Weak notes.

Weak notes.

Seems to me that Andy_B’s discussion has drifted off course a bit so I thought it might be good to start a new one. The issue of weak notes seems to come up from time to time. What do we mean by a "weak" note, low volume, airy or choked off, poorly intonated, imprecise? I thought I’d share my own experience and hear what others have to say. Know that my experience is just that and I make no claim of expertise here. As I tried, as many have done, to get that strong had D (D4) I did just what I said before, worked my way down. After a while I added some electronic aides that really helped. The first was the simple electronic tuner to keep me honest and precise. I’d like to think that my ear was good enough … it was not. Then I added a Db meter to measure and improve volume. That’s where I found that blowing harder wasn’t the answer. I believe someone, skerries I think said that practice won’t help much and manipulation of embouchure and air flow would. Absolutely. I would add then that practice, focused on those things alone, will. Like everything else the key to improving is measurement and assessment. That’s why the Db meter and tuner are so helpful. In my case I was able to get that D from mid/low
and rather "fluffy" sounding 80 Db to a hard mid 90 every time. The strongest note for me, on my Delrin 8 key Somers (just slightly quieter than my new Millyard) is the A4 at about 102 Db. Using the same approach I can easily get that C4, the lowest note, to a hard mid 90’s and the hard D grew to just under 100. To me that means that the issue of "weak notes" per se is less about the nature of the instrument than about the dedication of the player to make them strong. For sure, some notes will always not "shine" as much as others, but I believe that they can all be improved with effort. As a flute player I greatly admire once said to me "your tone improved when you played the note like you cared about it"!

Oh, and Tom, I tried venting the E4, always the least attractive note for me. While it didn’t raise the measured volume more than a Db or two, it did subjectively "brighten" the note quite a bit. Good idea.

That is my experience any for what it’s worth. Would anyone else like to share their experience or their take on what it take on the way to capture the sound they want?

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Greetings, Ross! Experience teaches valuable lessons and yours are certainly valid. Since you asked for insights, here are mine: Something all irish-style fluters do far more than classical players is adjust and compensate. We do it for intonation, buzz, power, hard D, and more. The reason? We are working with an inherently inferior instrument from a technical perspective. The 19th Century is chock full of players and makers who strived continuously to come up with a better mouse trap. Spend some time on Terry McGee’s phenomenal web site if an education on that subject is of interest.

I happen to own several flutes of contrasting design (keyless, eigbt-key, Siccama 10-key, Radcliff fully keyed, Boehm), each with its combination of strengths and weaknesses. Some days, I’ll sit with all of them and play one after another to compare and see if I can apply the strengths of one to the weakness of the other(s). One of the virtues of this process is the realisation that things like strength of tone are relative. Most shortcomings of an instrument can be tempered and over time become so second nature, we lose track of the gyrations we have developed to overcome the issue. I believe that’s what you have done and good for you in having succeeded. The advantage I have is in being able to make an immediate comparison with a flute that does not share a particular shortcoming.

All eight-key flutes have weak C# and C. Some are better than others, but it is the nature of the beast for reasons I outlined in Andy’s thread. You can compensate, but don’t deny the problem Theobald Boehm worked so hard to eliminate. Just how weak these notes are becomes apparent when you compare with a Boehm flute. The problem is, Boehm flutes suck on Irish music. And yet, there are players who do quite well on a Boehm for Irish. They are doing their own brand of compensation!

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Re: Weak notes.

What, no spectrum analyser ! When I was starting out it was almost all about my embouchure rather than the flute and I spent a lot of time staring at a screen whilst blowing. What wasn’t about my embouchure was my ear.

I used Tatsuaki Koroda’s ‘Sound colour analyser for shakuhachi’ which was recommended by Terry McGee at the time. Pitch, volume and spectrum. Fascinating to see how the higher harmonics could be brought up by the blowing. I guess there are far more sophisticated things around now but it seems to be still here https://shaku6.com/software.php (scroll down for some English)

Once I was on a roll with tunes I set that aside and was more bothered about how notes sounded in a particular tune but gave priority to pitch because being off annoys other folks. I have never (speaking quietly here ) wanted the bottom D to be any different to other notes. What I find really noticeable is the A and E being relatively weak but I am reconciled to that being the way of D simple system flutes. I also have a Siccama (so the A and E holes are better placed) where that problem goes away. And I have a Tony Millyard F flute on which the whole scale is much better because the holes can be better placed - great fun at home, not much use at a session, but highlights the compromises with the D.

