flute start up

flute start up

Confused about keyed flutes in school bands and the like. Why do they start students in b flat (b something anyway). I know there is a logical explanation but I can’t seem to find it online.

I know most of the flute players here play open wooden flutes. Why do all school bands play in B (something)?
If one switches from one of these flutes to an open d flute, lets say, is the fingering the same?

I perhaps understand the b scale on the keyed flute is easier to play but why were they made this way? Why couldn’t they be tuned to d so the d scale is easier?

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Standard Boehm flutes (keyed metal) are in the key of C. Standard keyed wooden flutes are in D. School bands play in a variety of keys. I don’t remember any one key being favored, so I don’t really understand where you are going with your question.

Note: I’m sure someone will just have to post about Bb and Eb wooden flutes, but the precursor to the Boehm flute was in D, pure and simple. The other keys exist, but if you try and find one, you’ll probably find 100 D flutes for every Bb you can hunt down.

Second note: Some think the eight-key wooden flute is in C because that is the lowest note you can play. However, the C and C# keys merely extended the range. The lowest note that is playable before the extension is D. The eight-key wooden flute is no more in C than the French model Boehm flute is in B merely because the range on the foot joint is extended to a low B.

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Ha, that amused me.

"Standard Boehm flutes (keyed metal) are in the key of C. Standard keyed wooden flutes are in D"
"Some think the eight-key wooden flute is in C because that is the lowest note you can play"

Tee he

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Band flutes play more in flat keys because they are playing along with trumpets, trombones, tenor saxes, clarinets, tubas, and other instruments whose home key is B flat. It is not so much the fact that the instrument itself likes flat keys, it is the company they keep!

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School bands play in many different keys. The instruments
are fully chromatic and so are the composers :) That business
about Boehm vs wooden flute keys is just semantics. On both
instruments - you put down 6 fingers - you get a D.

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My daughter is two years into learning flute at school, and can still only play in Bb and F. It isn’t down to the instrument it’s down to the tutor book they learn from. Its part of a set that covers flute clarinet trumpet etc etc, and teaches them all the same tunes in the same keys, so that they can form a wind band. I think it must be easier for the flutes to play in Bb than for the clarinets to play in C. (real C that is, clarinetists think they are playing in C when they are playing in Bb)

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Basically it’s about how the sheet music is prepared. Either it’s to be played as written (instruments in C) or the music has been transposed to be played by instruments "in keys other than C". Sometimes you hear about *transposing instruments* but it’s more about writing conventions than anything to do with a particular instrument. The reasoning is that instruments in the key of C are nontransposing & instruments in say the key of Bb would be transposing instruments.
With standard sheet music (not transposed) the musician reads & plays the same note. For sheet music intended to be used with "transposing" instruments the musician reads one note but actually plays a different pitch. So for a Bb instrument the note played is a whole tone lower than the note written.

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"That business
about Boehm vs wooden flute keys is just semantics. On both
instruments - you put down 6 fingers - you get a D."
# Posted by Hup 5 hours ago.

Yes, but as you lift each finger, you’ll get an F natural on your Boehm flute and an F# on the wooden flute. I wish it weren’t so because ITM would be alot easier to play on Boehm flute if the F were sharp, although it would still never be my preference.

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I’m not sure if the OP is asking about the way flutes are named or about they keys (scales) beginning flute students learn, so I’ll take a stab at both.

When it comes to naming flutes (either Boehm system or simple-system), the foot joint does not determine what key the instrument is in. Some foot joints go to to D, some to C, some to B, some to Bb, I’ve seen one down to A, and some 19th c. Viennese flutes go down to G. None of this makes any difference when naming the flute.

Simple-system (wooden) flutes are named by the six-fingers-down note—most commonly D (although flutes in F, Eb, C, and Bb aren’t uncommon). The Boehm flute (and band/orchestral instruments in general) aren’t named this way: the Boehm flute is called a C instrument because it’s a non-transposing instrument. It means when you finger a C, the instrument plays a C. That’s the case on a wooden D flute, too—finger a C, and an electronic tuner will register a C.

