Sunday, September 22, 2013

Armstrong plays too sharp

Dear Jen
I've read your article on selecting an intermediate flute.  Do you still recommend looking at those same models?  I've been playing an Armstrong 80B for 34 years, I've had it serviced regularly and told it is in great shape, however I'm always sharp when tuning with the local concert band and have to pull the headpiece halfway out.  The more I read about the changes in flutes over the last 30 years I've come to the conclusion it's time to upgrade.  I would like to stay around $2,000 for a new flute.

It's hard to find Azumi 3000 in Illinois as that model is no longer in production.  Also how do you find a store with multiple flutes of the same model in stock?  I just found out Woodwind and Brasswind no longer has a store in Indiana.  I could take a 6 hour drive to Fluteworld in Michigan but would think there should be someplace in the Chicago area.
Thank you in advance for your advice. G.

Reply from Jen:

Dear G.

If your Armstrong is playing well, then it's probably okay.
But if it's playing sharp there are several causes:

1. The cork is too far inward, in the headjoint (check with cleaning rod mark)

2. The way you are playing is causing the flute to sound sharp (so check with a flute teacher who can take your flute, play it into a tuner, and determine if it's you or your flute that is playing sharp, or if it's your method of playing.)

3. Your band is playing consistently flat (unlikely, but possible; check their tuning standard)

4. When you tune with and play with the band you are matching their loudness by playing very loudly and thus blowing too hard. This can make you "blow sharp". A hot band room can also make flutes very sharp.

5. Most likely: you are jutting your jaw forward and/or using smiley embouchure, or pressing the chin plate too high into your lower lip.
         (see lots more on number 5 below - just scroll down to the green and goofy cartoon)

So firstly take an electronic tuner to band rehearsals, in order to figure out whether the tuning note they're playing is actually  A-440. If it is, then when you're home again, use the tuner or the Tuning CD  to learn to play at A-440 at home. A-440 is a standard measurement that can be repeatable at home especially if you use the Tuning CD to develop your ear in all keys.

And don't force yourself to play loudly for awhile in band. If the room they're in makes them play really raucously, wear foam earplugs (.50 cents) or cone shaped yellow earplugs ($10). That will help you hear better. And if their room is so hot that all the flutes are sharp, then yes, it will be a challenge to pull out the headjoint far enough without making the flute out of tune with itself between octaves. (But if it was that hot, you'd be asking about "chin sweat", ha ha.)

When you do practice at home and play in band, aim your air lower, down into the flute, and drop your jaw open. (more on that below.)

It's unusual for an Armstrong to play so sharp you have to pull out the headjoint that far. Is it really a half inch? Measuring the exact amount with a millimeter ruler, or, even easier, putting a straight line on the headjoint tenon where your headjoint is drawn to would be useful, so later you can determine if things have changed as you work toward lowering your pitch.
Marking it with a "shiny surfaces" black marker can be helpful, for later comparisons, when you've matched the Tuning CD etc. Then you can use that same mark in band.

You may not in fact need a flute upgrade, but yes, Azumis are still being made and can be sent out to you if you request; they've just changed the model numbers. They're supplied by Jupiter Band Instrument company to any shop in the U.S. if you contact the parent company. Just get in touch with the sales rep. at Jupiter company in the U.S. They have no problem sending out sets of instruments. They've done it here, and we're remote-ish.

The Azumi 3000 (the one I recommend on my webpage about choosing a flute) has simply changed its model number from "3000" to "AZ3". They are basically the same flute with a few changes, I hear.
link : Azumi AZ3

Here's how to navigate Fluteworld's site, for those who want to know good brands of flutes and their current prices. Go to Fluteworld; Click on Instruments in the top menu, then choose Flutes, . You can then check the brands, or go directly by clicking on AZUMI in the left sidebar.
You can see all the brands recommended by the very knowledgable staff at:
on the left side bar. They have several decent flutes in the $2000 price range.And in my opinion, yes, it is worth travelling there to try them all.

A six hour trip is also what I have to take when trying muliple 'identical' flute models where I live.

Yes, all the recommendations I made on my website about flute brands still hold true. But there are several new brands that I haven't tried yet. Also, it takes several years of wear and tear to find out how their longevity is, so I need students to own certain brands so I can comment on their ability to stand the test of time, which is what you want in an "investment" flute above $2000.

Now, if it turns out that it is the way that your are blowing your flute (too shallowly at the mouthpiece) that's making your current flute sound sharp, the new flutes like Azumi, which are at A-442 in
pitch, will not help you easily play flatter. Quite the opposite.