So basically I accept that a D simple system flute has issues over the evenness of the scale and do the best I can.

Re: Weak notes.

Skerries,
I can do that, too. Try this: I play a song called Witch of the West-mer-lands. Need to go from A to C. It won’t disprove my point if you can do it quickly and cleanly, but I’ll be mightily impressed if you can.

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Re: Weak notes.

Of course I can, because C isn’t a weak note. But unfortunately I’m not a performing dog.

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Oops, that wasn’t intended to be as snarky as it sounds!

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Wo. Speaks to my condition, to use a bit of Quakerese here. Relative newb, started last February. Slogging through Charles Nicholson’s book, doing the exercises. Mostly good on the low notes, but some days were just "bad lip days". Friday was one such. Picked up the blackwood flute (old Saxony made 8-key) and thought I’d do An Roisìn Dubh, just for fun. Couldn’t hit the low D for beans. Tried the better-quality boxwood flute, still no go. Today was better, but not much. On good days, I can "sink" the low D, C#, and C fairly handily. I don’t have a way to measure volume, but they sound reasonable to me. I play highland pipes, so lung capacity/support is not an issue. I think it’s in the embouchure.

Re: Weak notes.

Skerries I don’t see weakness there. Maybe long notes would tell more. Getting to C from D works pretty well for me too. Going from G or A is harder to get the C crisp I think because the airflow/embouchure compensation is greater. Still with practice it can be done, as I’m sure you know.

I don’t think the goal is to make any note a stand out, but keep one or another from being less. Frankly I have close to zero experience with anything other that conical bore, simple system flutes, keyed and unkeyed. I have to accept the limits, a better term to me is idiosyncrasies, of the D flute cause I have no other choice. Good thing I’ve always tried to be flexible.

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I don’t know how germane or tangential it is, but I found it interesting that at workshop Harry Bradley seemed to be of the mind that you played any given note as loudly as possible, with no effort to even out the volume, or care as to where the note was in the melody. I didn’t think to ask him if there were exceptions to this ‘rule’, but he didn’t offer any on his own.

Re: Weak notes.

Well blow me down with the breath from an embouchure! I used to have the shakuhachi tuner, but lost it in the course of computer replacements over the years. So I just fetched it again.

On the other thread I’d mentioned how thrilled I was by the improvement in E when I vented Eb. To my ears it was almost startling - louder, clearer, richer, even buzzier! So I was interested to see measurements. Namely:

1) Intonation is much better, from barely acceptable to pretty much spot on. True for both octaves.
2) Harmonic content much greater, visible instantly on the spectrum analyser.
3) Here’s the kicker: the perceived increase in volume is not measurable! There is, perhaps, an extra dB in the upper octave, but in the lower octave the *measured* volume actually falls a couple of dB when I open the Eb!!! My ears did *not* tell me that!

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Wow Elf. I’ve always admired Harry Bradley but I don’t think I’d want to be part of a conversation where everybody was just shouting words at each other. I was once told by Jimmy Noonan that there was no such thing as a bad note … until you play another. Notes should be played in relation to each other.

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"I tried, as many have done, to get that strong had D (D4) I did just what I said before, worked my way down…"

Sorry I don’t understand what "had D (D4)" means.

Re: Weak notes.

I’m pretty sure ‘had’ was a typo for ‘hard.’

@Ross
I understand that sentiment, but it makes sense in reference to the North Ireland players who get that savage tone where it sounds like their flutes are about to burst into splinters. Then again I’ve been to enough of these workshops to know that the next one is going to contradict a lot of what you learned in the last one. You have to try it all and see what works for you and gets you closer to where you want to be. Harry’s workshop did a lot to improve my tone, even if I ultimately decide not to keep it on 11 all the time.

Re: Weak notes.

The comment about the Harry Bradley workshop is interesting. It seems to me that it might be a distinction between players who treat the flute more like the pipes, with steady note volume and all articulation in the fingers, vs. players who use a "push" of breath to establish a rhythm pulse in the tune. That necessarily means some notes will be a little louder than others, depending on the tune.