So what traditional musicians call a D flute, band/orchestral players will call a C flute. F becomes Eb, Eb becomes Db, C becomes Bb, and Bb becomes Ab. In each case, the band/orchestral name is the name of the note that plays when you finger a C (oxx ooo on a wooden flute), while the traditional name is based on xxx xxx.

As for why school programs start students playing pieces in keys like Bb and F, it’s because those are common keys for band music (brass instruments like flat keys), the fingerings are straightforward, and a one-octave scale falls in the middle of the flute’s range, which is good for developing embouchures.

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What mcswiss said - to classical musicians the wooden simple system flute is *also* a C instrument. Ailin is just confusing things.

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So lets get this right then: If you finger a XXX XXX on a simple system D flute you get a D yeah? Got that. So you call it a D flute. But to a classical player, if you finger a XXX XXX on a simple system D flute and you get a D then you call it a C flute? Got that. So to a classical musician any instrument that you finger a note on and you get the note you finger means you call it a C instrument. OK. So to a simple system flute player when you finger XXX XOO and get an F# it’s a D flute because F# is the major third in D. And to a classical player on their boehm flute when they finger XXX XOO and get their Fnat then that’s consistent with them calling it a C flute because their Fnat is the fourth in C. But if the classical musician fingers XXX XOO on a simple system flute they get a fourth (if they were in C) that’s a semitone sharper than it should be. So really, they should be calling that instrument a B Phrygian flute. Yeah?

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"So really, they should be calling that instrument a B Phrygian flute. Yeah?"

Do you ever mention the mode of the key of the flute (especially when it’s actually chromatic)? Anyway, a simple system flute in D would be a C Lydian flute then…?

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Isn’t C Lydian and B Phrygian the same thing?

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Yes, just another key note. I just thought because of this C vs D thing… Never mind, not important.

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Yeah, you’re right, I was gonna say C Lydian. It’s just that B Phrygian sounds funnier.

Mind you, it would be fun to hear a classical player who’s used to playing a D Dorian tune on their boehm flute play the same tune with their fingering on a simple system flute. It would come out in D Mix.

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Wow… some of the most convoluted answers I’ve ever seen.

the flute of choice in Irish trad is a simple system flute which although it is colloquially known as a "d flute" (because of the bell note or XXX XXX produces a D note) it would be scored as a "C flute" because when a C note is written the instrument produces a C note.

Here’s the tricky part… if a simple system flute is called a Eb Flute (producing a Eb when xxx xxx is played)… technically, it would be scored as a C# flute, because a written C natural would sound at C#… but it’s not, it’s just an Eb flute.

FWIW…
The Boehm flute is a C flute just like our own alleged "D flute" the difference isnt in pitch but in the bore design and a key system which is aimed at playing a wider range in every key. It’s key system is complicated and expensive which put it out of the price range of most folks who played tunes, when the more expensive design became standard with orchestral flautists their older simple system flutes were available on the cheap and became popular with the masses.

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Ha. And now, with mass production for the masses, the masses play Boehm flutes. And the simple system flutes are expensive and only played by marginalised anoraks.

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"the Boehm flute is called a C instrument because it’s a non-transposing instrument. It means when you finger a C, the instrument plays a C. That’s the case on a wooden D flute, too—finger a C, and an electronic tuner will register a C."

This is seriously incorrect. An alto flute is in G, and also plays a C when you finger C. The same is true of tin whistles in various keys. Please see Page 128 of Boehm’s book on flute and flute playing for verification.

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No, Ailin, you are not correct. If you are playing what irish musicians call a Bb whistle, you use the fingering for D, but what comes out is Bb. Most irish musicians would refer to the fingering XXX XXX as D, and read sheet music for D whistle, and so on. Classical musicians call instruments which sound the same note as they are reading (or fingering) C instruments. They would call a Bb whistle an Ab whistle because when you play "C" on it, it sounds Ab.

