#24 -Feel the Bore

How Bore Design Impacts Your Playing Wooden / Irish Flute

Skip Healy here for another inner voyage into the Zen behind the Zoom. In past columns, I've tried to offer advice on both the physicality and philosophy that I feel is involved in playing flutes or fifes well. Today, I'd like to talk about the "feel" generated by various bore designs existing in flutes, fifes, and piccolos.

To begin, we have to keep one requirement in mind. That is, for a woodwind instrument to play in tune over three octaves there must be at least one taper somewhere along the length of the bore. Pretty clear, huh?

Okay, here we go. The basic shape of the bore in a "simple system" transverse (side-blown) flute has a cylindrical bore in the headjoint which at some point above the first tone hole tapers down to the foot of the instrument. This bore design backloads compression to the embouchure hole to create the ability to reach into the third octave. Depending on the bore size and length of taper you will "feel" a growing internal pressure in your instrument. This is the design used in my flute series. Flutes that have a low C foot joint often utilize a reverse cone (also called back reaming) at the "choke" of the footjoint.

Lately, I have heard this phenomenon called "resistance". I favor calling it "feeling the compression" as this is what is actually happening. You are pumping enough air into the flute to both sound the notes you wish to play and keep the bore full of air. This is the point at which any transverse flute will play at its peak performance. However, we need to keep in mind that your peak performance will be the flute's peak performance, too. An instrument is a mirror which shows you exactly where you are...

I was introduced to this second bore design by my teacher, Chris Abell. This bore is the profile of a modern orchestral flute bore. It has a parabolic curve in the headjoint which opens to a cylindrical bore in the body. If you think of a triangle and push down on the top of it, so that the sides flare outward, that is a simple parabolic curve. This curve is then "cut off" at its widest point where it then maintains a cylindrical form to the footjoint. A true parabola closes again at the end, but this is not a great feature in flute or fife design...

This design is extremely efficient in the creation of compression and the venting of air. Its greatest feature is that the taper creates the required compression in the headjoint as opposed to in the body. It allows for (in fact, dictates) large tone holes to be used in the body. This is why closed key mechanisms need to be used on orchestral flutes. The tone holes are too large to comfortably cover. This bore also creates even volume over all three octaves.

My fife and piccolo series use this bore design. It enables the musician to play with extreme power yet gives the ability to express the most hushed tones. Again, though a design in and of itself may be more efficient, it's still up to the player to show up with some "game" too. This bore design has a noticeably different "feel" compared to that of a conical bore instrument. Because the "work" is all being done in the headjoint, the body's function is solely that of a venting tube. To me, the notes feel as if they are jumping effortlessly out of the fife, whereas I am physically blowing them out of the flute.

In my own muddled way, those are the differences that I "feel" between the two main three-octave bore designs currently in favor. I realize that this column may generate a lot of questions. Please feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your questions and or opinions.