Flute: low C# and C keys

Flute: low C# and C keys

Hello flute people, I’ll be in receipt of my 8-key Delrin flute by Vincenzo di Mauro hopefully this Friday and I’m curious to read any impressions, suggestions or advice you might have on the usage of the low C# and C keys, especially in the context of ITM. Can you use them at tempo in dance tunes? Do you use them for the low notes or also for a better intonation of the second octave C# and C? Are they helpful for ornamentation (e.g. D rolls in Ross’ recent post). Any special hints on maintenance? Thanks!

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Congratulations on your new flute! I’m not a heavy user of the low C and C# keys on my flute, so take this with a grain of salt. I do use the C# on a few tunes, but I’ve never been able to get a solid low C, either because the cup isn’t sealing tightly enough, or my embouchure sucks. My flute has the old-style pewter cups for low C# and C that probably aren’t the best design, but I suspect my embouchure is also part of it.

Anyway, after much practice I can now play that low C# fairly consistently, with a nice strong tone. It took months of practice to get there, so don’t be too frustrated if you can’t nail it right away. You need a strong low D note as a starting point. Make sure your fingers are completely sealing all the tone holes, and that your key pads aren’t leaking.

I don’t use the C# for ornamentation. Never thought about it until that recent post, and I’ll probably stick with crans. I don’t use it for venting either. I can hear a very slight improvement on some notes, but not enough to bother with venting. Others here may feel differently about that, depending on flute model.

A good tune for practicing the low C# is the J.B. Reel. It will also give you a good workout on the G# and Eb keys: https://thesession.org/tunes/1972. The Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser has a nice version of the J.B. on his Skydance album (you can find it on YouTube). It’s good as an audio reference because he plays it slow and evocative at first, then another tune in the middle, and finishes with the J.B. again played fast. Altan also has a fast version of the J.B. on the Runaway Sunday album.

Good luck and have fun!

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Hi Sergio.

Absolutely they can be used in fast dance music! I have padded keys and they’re good strong notes that are very satisfying to use, especially for a final note in tunes in C. They work just fine for runs of triplets in highlands or hornpipes. I hadn’t tried a D roll using them until recently. Seems feasible but I prefer a three-cut cran.

The only hint for maintenance is to make it constant! Lubrication makes a difference but looking after the pads and their sealing is the main thing.

Hope you get massive pleasure from using them.


Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I played an antique 8-key flute for many years and I did use all the keys.

In Irish dance music there are many tunes that need the low C# or low C natural. Flutists are accustomed to "folding" those notes but it’s preferable IMHO to play all the proper notes when possible.

Besides that, there’s a double-stop embellishment that some fiddlers do when they want to emphasise Bottom D, they hit the open D string and at the same time scoop up from C to D on the G string.

I would do a flute version of that by playing a Low C# gracenote on Bottom D. It obviously doesn’t sound as good as the fiddler’s thing but it gives a fair imitation of the effect.

Also with the D#/Eb key you can imitate the uilleann piper’s "ghost D".

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

@Conical Bore. All my present flutes with pewter keys have super-solid low C notes. I have played flutes that did not, but that is probably a sign of an adjustment, alignment, leak or pad problem. Low notes are particularly sensitive to the slightest leak, and it could be way up on some other key where you wouldn’t think to look. One thought, given that your C# is so solid. Perhaps the C-C# keys don’t mesh quite right so that the C touch doesn’t press down the C# touch with sufficient force.

I have found that a lot of tunes in F, G-minor or D-minor make frequent use of the low C note. D-Dorian specifically goes between the D-minor and C-major chord. "When the Tide Comes in (Brown Coffin)" as played by Martin Hayes, is so beautiful in G-minor, with a low C "hook". Then you have the several "Lad O’Beirnes" tunes in F.

My go-to practice tune for low C is "Hole in the Hedge", as this tune asks for holding that note slightly longer.

I do use the C# key somewhat on tunes where you are toggling d-c#-d, like Tarbolton Lodge. Otherwise, I only have the occasional tune that goes there… I can think of "Annika’s Butterfly"

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I play a lot of slow ballads along the lines of The Parting Glass. I find that many of them end on low D, so on the last time through, I will go down to C# as a grace note before the D. It imparts a nice poignancy to the end of the tune.

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I second what the others said, there isn’t too much ITM repertoire that really NEEDS these keys. But if you like ITM, chances are portably good, you might enjoy Scandinavian trad too? There has been a revival of the simple system flute for Scandinavian music for some time. And many Swedish, Norwegian or Danish tunes need the low keys.
Here a cool examples for such music with the flute:
floating sofa quartet:

tullberg kvartett:

Right now I don’t know if exactly these two tunes need the lower keys, but quit a few played be these artists definitely do.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

For sure the low C keys can be used at tempo. Assuming no mechanical problems they work just fine. But that’s not the hard part. Remember how hard it was/is to get a solid, well speaking D. It takes even more breath and embouchure control to get the C’s and that’s a lot harder to learn than getting your pinky into the game. There are not a LOT of tunes that use them. Still there are enough to make it worth your while. Every time you hear about "folding" there was probably an opportunity to use the C/C#. By the way, for variety sake you can still choose to fold. You even have a chance once in a while to fold down. As for what to do with them from the ornamental perspective, well, pipers do what pipers do, fiddlers what fiddlers do … even harmonica players do what they do. As fluters we need not overthink imitation. Everybody uses their instrument within its limitations. We can do what fluters can do. If we try too hard and too often to imitate the pipes, or fiddles or pianos, (no disrespect here, great instruments all) we would be playing pipes, fiddles, or pianos. Those notes are tools to bring out a melody. Once you get them solidly dependable, and that can take months or more, you’ll find ways to effectively use them.

As a side note I’m compelled to say that when playing with others, it helps to be able hear how they are ornamenting a figure. Sometimes different ornaments just don’t work together.

Oh and Tom, both of my 8 key flutes have post mounted keys which require (I think, I’ve never played a block mounted flute with the low keys)) a longer reach the the Cs. For a while the slight shift down caused a slight leak in one of my other fingers. Damn annoying chasing leaks around.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Ross, I have both and the reach is the same.

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Thanks Ailin, did not know that. Now I have no-one to blame for the pesky leaks but me!

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I have that problem when I play D#. My D finger rides up. I wish the D# key was like the foot joint of a Boehm. Having it on the side instead of the top is awkward for me. When my pinky hits the D# key, my ring finger curves upwards. I have to practice it every day for a note I don’t use that often to be dependable. Shoot.🤭

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Great, thanks everyone for the technical hints and the tune suggestions! On my side, here are a few tunes that I can’t wait to try on the new flute: Caisleán An Óir, Lad O’Beirne’s (ddcA dAdc …), Mother’s Delight, Seanamhac Tube Station, Hole in the Hedge, Dowd’s Favourite, Kate and Rose’s, Jug of Punch.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Ross said:

"As fluters we need not overthink imitation."

Point well taken.

I will say that imitation and overthinking need not go hand-in-glove. For example I’m learning a tune and when I hear the fiddler doing that scoop up to bottom D I might do it too, not because I’m thinking but because I’m listening.

I did go through a period in my fluteplaying where I was trying to imitate the fiddle as much as I could. This wasn’t theoretical but practical as I was playing with a fiddler all the time. In the end it’s fool’s gold because the flute will never be the fiddle, and it’s better for the flute to do flutey things and let the fiddle take care of the fiddley things.

On the other hand my use of the uilleann pipes’ "ghost D" wasn’t imitation so much as me already knowing a tune on the pipes and picking up the flute and playing more or less the same setting.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I received the flute on Friday and I am super excited with it: is it beautiful and it is a joy to play. My experience is limited, but I find it quite responsive, comfortable, and with spot-on intonation. I will likely post some pictures on C&F in the near future.

As for the low keys: on the first attempt, I could not produce any sound. In half an hour or so I could hear a weak C# which is much better now though far from perfect and consistent. I could get a weak C natural only today after very slight improvements over the weekend.

The trickiest aspects seems to me 1) to balance the pressure of the right pinkie on the key touch with that of the other right-hand fingers 2) to correct the embouchure for the low notes.

Any advice on how to get clear and consistent C# and C notes is very, very welcome.

Richard, could you please tell me more about the uillean pipes’ "ghost D" and imitating it on the flute (if possible, an example within a tune would be very useful)?, thanks!

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Here are some things to keep in mind:

The air has much further to go between D and C# than between E and D.

The lower you go, the more open and relaxed your throat and oral cavity need to be.

The quality of the air - warm and slow - in the low octave is not conducive to loud and strong playing. Not an issue for most until you get to the lowest notes.

If you keep these points in mind, you will naturally adapt to the techniques you need to employ to manage them. There are no secrets. It’s the nature of the beast, but with experimentation and concentration, the quality and power of the notes will build.

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

All that as Ailin said. Trust that over time time it will come. Several months is a really short time … for me it was over a year. Worse yet, when you finally get it you’ll probably lose it. And then, one day, you will finally arrive at a point where you can count on the little C beasts to show up on demand. Relax but stay focused, and when you relax enough things get easier. One more thing, don’t get so wrapped up in the low notes that you lose sight of the other ones. The other end of the range can be challenging to bring out strong and clean consistently. (note: strong and clean is not the same as "loud".)

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

@Sergio The low C/C# notes require a lot less push in the airflow than you would think. It’s more of a huff than a puff, if that makes sense. Think wider and slower? Walk down G, F#, E, Eb, C#, C.

As with everything… just practice.

Recently, I’ve returned to practicing harmonic notes, C, c, g, c’; D, d, a, d’, etc. In short order my tone quality and control have improved.

Also, I’ve found that third register practice provides a dramatic improvement in my lowest notes.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I had two old flutes

-Rudall & Rose (London) c1830

-Koehler & Son (London) (Pratten model) c1860

and both had perfectly working low C and C# keys.

The R&R had pewter plugs, and (despite what you hear people say) these worked flawlessly and required no special maintenance or technique.

The Pratten flute had ordinary keys with leather pads.

On both flutes low C and C# played effortlessly and with good clarity and strength and required no special blowing. On both flutes these notes were perfectly in tune.

The point being if you have a well-made flute in good playing condition there shouldn’t be any problems with these notes.

Of course like any flute, keyed or keyless, the low notes are blown differently than the high notes. The low notes are played with a slightly more open embouchure and the airstream directed a bit more downward into the blowhole.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Hi Richard, thanks for your input. The low C# and C keys on my flute are padded, though pads are different from the other 6 keys: the maker explained to me that the two keys are padded according to an older system common in Baroque flutes (the C# and C hole surface is flat). I am pretty sure the keys and pads are fine but I’ll have to learn how to blow the low notes, and this is getting better day after day.

I am still interested in the uillean pipes’ "ghost D" and imitating it on the flute (you might have missed my question on this in one of my previous messages!), thanks!

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Sorry I didn’t see your message!

The note pipers call "ghost D" is done by lifting only the little finger of the bottom hand.

Oddly, the uilleann pipes require both the lower-hand little finger and bottom-hand ring finger to be down for D and lifted for E. Thus these two fingers are usually moved as one.

x xxx xxxx Bottom D
x xxx xxoo E

However pipers are going to make use of everything the chanter can do! And by lifting only the lower-hand little finger the note D# is produced.

x xxx xxxo D# ("ghost D")

D# in the second octave is often used as a gracenote to give colour to Back D (produced with the upper-hand thumb). It would seem that D# being in the 2nd octave and Back D being in the low octave there would be a break between these notes, but this is not the case, and doing the D# gracenote with slightly lower-than-normal bag pressure gives a presumably ghostly effect.

D# is also used by pipers as a melody note, thrown in here and there for a cool-sounding chromatic effect. This can be imitated on flute using the D# key.

Interestingly, without using any keywork the uilleann chanter produces the following chromatic passage:

x xoo xxxx B
x oxx xoxx C
x oxx xxxx C#
o xxx xxxx D
x xxx xxxo D#
x xxx xxoo E

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Great, thanks!

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

An example of throwing a D# in for flavour, here’s the first line of the last part of Langstern’s Pony, first the ordinary way, then with D# thrown in:

A E A A2 d | c# A c# e c# A | A E A A B cnat | B G B d c# B | (normal setting)

A E A A2 d | c# A c# e c# A | A D# E A B cnat | B G B d c# B | (ghost D setting)

or in proper ABC notation:

M: 6/8
A Mixolydian

AEA A2d|cAc ecA|AEA AB=c|BGB dcB| (normal setting)

AEA A2d|cAc ecA|A^DE AB=c|BGB dcB| (ghost D setting)

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

That’s interesting, thanks.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

It’s worth pointing out that not all chanters give a D# with only the pinky lifted up. That’s more typical of wide-bore concert pitch chanters (at least, or possibly especially, the Rowsome-based ones). Narrow-bore/Flat pitch chanters, and some concert-pitch ones will give a note that’s close to D, but of a vastly different tone and character, and hence much more ghostly. I prefer when chanters do that, actually.

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Well there seems to be a problem with C&F right now: threads and comments after March 22 and before yesterday evening have disappeared, and threads which have not done so cannot be accessed.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

@Sergio Rampino

Be patient. I think the C&F forum may have had its board software updated. I can still access some threads via the Search function, and certain Previous/Next page functions. I am hoping that what is needed is some re-indexing for everything to be fully live again. Moderator was notified.

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Thanks Kevin. Yes, I hope it will be easily fixed, too.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

I noticed the C&F glitch about 12 hours ago. Still not fixed, but probably caused by what Kevin said above. Still not working, unfortunately.

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Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

There was advance notice (from Dale himself) that their might be ‘outages’ as C&F’s host was upgrading the software.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

Nico said:
"…not all chanters give a D# with only the pinky lifted up. That’s more typical of wide-bore concert pitch chanters. Narrow-bore/Flat pitch chanters, and some concert-pitch ones will give a note that’s close to D, but of a vastly different tone and character…"

Just to check I pulled out my C "flat chanter" and it, like my D chanter, gives a bang-on in-tune D# with just the little finger raised.

I think this is the test of it: if I play E in either octave and put down my lower-hand ring finger without changing bag pressure I get a full-volume normal-timbre in-tune D#.

The operative words are "without changing bag pressure" because I can create the thing you’re describing (note flat of D#, of a low volume and soft timbre) by using a special low bag pressure. On my chanters the "ghost D" is possible to do but it’s not an inherent built-in necessary aspect of that note.

Re: Flute: low C# and C keys

My thread on C&F showed up again, but now all of the most recent threads have disappeared! At least this means that there is work in progress… I guess everything will be fixed at some point.