Using your example, an Alto flute is in G because when you play the C fingering, you get a G sounded. You don’t think of it as G, you think of it as C, and read music as if it were a C, and that is what makes it a transposing instrument.

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By that logic, a viola is a transposing violin, or as you would say, an F violin. Has anyone ever heard that before?

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What the… you’re probably right! Not one single F-string, but you’d call it an F violin. Same with mandolas, which are transposing C mandolins. I’m kind of excited.

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My experience is limited to wind instruments - do viola players read the same music as violin players and have it come out a different pitch? Do they think of their strings as EADG, but in absolute pitch they come out as something else? Ie, if they saw sheet music using the treble clef and an E was written, would they play their highest pitched string? Or would they play instead some fingered note? If the answers are no, no, no, and yes, then your example doesn’t follow my logic at all.

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Nico, I think you are making my point here. To use your example, we call a Bb whistle such because Bb is the fundamental tone. Boehm says that an alto flute is in G because G is the fundamental tone. Now, you go on to say that a classical player would call a Bb whistle Ab because when you play C, Ab is sounded. I am not aware that anyone would call a Bb whistle an Ab whistle, but if such is the case, I am wrong. My understanding is that the fundamental tone of the instrument determines the key.

I believe the reason the eight-key flute is in D is because its precursor had only six holes with the fundamental note being D. When the lower keys were added, it became an extension of an existing design. Boehm re-thought the instrument so that what was an extension became a fundamental part of his design, and thus he considered C the fundamental tone, which rendered the F as natural in contrast to the eight-key.

Obviously an instrument not built in C must transpose if the composer did not do so, but that fact has nothing to do with anything other than affect the range of the instrument. It would be ridiculous to assign new note values to an alto flute or whistle given that it fingers the same way as the standard versions of these instruments. But what about a clarinet? Why isn’t it in C?

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Your understanding is indeed wrong.

The standard/habit in irish music is to use the fundamental to describe the instrument. This is *not* the standard in classical music. As mentioned by several people, the standard in classical music is to identify the instrument’s pitch by the pitch that is sounded when that instrument plays the fingering for the note "C" (middle C on the piano).

So, piccolo, normal flute, flute d’amore, alto flute, and bass flute all have the same fingering, and all read the same sheet music, but in each case they sound a different "absolute" pitch for concert C (c, C, Bb or A, "G,", and "C," respectively, bearing in mind that it’s hard to indicate the octave easily). Similarly, trumpet, alto horn, baritone, and F french horn (not double though) have the same fingerings for the note "C", but each sounds a different note - Bb, Eb (I think), "Bb,", and F in reality.

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Here’s a few links to help understand transposition, and maybe this answers your question about clarinets as well:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transposing_instrument
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_(musical_instruments)

From the below link:
"All have a written range from the E below middle C to about the C three octaves above middle C, with the sounding pitches determined by the particular instrument’s transposition."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soprano_clarinet

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Also:

"If the music for each was not transposed to maintain the same fingerings for the same written notes, players would have to learn to read differently for each pitch of instrument. As a result these instruments are transposed based on their range so that the written notes are fingered the same way on each instrument. Some instrument families, like trombones and tubas, are not written transposed."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transposing_instrument#Families_of_instruments

The equivalent in irish music is when uilleann pipers, whistle players, and flute players refer to their instruments’ notes as if they were concert pitch "D" instruments, even if playing in C, B, Bb, etc. in reality. Also reading music as if the instrument is a concert pitch instrument, even when playing a flat or sharp keyed instrument.

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Hm. When I play tunes on my C (er, Bb?!) whistle, which are meant to be played on it (D dorian and the like), I do read the untransposed sheet music. In the end it’s all about laziness, eh?

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I’ve seen this kind of post kick off arguments before, not sure why it’s such a volatile topic. Nico’s take is correct… fwiw, I wasted my college time on music theory/composition and make flutes as part of my income.