Personally, I lean towards using a bit of breath pulse when playing, because it’s one of the advantages of flute over whistle and the pipes, being able to use those dynamics. I might be overdoing it though. Also, it’s something that probably can’t be heard in a session at full tilt. Maybe that’s another reason players use the "full blast" approach, just to be heard?

Re: Weak notes.

If ya lined up all the workshops, all the teachers, all the wonderful players from head to foot, they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion! Yeah there is always another view and not’s a bad thing. Conal O’Grada and Alistair Fraser both noted that when you pick up your instrument you have to make the decision of who you want to be. Our own Reverend said that playing a tune is telling a story. Volume, timing, tempo, attack, tone, tonguing, glottal stops, articulation, ornaments are some of the things we can control to bring that story to life. Some tunes, stories, are bright and light, some dramatic, some funny, some sad, and some angry. Playing everything One Way is a bit too one dimensional for me though I’m happy to hear what each instructor has to say, no matter how different, and take away something valuable. So I do admire Bradley’s playing and for more than just his volume. I’m told you can hear him from the parking lot! When I think volume, or what I call "crispness", is falling in my playing I’ll listen to Bradley and it helps. I do agree that tunes should be played with all the volume they need to not sound "apologetic". I’ll add that sometimes you have play loud to be heard, but my experience there is that those sessions are made of players playing "at"each other as opposed to playing "with each other". Your thoughts?

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Harry did spend a lot of time emphasizing breath pulsing as well, so I guess every note couldn’t have literally been as loud as possible. Perhaps the accents were on 11 while the rest of the notes were on 10.

Re: Weak notes.

Re: Ross’s "sounding apologetic"… I would flip that to the positive emotion of "playing with conviction".

I love my louder flute; but I also love my more expressive flute. One reason I moved from whistle to flute is that the flute has such dynamic and expressive capabilities.

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Ross, I think I’ve experience two, maybe three sessions where a certain character took over and played at everybody all night. It wasn’t pleasant. I can only imagine how much more awful it would have been if everyone was doing that. The place where we (used to?) session has horrible acoustics, seldom limits the number of thumpers and strummers, and I can never hear my mandolin or my flute, so I mostly play fiddle and whistle. I’m grateful that it is/was there though, it’s a very nice group of people, give or take the occasional weirdo. I’ve also played with just a couple other players where volume was not an issue at all. It was nice, but I felt a little exposed at the time. My favorite sessions have been at the O’Flaherty Retreat, where the campers break off into slow, intermediate, and advanced sessions. Maybe up to as many as 30 people at a time, dwindling down to just a few by the end. I’ve never felt a touch of competition there, nothing but support and encouragement for each other, everybody playing together for the joy of it.

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>I’ve never felt a touch of competition there, nothing but support and encouragement for each other, everybody playing together for the joy of it.

So you feel your are above everyone there? 🙂

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How on earth did you extrapolate that from what you quoted?

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Cheeky Elf…if I may interject …

"I’ve never felt a touch of competition there" could mean that you felt that it was not a competitive scenario, but it could could equally mean "I’m pretty good, so there no competition."

I’m sure you meant the former 🙂

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In that sentence?

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Ok, I see now. What I meant is that I didn’t feel anyone was trying to compete with anybody else.

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About the topic of evenness of a flute’s power, volume, and timbre over the normal ITM gamut, it’s one of those things that happens to vary from flute to flute.

I’ve played many antique English 8-key flutes with feeble Bottom Ds.

The two fingerholes most "out of place" acoustically (too high, too small) are Holes 3 and 6, from which A and E emit. Though Boehm and Siccama made these holes bigger with keys, feeling they were the worst notes on the flute, on most English 8-key flutes I’ve played these notes have been fine.

Anyhow the flutes with feeble Bottom Ds or other bad notes, I don’t know why anybody would buy those. There are plenty of Irish flutes both old and new on which every note from Bottom D up are equally powerful and rich-sounding.

The power all comes from a focused embouchure. The more focus you have the less air it takes, the louder you can play, the more powerful low notes become, the purer and sweeter high notes become.