 Many of the newer instruments today are at A-442. This requires the flutist to adjust over their first six months to draw out the headjoint more, blow lower and play flatter.

So this is another reason to have your current flute tested by a fluteteacher with a tuner and a good ability to demonstrate. You could even record the lesson so you can hear your flute being played at a lower pitch, to prove that it's possible.

What if it turns out that it was simply an air-angling technique you just aren't using?

How to fix sharp playing: in general.

In the case of shallow, sharp playing the usual corrections are:

- Drop your jaw open at the hinges

- Leave your jaw open when you play (leave the molars of your back teeth far apart like a carrot stick is between them). Leave your tongue down.

- Learn to gradually place the flute slightly lower and lower on your chin, because you may have been letting the lip-plate 'ride too high' on your lower lip. The pressure of the lip plate, lowering the chin plate and all these experiments are covered in "The Art of Playing the Flute" by Roger Mather.

- Use the upper lip to aim the airstream downward, at a lower angle. Using a clock face analogy; if your nose is noon, and your chin is six-o'clock, then you want the air angle to be aimed at five or 4 o'clock.

- to lengthen the air-reed, you may find you graually have to roll the flute outward by a half-millimeter at a time,  if the new. more downward aiming upper lip is causing squelched tone quality because you were originally 'too rolled in".

- change all these things gradually with the help of a professional "coach" who is an experienced flute teacher. Otherwise you might boggle your own mind on changes you did not need to make.

Self taught players can't usually navigate these changes all at once, as they tend to blur together at first.

So having a hands-on coach at this point (an experienced teacher) will help you focus on each new sensation one at a time, and help guide your ear to the fastest results. So don't over analyse, right now; just go for a few lessons and present the situation to the teacher just the way you did to me.
They should be able to sort you out without having to go through every possible avenue; but just focus on your learning style, and how much info. you can use from week to week.

(click on the picture to enlarge it to read.)

There's quite a bit on this very multi-leveled learning topic at these links to previous blog posts too, but take the lessons first, and then "touch up" with the articles. It's a bit too much to teach yourself. But some are able to make the changes quite quickly. Just depends if you can get experienced coaching.

More on this topic from previous blog posts:

Jaw Jutting; is your jaw jutting too much?

Flute too sharp? Too breathy? Are you smiling?

James Galway video of embouchure exercise for non-smiling.

Jen's own video links for Embouchure Flexibility and a letter from a currently lowering flute player.

If anyone has other tuning problems.....
Also see: Articles:

Help, I play sharp in the high register!

Why is my flute always flat?

Help I play flat on the lowest notes on the flute.

Flute Tuning articles: how to use the Tuning CD etc.

Flute Buying articles: brands I recommend.

Comments from others with experience in this are certainly welcome!
Just use the comment button below.


Comments (3)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flute too sharp?

Concert band tuning depends on who you tune to. If it is the tubas then it might be a lot flatter than if it is the oboes or piano or a concert pitch electronic tuner.
I've got an 80B too but don't have to pull out that far unless we tune to the Tubas.

I agree its probably your cork. Test yourself against a piano / electronic tuner and see how sharp you really are. THen move the cork if you have to. Flutes will always be tuned sharp when the tuning slide is fully pushed in. It makes sense when you think about it.... you wouldn't want to be flat with it fully pushed in or you'd have nowhere to go.

good luck.

Thursday, March 03, 2016 3:58:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Anonymous,
I just wrote an article advising students not to adjust their own corks:

There's too much room for error.
Also, if your band conductor makes your band tune to flat tubas I have some questions:

1. Do the tubas know they're flat? (do you have tuners on your stand, but they do not?)
2. Are they really flat all the time? Or just when playing cold?
3. Can we not communicate better, so that flat tubas aren't what the rest of the band is relying on?
It seems crazy to go on like this when we're usually so good at communicating, I think.

Monday, March 07, 2016 12:04:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jen,
Agreed, regarding cork adjustment. Yes it should be done by an expert. I did not really intend to suggest that they do their own adjustments if they don't know what to do, however perhaps I omitted this in my wording.
Re: Tubas - not my decision, but yes, they tune cold and the whole band gets sharper as they play....and I'm pretty sure tubas know they're flat to start off. My band is a bit odd that way. In the past I've always tuned to piano or tuner in other concert bands I've played in, but each conductor to their own. I keep a tuner in my flute bag so I do see the difference.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 6:52:00 PM


Post a Comment