There are other things in Irish trad that the classical world would deem wrong and vice versa, but in reality it’s not a big deal, just a different nomenclature for certain things.

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@megapop - whatever works for you. There are also people who do that sort of thing in the classical world (learning different fingerings for the written note). No big deal, I’m dealing with the general consensus, and tried to be clear that I mean "most" not "all.

As an aside, I’d quibble with you that Ddorian tunes are "meant" to be played on a C whistle.

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"As an aside, I’d quibble with you that Ddorian tunes are "meant" to be played on a C whistle."

Ahem. Yes. No, they’re certainly meant to be played on a D dorian whistle…
But I know what you mean.

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Nico,

Thank you for the links. I indeed learned something I didn’t know. I will say in my defense, however, that (as you noted) there seems to be more than one convention by which instrument key is determined, given that by classical standards, eight-key flutes and whistles are incorrectly labeled with regard to key. Since my playing of simple-system flute did not originate with ITM, I did not associate my understanding of key designation for instruments as being an Irish convention. I stand corrected. Thank you.

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No problem. You can indeed see the exact phenomenon on display at the Dayton Miller flute collection - all the flutes are labelled one tone lower than "irish" musicians would.

@megapop - I mean, I have no problem playing many Ddorian tunes on a D whistle, and almost never resort to a C whistle in session (then, I also go for the flute when Dm-ish, Gm etc tunes come up, mostly).

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doublepost

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"I have no problem playing many Ddorian tunes on a D whistle"

yeah, the F nat is not a big deal… but the drop to the C is slightly handier on the C whistle.

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Oh, dear. Nick, what key is a double French horn supposed to be in? I played one for about seven years and I haven’t a clue. Didn’t even know it had a "key." It played all the notes, after all, being fully chromatic.

I was a bit crap at it. That’s why I switched to an easy instrument, like the uilleann pipes.

Edit: Mr. Spear asked me what the difference between a double horn and a single horn was, and while I probably knew this when I was about 11, I haven’t a clue now. Other than the double had more tuning slide thingies.

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I hate to have to say it, but I’m aghast that there’s no recognition yet that all of this thread, every last post, is about how music is written down and not one bit of it is about how it’s heard.

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Michael, that wasn’t the question. If you don’t like the question, don’t post, but how in the world do you answer the question by talking about how it’s heard. Aghast you may be, but how it’s heard is not germane.

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How it’s heard is quite germane, as it’s the source of the confusion. Irish players name instruments after the sound of the scale. Classical players name wind instruments by the lowest note of the instrument (the fundamental frequency of the pipe). The 8-key flute we play in Irish music sounds a C if you close all the holes so classical musicians call it a C flute. It’s different than Irish naming, but it does make reasonable sense.

Someone asked why there isn’t a C clarinet. Denner clarinets were originally made in C. They were shrill so once fully chromatic clarinets were developed, C clarinets were abandoned in favor of lower-pitched instruments in Bb and A. The parts are still notated transposed for consistency with older music. Similar things happened for trumpet and French horn, where the instruments in Bb and F respectively played and sounded best.

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That doesn’t work because boehm flutes that go down to the B and the ones that go all the way down to the A are still called C flutes

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…Similarly the great highland bagpipes are referred to as being in A (equivalent to the flute’s D); despite there being a note G below that (equivalent to the C (if it has one) on the flute).
I first learned to read music for the GHB, and had to re-learn for uilleann and whistle. At no time did I ever think of the GHB being a transposing instrument, or even a Bb instrument, despite that being the actual key — indeed pipe music was always and is still written in the key of A (although there is no key signature indicated because it is not needed — it’s pipe music).
I hope that clears things up. :)

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"By that logic, a viola is a transposing violin, or as you would say, an F violin. Has anyone ever heard that before?"

No it ain’t. This is because viola music is written in the alto clef, and when you play a written C, the note sounded is a C.

