#25 -Volume Control

Maintaining Consistent Tone and Volume When Playing Wooden Flute

Skip Healy here once again after a short post Wind On The Bay hiatus. Here in the States, our Thanksgiving holiday has just passed. Hanukkah is upon us and Christmas and New Years loom imminent before us.


But for those who do, here is something to think about.

This topic has come up with a couple of my students: The second octave notes from G to B are very loud and sharp, while the first octave notes from G to low D are very faint. The reason for this is because the player is blowing too hard on the high notes (forcing the notes out of the flute), and then backing off too much for fear of over-blowing the lowest notes. This causes a wide and unintended variance in dynamic range. The resulting sound is more like a wave with peaks and deep valleys, but not much in between. Ideally, you want your basic volume to divide the loud and soft sounds equally so that both are available for dynamic expression.

When reaching for the higher notes the natural tendency is to blow harder. At this point, your embouchure is contracting and getting increasingly firm. This increases the compression at which the air is going into the flute resulting in overblown higher notes. The problem is that simple-system, open holed flutes (mine included) tend to go sharp around high A and high B. Combine these two factors and you get notes that can be "a bit proud". If you're going to blow harder, then remember to either dip your head a bit or turn the flute towards you to flatten the tone.

I suggest blowing a bit easier on the higher notes in the second octave and learning to finesse these notes using your embouchure. This helps your intonation and forces you to improve your embouchure control.

The opposite holds true for volume control and intonation for the first octave notes G to low D. Many times people keep their embouchure in a very firm position after playing second octave notes. This makes the first octave note want to jump into the second octave. Try to relax your embouchure a bit more or drop your jaw slightly to loosen your embouchure. This decreases the compression and allows the first octave notes to form. For some people, the problem is blowing too easily which makes the notes play flat.

Try this. Blow as lightly as you can with a relaxed embouchure to play your low D. Gradually tighten your embouchure and blow slightly harder while listening for the note to raise in pitch and become fully formed with a nice "leading edge" to the tone. Others refer to this as the notes having a "buzz" to them. After practicing this on your low D, play from a good strong D to an equally strong E. If your flute has a D sharp key, press down on it when you play this low E, and you will hear the difference made by this "sympathetic" tone hole. I strongly suggest learning to use this key if you have one on your flute.

After working on the E (which will be the quietest note on most flutes) play up to your first octave F sharp using this method. F sharp is generally the largest tone hole of the open tone holes on your flute. Because of this, some people play a bit flat on their first octave F sharps. Be sure to support this note with some strength. After working on your F sharp, proceed to the G in the same manner while trying to keep the volume equal for all the practiced notes.

You will find a combination of playing your lowest notes stronger while backing off the higher notes to be the key to having a good full sound. In essence, learn to feel and believe in the notes you play as you play them. Let your sound become the body of the wave not merely the peak or the valley. The motion of the ocean and all that...