Saturday, February 13, 2016

Are You Twisting your Crown?

Dear Flute Lovers,
Are you twisting your crown?
Did you know that if you twist your flute's crown, as if you're tightening the little silver disc on the top end of the headjoint, that doing so actually pulls the cork farther and farther outward, and that your flute will get flatter and flatter in pitch?

Apparently lots of people don't know this. So I thought I'd put up some pictures.

Here is the crown and cork when it is out of the flute. (Only the repair-person ever sees the cork.)
From the flute player's perspective, they would only be able to see the metal discs at either end of the cork if they looked inside.

However what many student flutists don't know is about the mechanism of the crown assembly.
Get this:
When you turn the crown, the big screw that goes through the cork is built so that it pulls the cork farther and farther out the top end of the flute and makes the flute badly out of tune. 
Originally the secret 'twist-means-pull' action is for the repair person to make very fine adjustments when placing the cork permanently. Not for the flutist to twist!
Click on the pictures below to see the mechanism; if you twist, the cork moves outward and the flute becomes flat in pitch. So the best idea is to hang a "do not disturb" sign on the crown end of your flute, and leave it alone. As long as the tick-mark on your cleaning rod appears at the center of the blow hole, then there is no reason to ever touch the crown at all. (If the crown makes a ringing sound because it's dented, put a blob of clear nail-polish on the connection to keep it from making a noise, but this is rare.)
Click on picture above to enlarge.
More notes on the flute's cork
The cork should last ten years if you don't move it or touch it. It's safest to let only experts move the cork if necessary. Shifting the cork actually breaks the air-tight seal and allows condensation to wet the cork more quickly than if the cork was left where set at 17.3 millimeters.

If the air-tight seal of the cork is broken, the cork gets wet and then dry over and over again, from condensation, and it shrinks. (that's why some modern manufacturers now use O-rings made of man-made materials; they shrink less).
Once a natural cork has shrunken it will allow air leaks which affect the tone. The flute will gradually, over time become more and more fluffy sounding.

Eventually it will shrink so much it will slide in and out by itself. You'll see this "YIKES!" cork action in unrepaired band instruments that have been uncared for and in severe cases, when corks are shrunken or leaking like this, the student will be able to pull the cork back and forth without resistance and will sound fluffy and airy when they play. And yet a brand new cork costs only $10!
So actually, financially speaking, there's no reason for band-flute corks to be in such poor repair. After repair, they only need to be left alone to function well for a decade at a time.
The flute repair person, or the manufacturer sets the cork at approx. 17.3 mm from the center of the blow hole. This measurement is engraved on the far end of the cleaning rod. The tick-mark on the cleaning rod should appear in the middle of the blow hole when flush against the silver-coloured cork-plate inside the headjoint. If you're unsure ask your teacher to check.
If for some reason your cork is out of position, it is best to have the flute technician or flute teacher reposition it, and check to feel whether it moves too easily. It is a repair that only takes a few minutes at a proper flute repair shop. No one need do this work themselves, and in fact shouldn't bother trying to fix it themselves. Inexperienced students may try to force the cork back in again, and end up bending the more expensive screw inside the crown that is a cork adjustment screw. Have a look at the parts on this patent office drawing.

Click on picture to enlarge.
 Inexperienced students also may not know that the cork assembly is tapered and that you should never try and remove it through the crown end as it will become stuck (crown tapers inward and corks are removed and replaced through the tenon end only).
Some flute students also mistakenly believe that because the position of the cork affects tuning (but all kinds of (doh) internet articles say so ! (doh!), that therefore the player can USE the cork mechanism for tuning their entire instrument. I say:  Whoa, dude! Not a good idea at all. Don't do it.
Every single note will be even more uncontrollably out of tune than you thought possible. I say: eeek.

As you can see from the Miyazawa article below, even a half-turn of the crown is enough to change the tuning sufficiently for a dire situation, without making the whole scale go wonky.
And how many students know when to stop at a half-turn? How many students control their tuning so well that they can even hear the difference of a half-turn of the crown? I say again; don't do it.
(James Galway once stated in an email that he uses a quarter-turn of the crown when changing from European tuning (A-442-446) to North American/British Tuning (A-440), but that's difficult to comprehend if you don't also know how far out the headjoint must be drawn at the same time; playing along with A-440 recordings of his, as well as A-442-444 recordings, I find it a huge stretch and quite uncomfortable; so I don't actually know how he does it; hope he gets asked and tells us all.)
For most students playing a well-repaired flute, it's very likely that the cork is fine, and doesn't need to be moved EVER, but perhaps that student has discovered, as their ears improve, that the flute is sharp in the high register, and flat in the lowest register, and they wonder if moving the cork will fix this. Well it won't.

This tuning problem of loud and incredibly sharp high notes is as normal as can be. The solution comes in private lessons when studying how to bend the pitch  and will not be fixed by moving the cork!
Tuning a flute relies on the placement of the headjoint into the barrel at the same spot everyday, and then eventually learning to use the embouchure to bend the notes into tune.
A typical flute would normally have the headjoint pulled out 1/8th of an inch from the barrel or slightly more to play at A-440.
This line can be marked with a black felt permanent marker on the headjoint, after playing extensively with the Tuning CD over many months.
Then through working with a teacher, learning to jut out the upper lip to bend down sharp notes in the high register, and learning how to keep a larger mouth cavity and dropped jaw, over time the student learns to play less sharp in the high register.

Likewise, a flat low D, or low E or low C can be improved in pitch by keeping the headjoint rolled out (don't roll in for low notes), blowing with faster air, and aiming the angle of the air slightly upward in angle for soft dynamics.
See articles below and please always leave the cork's placement to the experts: (ie: corks hardly ever need to be moved unless the flute has been mishandled, or not-repaired regularly).
To read more see:
Beginner's guide to how to tune a flute:
More on flute corks:
Jen's Flute Tuning Articles:
Hope this helps those crown twisters. :>)
I used to do it as a child too; and boy howdy was my 1970s band-flute out of tune a week later!
Best, Jen
Comments (1)
Blogger jen said...

Jen writes: comment from a reader:

I just had a well-respected flute professor write and say:
"Whenever I give a lesson to a new flute student, or a masterclass to high school flutists, or workshop to junior school students, I always check the cork position in their headjoints. I have been shocked to find that between 40% to 60% of student corks are not in the correct position, so huge thanks for this article; students and teachers really need to know this.

Obviously hundreds of students are going around with corks that need adjustment, and have no idea." (paraphrased)
Thanks for this.

Monday, February 15, 2016 9:30:00 AM


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