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I know that Weejie, I said, "by that logic". I’m just pointing out that there’s no logic in any of this, it’s all mere convention.

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But it’s a logic based on written music. Perhaps that’s where the logic differs.

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All the logic in written music is mere pragmatic add-on solutions to sets of original conventions.

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I would disagree on that one. Much of the convention in classical music is built on the written form.
What I’m getting at there is that the music is an interpretation of a written form, that has been communicated that way by the composers, a majority of whom are now dead. It’s all you’ve got to go on. That the written form was originally developed as a means to communicate something that was conveyed by other means doesn’t necessarily make the medium a compromise. Music can go from the composer’s head to paper without seeing an instrument, and some composers might see some inspiration in the written form rather than the sound. J S Bach composed a wee piece based on the letters of his own surname (did musical notes gain their alphabetical names before the arrival of notation?).
The whole issue of "transposing instruments" is quite logical - even if there might have been some pragmatic "add on" reasoning behind it (and the viola is not a transposing instrument even if you follow the same logic - there is no contradiction). However, there is much logic that is a result of other factors.

Enough bellybutton contemplation - it’s snowing again.

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" J S Bach composed a wee piece based on the letters of his own surname (did musical notes gain their alphabetical names before the arrival of notation?)."

Should say that he used this motif in a few pieces, but the most well kent piece is in Die Kunst der Fuge.

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J S BACBb ?

"What I’m getting at there is that the music is an interpretation of a written form, that has been communicated that way by the composers, a majority of whom are now dead. It’s all you’ve got to go on."

I think you underestimate the influence of the unbroken tradition of, for example, the playing of Bach’s music from the time he wrote the pieces through to today and beyond.

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In German you call the scale degree "B" an "H" and a "Bb" a "B". Then it does work.
In French solmisation "BACH" would be "sibladosi" then.
Beethoven was deaf. What does this tell us about how music is to be heard?

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Beethoven wasn’t always deaf

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So is the "B" an "H" and a "Bb" a "B" thing logic or convention?

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Ascending from concert pitch, ABCDEFG seems quite logical to me…
AHCDEFG not so much.

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ABCDEFG only seems logical because that’s the alphabet you use. It’s not logic, it’s convention.

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ABCDEFG is logical if and only if it concurs with alphabetical convention.
Oh, if only we could ask Gottlob Frege!

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"I think you underestimate the influence of the unbroken tradition of, for example, the playing of Bach’s music from the time he wrote the pieces through to today and beyond."

Much has been found in the way of manuscripts that have never been performed - by known and unknown composers. I have made no underestimation.

"So is the "B" an "H" and a "Bb" a "B" thing logic or convention?"

It’s convention. However, there are logical solutions to problems that are limited by convention.

See "working within parameters".

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@DrSS - Double french horn is essentially two french horns, the F horn and the Bb horn, squashed together, with an additional valve that allows the user to switch between the two. (The fourth valve). But you don’t switch to Bb sheet music, so this instrument is an exception, which is why I excluded it. I’ve not encountered in real life someone using a single Bb French Horn, but I suppose it exists.

@Michael - it is about sheet music, but it’s also about sounded music - just like in irish music, a player who plays trumpet (or D whistle) can pick up an alto horn (or Bb whistle) and play the same thing, think about it the same way, refer to the notes the same way, and just have it come out in a different key. This is regularly done in irish music, and in classical music, too, I’m sure.

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So the important thing is "interval", not "pitch".

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What is the definition of a minor second?
- Two violists playing in unison.
(muhaha)

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Yes, Michael - or rather it’s just easier to not have to think differently. In the end, it doesn’t matter, most musicians are not thinking "now I’m playing an A, now a B, now a d" etc while they’re in the middle of a tune, but it’s done because it’s easier to say or think "I’m playing the A fingering, the D fingering, etc". And it really is just convention. French horn and baritone are two instruments that are glaring exceptions (baritone in bass clef is concert pitch, but is often given music that looks like trumpet music, where it is a transposing instrument. french horn was discussed above).

