twist to the left when you reach for the keys. This is painful for many people, and the foot joint notes are even more difficult to reach and are more awkward to play. The right hand thumb is put under even more stress as it tries to keep the flute from rolling backwards while having an even heavier instrument to support that is farther from the player’s body. The tube is larger in diameter than c flute, so it makes balancing the alto on the left index finger joint also difficult. This was my situation when I was looking for an alto many years ago, and I found a curved head instrument with a stunning sound that I have had ever since.

The big advantage of the curved head joint is that your right arm and hand are a comfortable distance away and there is no twisting of the right wrist. The little finger is perfectly positioned to play the foot joint keys with ease. The lowest notes are easy to play and access.

A second advantage of the curved head joint is that with a little experimentation, one finds a spot to set the position of the head joint so that it leans slightly back against the chin and prevents the flute from rolling backwards. The curved head joint actually allows a more stable position for the instrument than the straight head.

The big disadvantage is the intonation of the notes in the third octave. Starting with the C above the staff is almost all ¼ step sharp. It is not yet possible to make a continuous taper from the crown end of head-joint, through the curve and into the flute. Makers are using a graduated cylinder approach, where each section is slightly larger than the one before. This helps, but not enough. Look for improvements in this design in the future.

Choosing a curved head joint means you will need to develop alternate fingerings for the third octave when you have notes up there. You will need to become fluent with these fingerings, and you will find that more than one will be necessary depending on dynamics and surrounding notes.

A second disadvantage of the curved head joint is the challenge of finding the best possible position of the two independent parts of the head joint in relation to the flute body. The head joint does not go directly over the flute body or directly between the flute and the player. Start from a position on top of the flute and then tip the curved part about ½ an inch towards you, then adjust the short straight part of the head joint where you need it to be. Experiment with these angles until you find what works best for you. Once you find the correct relationship of these two parts, you will find that the balance is even easier than on the c flute.

If you are thinking you will do most of your practicing on the curved head to save your right wrist and then switch to the straight tube as you get closer to the performance, it’s a good thought but doesn’t work in reality. You will have to spend plenty of time on the straight tube to work out intonation and tone issues, and your wrist will still hurt. Go for the curve.

Copyright Nov. 2011, Chris Potter


About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.



All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
Please follow and like us:

Monologues and Dialogues – Peter Sheridan | Low Flutes

Monologues & Dialogues is Peter Sheridan’s new album featuring fourteen compositions for low flutes. Throughout the album, Peter performs on alto, bass, contrabass and hyperbass flutes, creating a showcase of the instruments pitched below the C flute. The project draws out many contrasts – the diverse ranges of the instruments, the various aesthetics and styles represented by each of the fourteen composers and the different (and sometimes surprising) roles that each instrument is asked to play.

The disc opens with Madelyn Byrne’s haunting In a Winter Landscape. The piece is a looming and mournful exploration of the bass flute as a melodic instrument paired with a largely sustained, synthesizer-ish electronic track. Directly following the Byrne, Ross Edwards’ classic, jiving solo Ulpirra appears, performed on alto flute. The spritely energy that Sheridan brings to this incarnation of Ulpirra (a piece generally heard in a higher register on recorder, piccolo and C flute) leaves no doubt as to the agility of the alto flute. These two opening tracks set the scene for the world of contrasting roles that will appear in variations throughout the album; that is, the roles of melodic, highly agile, “flutish” playing versus explorations into gritty sounds, percussive techniques and the timbral idiosyncrasies of these less common instruments.

Returning to the looming, other-worldly vibe of the opening track, Adrienne Albert’s Three for Two presents a number of sides to how the alto and bass flute can each interact with the contrabass flute as a duo. Albert opens the piece with bass flute and contrabass flute assuming roles of ornamented melody and sustained drone, respectively. Of note in this section of the movement is the use of voice in the contrabass part. We hear Sheridan singing and playing the slow, growling line, creating an amazingly striking, otherworldly landscape of difference tones and harmonics over the contrabass’s almost subsonic lower tessitura. Albert slashes straight into a contrasting B-section that depicts (for this author, at least) a slightly sinister carousel ride before the languid opening landscape returns and rolls into some gorgeous, rumbling, trilling harmonic sweeps on the contrabass. This is another amazing side of the contrabass’s sound world: the smoothness of the transition between rumbling low harmonics and flitting high ones is just sensational.

Gary Schocker’s Dark Star is a lilting look at bass flute and piano through a traditional, flute-as-melody piano-as-accompaniment lens, giving Sheridan the chance to show off some supple phrasing. Jane Hammond sensitively performs the impressionist-influenced piano part.

I find it a little difficult not to let my mind wander while listening to this particular track on the album. There’s something about many of Schocker’s compositions, including this one, that send me window gazing and I’m not too sure whether to call it a good or a bad thing.

