Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In the search box, question on how to get high B

Dear fluters,

Each week I receive a report that basically tells me what people looked for by searching using the tiny white search box on my website.

It's touching and a bit hilarious to read attempted searches at one minute apart each that say something like:

hitting the high B
getting high B to come out
how do you play high B?
what is wrong with high B

Truthfully, I'm too soft....doh...
My heart starts to break. :>)

High B
To play high B (in the top octave) you need several tools,and no, they are not the tools such as sledge hammer, needle-nose pliers or three cups of espresso and a screwdriver.

These are the high B tools:

1. A fingering chart
2. Longtones
3. A helpful flute teacher
4. Good quality air flow
5. Some tricks for those awkward days.

Here's a breakdown with some pointers on each one.

1. A fingering chart:
There are plenty of student flutists out there trying to guess at fingerings.
High B is on this fingering chart. Study it carefully. If you have the right fingers down go to next tool.

2. Longtones:
There are also plenty of flute students who put the right fingers down and just blast out high notes without warming up.
Warming up means doing gradual, incremental longtones, chromatically up from medium-octave B natural.
As long as every single chromatic note going upward (slowly) from B natural sounds fabulous in tone quality, then high B will eventually arrive in good working order.
If you're just hitting high B like "BLAM!- BLAM!!!- BLAST!!!" you may find it to be earsplittingly elusive (!)
Spend a week or two just adding one perfect-tone-quality higher note a day, and be patient.
The magical embouchure and perfectly guaged air support and air-speed will arrive as if by very slow chromatic longtone magic. Trust me. Dude! :>)

3. A helpful flute-teacher:
One of the things flute teachers can do is "spot" you like a coach spots a gymnast.
The teacher can see if you're accidently standing on your tip-toes, throwing your shoulders up to your ears, jutting your chin out jarring the mouthpiece, or whacking the keys down so hard that the flute bobbles on the chin.
Ask the teacher to spot you while you ascend to high B and let you know if you're unconsciously doing anything physical that is making high B harder than it already is. (and yes, it's a heck of a special note; one that requires much coaxing on bad days. I admit that.)
If your teacher is unavailable and you're learning to self-spot, use a mirror or video camera.
Look for accidental horrendous spontaneous gargoyle-gymnastics that are not helping the flute stay level or the fingers be gentle. Stay calm, be brave, wait for the signs....etc.
And yes, you will have a 78.2 % better rate of high B success if you walk up to the note using slow chromatic longtones as discussed above. Compare the two methods in the mirror. Gargoyles only win by being horrible. :>P

4. Good quality air-flow:
Low notes need slower air, and higher notes need faster air that's well "supported".
You can get the air to speed up by gargoyle strain-face method (pinching the lips together to create raspberry, saying "Eeee" with the tongue suddenly trying to assist, or blasting really loudly)
but the best method is to gradually increase the air supply in the notes ascending up to the higher ones. And you want the air to be steady and sure, always creating the purest possible, glorious, ringing tone on every note.
In my flute teaching I call the air speed "Miles per hour" as in: "You need about 30 miles per hour for a low D played softly, but at least 90 miles per hour to play mezzo above high G."
The best tone in the high register always comes from fast air, well supported, and a somewhat poised yet loose and flexible embouchure.
This will take time to develop over weeks of daily practise. But if your high register is sounding pinched or breathy generally, for sure get your teacher's help to spot what you're doing, and to re-learn the steps toweard creating good air flow and abdominal support for the high register.

5. Some tricks for those awkward days:
For those flutists who usually can get a good high B, but occassionally have mysterious B-failure, here are some quick tricks.

a) Uncover the blow hole an extra millimeter (roll out). If the flute has rolled in, or your lower lip has crept too far forward, this can instantly improve your overall blow-hole lower-lip ratio for all notes. But B will be the defining test.

b) Raise the center of the upper lip a tiny amount. Often the upper lip gets pulled down too tightly. Creating a microscopic arch in the center of the upper lip can release the high notes in tone.

c) Finger high B but instead of playing high, play the lowest note you can get with that fingering (a ghostly weird harmonic.) Then, starting at this ghost under-blown note, slide up the harmonic spectrum loosely and by just a small amount of increased air-speed until high B sounds effortlessly.

