A novice flute student asks:
I can get high B-flat, but I can't seem to get high B yet, any suggestions?
Dear High-B Wisher,
This is a common problem with flute students who are just starting to explore the top register at its highest: the hardest notes to "get" are B natural, C and C#.
In flute lingo they are called B3, C4, and C#4. (the three and four mean third octave, fourth octave).
High BYes, they require special care to get; they don't just pop out like high G (G3) does. But they do pop out eventually, with time and patience, and a little relaxing. :>)
But there are some tricks specifically for getting high B.
Firstly, the reason it's difficult is because it's slightly unstable, like high F#. It either underblows, or it squeaks to the other harmonics; can be frustrating at first.
The overtone series make notes like high F# and B difficult for similar reasons (physics, nodes and finger holes, if you ever look into it.) In general, you have to find a specific embouchure that's right in the "sweet spot" for those two notes.
So here's the easiest way to do it:
Firstly, if you are tightening your lips to make a spit-raspberry (pppppzzzppzz!!), that's the wrong technique; you need to use the soft centers of the lips to move forward somewhat like a half-kiss shape. You also need very fast air speed.
So go over that with our private teacher; simply tightening or scrunching the two lips will not allow you to proceed with any ease and without the splat of lip-caused trumpety splat noises. The lips need to be flexible, soft, and variable to use in these experiments.
Secondly, check the fingering chart; many first-timers mis-read or mis-remember the standard fingerings for the very high notes.
A good fingering chart is here:
Write the fingering down a few times.
High B is just like F#3, but it has second trill key instead of right hand ring finger:
High B: the real fingering
1 3| [tr2] opt.4
High B - the real fingering (RH pinky optional for stability)
Thirdly, the easiest way to get high B to speak is to use an alternate fingering that's exactly like F#3.
Use this not as a real fingering, but as an experiment-to-get-the-note fingering.
High F# and then add both trill keys to the above using RH 1 & 2, and a high B will magically pop out!
Right hand 1 on trill key 1. Right hand 2 on trill key 2.
Alternate fingering, High B (flatter in pitch) from high F# plus two trill keys.
Does your high B pop out using the above fingering, overblowing from F#3?
If not see more experiments below.
This alternate fingering also works great if you ever need a flatter-pitched high B on a long note. :>)
Fourthly, there's an experimental way to under-blow a high note fingering to get a "ghost undertone" that is secretly below the note you're looking for.
Play the real high B fingering.
Now blow softly, openly and hollowly, to make any lower "ghost" note come out with the high B fingering. Try all low notes; find out what sounds you can get without blowing hard.
You should hear an unstable, out-of-tune, ghostly note that's in a lower octave; like an out-of-tune F# in the middle octave.
Hold the ghost-undertone steady and find the center of the sound it makes.
Then, just as you would blow up an octave, take a breath, play the ghost tone, and then overblow the ghost-undertone up to the high octave with the exact same fingering and the high B will likely pop out perfectly.
Why does this work?
Because it gets rid of any tight-lipped scrunching you may have been doing before. (!)
Your lips are more open and more centered; you're not trying so hard; you're not shoving your jaw forward, etc. You're just playing low then high on the same fingering.
Try it; works like a dream for most students. :>)
If the above experiments don't work, it could be that you need to look in a mirror when you form your high embouchure. Maybe your flute is slanted and not parallel to your lips.....
And looking in the mirror, if you are doing anything tight or tense, like squeezing or pressing your lips together, pulling your lip corners back, rolling your flute inward, suddenly bobbling your flute when your fingers change, or blowing out of the side of your lips instead of out of the center, or mis-aiming at the center of the flute's splitting edge, all of these will alway prevent the highest notes from speaking easily.
This problem of finding the highest notes (B, C, C# and D4) challenging is very typical of students everywhere; it's just one of the challenges of learning the flute. You might want to take a look at the blog post just two before this one, where I talk about high D. There's something to learn there too.
But it really is smart to get your private teacher's help on this right at the start, rather than develop some weird way of getting high B to strain itself out, and then straining to get it as a permanent strain-thing.
Teachers help eliminate excess tension in their students by noticing what the student is doing to prevent themselves from getting a note, and then letting the student know where to relax, and where to focus.
It's much easier with a coach to help spot you.
General high note information is here:
Hope this helps.