But I’d still rather not ever come across a whistler who insists on talking about the absolute pitch values while brandishing a B whistle.

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Amazing how long this thread has become! Also amazing (or not, since this is the internet, after all), is that incorrect answers to the OP continue to be posted, even after Nico and I clearly and correctly explained the naming convention. Once more, with feeling: the ‘Irish’ nomenclature follows the six-fingers-down note. The classical convention is to name the instrument’s key according the actual (concert) note that sounds when one fingers ‘C’. The foot joint has nothing to do with it either case.

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True that "the classical convention is to name the instrument’s key according to the actual note that sounds when one fingers C".

However what fingering is regarded as being the fingering for "C" on each instrument is somewhat arbitrary: why should xxx ooo be "C" on the clarinet, when in fact that fingering doesn’t produce C on any clarinet? Why should oxo ooo be "C" in the Saxophone family, when in fact that fingering doesn’t produce C on any Sax (except for the rare C Melody Sax)?

The written/sounding thing is purely a notational convention and doesn’t have much to do with the instruments themselves. It becomes more meaningless in the case of professional studio musicians who can sightread equally well using the normal transpositions or in concert pitch.

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Richard, on most woodwinds, it’s not that arbitrary: six fingers down is "logical D". It’s true of flutes, saxophones, oboes, and in one register of the clarinet. Clarinet does have that goofy octave-and-a-half gap between registers, and it’s the other register (where six fingers down is "G") where three fingers is "C".

The only common woodwind which doesn’t follow this is mine, the bassoon, where six fingers down is always "G" (and because it’s a concert pitch instrument, it’s actual G, too). Not sure why bassoon is different.

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We could always further complicate this discussion by discussing the differences in intonation among the various instruments, and how their valves, holes and switches compensate for those wee differences. And whether that compensation is in the direction of just or equal.
There had been a Scientific American article that I ran across years ago about the physics of why brass instruments (without any valves pressed) play the notes of a major chord and not some other combination of notes. Which is why, in all those old movies about royalty that have the valveless herald trumpets playing, but something dubbed into the soundtrack in a minor key, in an octave where that would be impossible on those instruments, I tend to chuckle.

Flute Foot Alternatives

The question which keeps going through my head is, "Do the school bands which start off with tunes in Bb require their flute players to have an instrument with a B/Bb foot joint?" Obviously the clarinet & trumpet players should find it easy to play their instruments down to Bb. But with some silver/Boehm flutes that’s not always the case.

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When scoring for a band (something I did a few times in my youth), you have guides handy that show what the comfortable range of each instrument is, and prepare their parts accordingly. Then you look at all the quirky conventions for which instrument reads their music in what key, and write out each part. Bflat trumpets get music written one step higher than it sounds. Bflat trombones, however, read parts in concert pitch. Even though both instruments are in the same key, just an octave apart. I see no reason for this. Like ‘good accounting practices,’ some things are just done certain ways because that is how they are done.

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i would like to note that Bb is easy on the silver flute. hold down your thumb at all times on the Bb key and
Eb uses the right pinky. it is important to understand what the pinky does, as it later becomes necessary for good intonation on E natural, etc.

@na éisc: school flutes don’t go below C. this is not a problem, as in bands flutes tend to play in the second and third octave. usually, for beginners a piece will go in the first and second octave, but never down to that low C, as it can be difficult to play for beginners or even on cheap instruments. they just score it appropriately.

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I can’t believe that I just read this thread from start to finish. And I must confess that I don’t understand any of it. I personally stick to some brilliant advice that I read years ago on some forgotten Session discussion. I can’t remember who said it or in what context, but the advice read, ‘Just put your fingers where the notes are’. And that works fine for me.

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‘Just put your fingers where the notes are’

I believe that was Will Harmon.

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For it was he.

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ha ha, you mean … For it was He

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