Noisy Oyster is Hilary Taggart’s suite that features each of the alto, bass and contrabass flutes in five solo vignettes. Taggart has structured the movements such that the first and last movements are played on alto flute, the second and fourth on bass, and the middle movement on contrabass, creating a symmetrical fall then rise in pitch range over the course of the piece. The title movement, Noisy Oyster, is a jaunty little scene akin to Arthur Honegger’s Danse de la Chevre with something of a bubbling, seaside bent. It is interesting to see how much agility Taggart demands of each of the different sizes of flute. The alto and bass flute are both treated in a manner akin to writing for C flute, but Zephyr, the contrabass movement is much more of a study in the instrument’s idiomatic qualities. The opening phrase moves slowly through the contrabass’s low register, articulated with small amounts of key noise and a raspy tone. This is then juxtaposed immediately with a high phrase, demonstrating the contrabass’s extremely diverse palette of tone colours.

Vaughan McAlley’s Serenade and Burlesque is a playful set of two movements that demonstrate the low flutes in a traditional flute choir setting. Lisa Maree Amos’s appearance on C flute lends a soaring energy to the ensemble.

It’s interesting to note that Sheridan recorded each of the low flute parts himself by multi-tracking each one separately. This is a pretty cool idea and is mostly very effective but there are moments (for this author), such as on the last note of the Burlesque movement which doesn’t have a completely clean cut off, where working with a live ensemble might have given the recording a bit more of an edge.

[Listen to excerpt from Serenade and Burlesque]

Michal Rosiak’s rocking low flute quartet Quasi Latino was recorded in the same manner (i.e. all parts performed by Sheridan, multitracked) and has a very strong sense of ensemble. The piece uses the percussive key slap sounds of the lowest pitched member of the ensemble to suggest a slap bass to great effect. The piece’s zany, mixed meter material and the burbling and chugging of the low flutes suggests something of a Martian Latin band.

Vincent Giles Differing Dialogues is another adventure through the wilder sounds that the low flutes bring to the table. The piece has a certain sinister feeling, particularly once the trilling, flutter-tongue drum rolls signify the beginning of the march of doom into a shrieking, macabre forest. Giles paints an amazing landscape exploiting so many of the wondrous extended techniques offered by the instrumentation.

Addressing a completely different aesthetic are Stanley M. Hoffman’s Meditations and Memories, a restful, gorgeous and almost plainchant-like duet for alto flutes, and David Loeb’s Winter Sarabande, a hauntingly beautiful bass flute solo. These pieces each explore the melodically expressive side of the instruments as does Houston Dunleavy’s Serenade and Mike Mower’s Two Sonnets. The Mower is a dreamy and heartfelt piece that brings together elements of jazz and impressionism to create a landmark set for alto flute, occasionally reminiscent of Roussel’s Joueurs de Flute. Sheridan’s sensitivity to the phrasing shines through in each of these pieces, demonstrating his ability to approach the low flutes from a supremely musical angle.

To experience Dominy Clements’ Groaning Oceans as the penultimate track on this disc is joyously unsettling. The wild feast of electronic sounds and hyperbass flute leave one feeling a little vertigo with its wide, slow soundscape. This is a piece that very excellently pulls together some of the most wonderful sounds that Sheridan and the hyperbass flute concoct together and should optimally be enjoyed in a dark room lying on the floor.

[Listen to excerpt from Groaning Oceans]

Monologues and Dialogues is a CD whose strength lies in the achievements that abound in each track rather than as a whole album. The many disparate styles and aesthetics represented are sometimes a little incongruous when heard consecutively, but that should not take away from the wealth of care and expertise that has been put in by Sheridan and each of his collaborators – composers, performers et al. This is a disc that will teach you a great deal about what lies beneath the C flute and is a fine musical achievement to boot.

CD Track Listings (from Move)
1. In a winter landscape Madelyn Byrne 5:27
2. Ulpirra Ross Edwards 1:32
Three for Two Adrienne Albert
3. Dark and light 4:20
4. Lament for Sarah 4:13
5. Sassy 2:35
6. Dark Star Gary Schocker 3:35
Noisy Oyster Hilary Taggart
7. Noisy Oyster 1:59
8. Defragmented 2:12
9. Zephyr 3:43
10. Partita 2:30
11. Autumn Leaves 1:42
Serenade and Burlesque Vaughan McAlley
12. 2:35
13. 2:14
14. Meditations and Memories Stanley M. Hoffman 3:53
15. Differing Dialogues Vincent Giles 4:48
16. Winter Sarabande David Loeb 3:36
Two Sonnets Mike Mower
17. 4:08
18. 5:11
19. Serenade Houston Dunleavy 5:15
20. Groaning Oceans Peter Sheridan Dominy Clements 6:21
21. Quasi Latino Michal Rosiak 3:40


About the review author:

Shaun Barlow is a professional flute player based between Sydney and New York. He specialises in contemporary music, flute beatboxing, collaborating with composers and exploring the endless multitude of sounds available from the flute. Shaun has performed with the Sydney Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, the Kammerklang Orchestra and the Sydney University Opera Company. http://www.shaunbarlow.com/



All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
Please follow and like us: