Flute Pitch Tendencies

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday.

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I once attended a wonderful presentation by John Barcellona at an NFA convention regarding pitch tendencies on the flute that completely changed the way I approached tuning to other instruments. The flute is constructed in a way that leads certain notes to naturally fall sharp and others that tend to lean flat. These pitches differ from the tendencies of other instruments, particularly wind instruments such as the oboe and clarinet. It is important to know exactly which way each note on the flute leans so that you may anticipate tuning issues before they arise. There are a host of very good resources online to help you understand the natural tendencies of the flute and the modifications that can be made to bring certain pitches back to planet Earth. Today’s blog features a handful of these resources for you review and distribute to your students. These have helped me immensely in my own career and I hope they will do the same for you.

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Basic Guidelines

  • Low notes will generally be flat. High notes are typically sharp. Knowing this ahead of time will help you tune with other instruments.

  • Open notes (such as middle and high C’s and C#’s) are generally sharp. Bring these notes down by placing fingers from the right hand down on the keys one by one until the note is in tune.

  • Check your cork. Check your cork periodically by placing the end of your cleaning rod in your headjoint, lining up the line in the rod with the center of the tone hole. Make any adjustments by unscrewing the crown. Turn the headjoint cap to the right to flatten or to the left to sharpen.

  • Remember to play with good posture and a supported air stream. If you are trying to tune slumped over with a weak air stream, your sound will likely be flat. Sit up and project.

  • Practice with a tuner. Check in from time to time on sustained notes. Are you flat or sharp? What is your natural tendencies? Adjust based on these readings.

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Online Intonation Reference

1.  Your Guide to Woodwind Intonation http://woodwindintonation.weebly.com/flute.html

This is a great reference page not only for the practical tips on improving overall intonation (embouchure placement, cork alignment, tuning to harmonics, how to adjust), but the section covering alternate fingerings is also a great resource to have on hand during orchestral rehearsals or any other group rehearsals where you will be working with different instruments. Print this out and keep it in your music folder. These fingerings will come in handy during exposed sections in the music or during measures of sustained pitches where having proper intonation with other instruments is vital to the harmonic structure of the piece.

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2.  Century High Bands Flute Intonation Resources  http://centuryhighbands.com/images/uploads/Flute_Intonation_(1).pdf

I like this PDF due to its very practical suggestions for tuning problem notes (“bad notes”). I do, however, believe that some of the tuning suggestions are unfortunately out of date. Cate Hummel’s article on this resource offers a better set of guidelines for tuning notes that are still problematic on the flute (see https://drcatesflutetips.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/tuning-tendencies-of-the-flute/ ). The chromatic scale on page 1 is a straight-forward approach to remembering the tendencies of notoriously out of tune notes and will be very helpful for beginning or intermediate students as they become familiar with fingerings in the higher ranges. I also really enjoy the last page, which is essentially a worksheet for students to map out the intonation tendencies of their own instrument. I may be borrowing this page as an exercise for my own students

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3.  Jen Cluff’s Flute Tuning “How To”  http://www.jennifercluff.com/begtune.htm

This resource is great as an FAQs for flute tuning. Jen explains just how temperature affects the flute, how to tune in ensembles, using a tuning CD, and addresses basic tuning issues we all encounter at one time or another. I really like her simple, yet effective suggestions for common flute tuning issues.

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4.  Blank Pitch Tendencies 2.2  https://www.beavercreek.k12.oh.us/cms/lib/OH01000456/Centricity/Domain/110/PT-Flute.pdf

I am not sure which book this came from (if you know, please comment below!), but this is another good resource for the visual learner who likes to use colors and figures to understand new concepts. I also like the short notes on the gizmo key and use of harmonic fingerings. Like the PDF above, this also contain a handy worksheet for students to test their own pitch tendencies (although I would have liked to see more space to write possible solutions..). Finally, the chart on the last page features a good list detailing why certain pitches lean flat and why other may lean sharp.

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Do you have an intonation reference chart that you like to use? Which one of the above resources has been the most helpful for you or for your students? Do you have other online intonation references that you like to consult or refer you students to? Please comment below!


Happy Fluting!



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