d) Use a stabilizing fingering. For example, play high F# and while continuing to play it, add both trill keys with RH (right hand) index and middle fingers while still fingering F#3. This will pop out a very easy high B. When you change to the real fingering, keep the same embouchure and air "feel".

e) On piccolo, check the placement of the cork in the headjoint. Sometimes high B only comes out if the cork is moved a tiny amount in either direction. Consult your teacher.

f) Blow from low in the body; be sure you are using the abdominal muscles to blow, not unconsciously tightening anywhere else. Push down against the floor with your feet to activate the floor of the diaphragm and the Psoas muscles.

g) Sing while playing: This can loosen overly tight lips and create resonance, better air use, and a more singing tone even when you are no longer singing-while-playing. Consult your teacher for "how to sing and play" to get better tone.

h) Don't start your practise session with high notes. Work up to them. Get a fab low register and floatingly gorgeous middle register first. Be patient. Once everything else is finally in order, the high notes may just magically appear. Do your other exercises first and stay calm and observant. You'll soon find your own best plan on ascending to exquisite high notes.

Fellow flute teachers, do please add your own tips and tricks if you feel so moved by clicking on the comment button below.

There's an entire article about High B here. (new!)

Best of luck and hope this helps.

Comments (6)
Blogger Sheila said...

Awesome. I've also been doing this, and it is fab. I just need to re-mark my flute, it's maddening how they seem to think it's some horrible scar when you take it in for service. :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 8:28:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

I've never had anyone worry about the little tick mark except students.
Repair people don't seem to even notice or mind and why would they? My headjoint had fine black tarnish marks to start with, from the headjoint position and natural tarnish line that appears over time. That's what led me to this idea; I found that the tarnish mark was always in the same place when I was perfectly in tune. So I just got the marking pen and made the tarnish mark thicker and easier to see. It all became so OBVIOUS after that. Nature's tarnish lines....human observation...:>)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:31:00 AM

Blogger Andy said...

This isn't actually what I was looking for, but since I'm here...

Which b is high b?

Which octaves is the "top octave"?

I have this problem with reading about brass playing too - people refer to "top C", for example, but I have no idea which octave they're talking about. There's no theoretical limit in brass either. Terms like "nnn ledger lines above the stave", or even better a little picture of the note marked on sheet music would be great.

What I actually wanted to know was how would I contact you to send you a gift certificate? I've looked around this site, but I see no way of doing what the gift certificate page asks.

I considered sending a JustFlutes one (do Canadians really buy from English flute shops?), but it took me a while to even find it on their site, and I'd have to email them to ask how to actually send it, and if that's still possible. It seems I'd buy a printed bit of paper which they'd post to me - assuming it was in stock, since they never reveal stock levels on the website. Not at all sure how that would work.

I guess you have to pay tax out of Paypal donations, so those aren't as good?

I wonder if other people have contemplated sending you one, and thought "Screw it. I have no idea how."...

Friday, November 04, 2016 10:46:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Hi there too-slow-tube,
Thanks for trying to reach me.
I avoid publishing my full email on my blog because it results in phishing scams.
There are bots that go around fishing up email addresses, and you get all this spam. So I make it a little bit more analogue.

what you do is send an email, or a paypal, or a gift certificate to my mail email address which is: jen (at) jennifercluff (dot) com

Whether you're sending a donation, or a justflutes gift certificate, that recipient will automatically be me. The email address says my full name, and I've had gift certifs. from Amazong, Fluteworld and Just Flutes; so magically it just seems to work.

I'll take this comment down in a few days; so hope you read it. More below. Jen

Friday, November 04, 2016 11:04:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Too slow tube: You asked:
Q: Which b is high b?
A: Five ledger lines above the staff. There is no B that is any higher than this one.

Q: Which octaves is the "top octave"?
A: The highest possible octave on the fingering chart for flute.

The flute has three octaves that are commonly played: Low, Medium, High.
The fourth octave is represented by only a few notes and it is called Altissimo.

I know it's hard to find this information out; if you don't know the words (or the local version of the words, or the historical version of the words) then it's really hard to pin down by googling. You're right; we should put pictures. :>)

Friday, November 04, 2016 11:08:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Jen's third comment to TooSlowTube:
Thanks for the excellent suggestion; I added the picture of high B above.

Friday, November 04, 2016 11:17:00 AM


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