Category Archives: Hints and Tips

Important New Regulations on Wooden Instruments

In January 2017, new rules came into force regarding the wood used to make some musical instruments. We’ve put the following advice together which we recommend reading carefully as it may affect you and your instrument.

What’s happening?

From January 2nd 2017 new regulations were introduced concerning all forms of Dalbergia (rosewood), a genus of plants from which many woodwind instruments are made. This includes African Blackwood (Grenadilla), Cocobolo, Rosewoods/Palisander and all other woods from the Dalbergia genus.

Why?

Woods in the Dalbergia genus are used in many products, from furniture to car dashboards to umbrella handles. Illegal logging by less scrupulous individuals has resulted in rapid deforestation in some countries (mainly of palisander woods rather than grenadilla) . As a result, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) introduced regulations, bringing the genus Dalbergia to Appendix II.
More information regarding CITES can be found at www.cites.org

What does this mean?

Appendix II status that any product containing these woods require certification. Manufacturers and suppliers will need to obtain permits to import and export instruments in and out of the EU. In the UK, this costs £59.00 each way – if you are based outside the EU and buying from us, the export licence will be added to your basket.

We will also need to keep precise records of wooden instruments we stock, and where it originates from. We have therefore updated our invoices to show this information.

Any instruments that are affected by the new regulations will be supplied by us with this style of invoice. Customers who have already purchased instruments from us can request copy invoices / documentation that shows this information if required.

What if I want to travel with my instrument?

Currently, it is our understanding that instruments weighing less than 10kg are exempt from these regulations if they are being shipped or carried for personal use. Instruments being shipped within your own country or within the EU can also be sent without documentation.

However, it might be beneficial to check with the relevant CITES Management Authority in the destination country to ensure no extra paperwork is required. CITES have a  list of national contacts.

What happens next?

This is a developing situation, as the CITES regulation was only confirmed in October 2016, so what is written on this page is very likely to change. The music industry is still developing the administrative procedures needed to deal with these changes. We will be keeping this page updated as we learn more about the process. For further information, please contact your local CITES Management Authority.

7 tips on choosing a beginner flute

Yamaha YFL-211 Flute

This article was first written in February 2011, and has been updated in July 2015.

Buying your first flute can be daunting: there are so many different makes, models and types of flutes available, and the variations in price can be hundreds of pounds. Below, we’ve compiled our top tips to help a complete newcomer decide on a new flute.

1. Do plenty of research on the different brands available

The ABRSM Viva Woodwind forum has a lot of helpful information from players and teachers, detailing some good and bad brands. If you already have a flute teacher lined up, they should also be able to offer their own advice on what to buy.

2. Be careful of flutes which look too cheap…

This is important. Some supermarkets, high street chains and online-only warehouses sell their own brand of flutes. In our experience, these flutes should be avoided: while the quality of Chinese flutes has undoubtedly improved since this article was originally written, there are still many poor-quality, cheap flutes around, and while the initial outlay is low, the running costs can quickly overtake the price of a good branded flute.

As well as the high running costs, cheap flutes are not as easy to play, and can be difficult even for an advanced player to make a decent sound on. We see so many players on the verge of giving up because they thought they were just no good at the flute – when in fact the problem was caused by a poor-quality instrument.

Our own-brand budget flutes may be priced a fraction higher than the cheapest high-street flutes – but they have been designed by flute players (us!) and will give a student a good start.

We recommend that you should budget between £200 – £500 for an entry-level flute, although rental schemes, Take It Away and buying second hand can help to reduce the up-front strain on your wallet.

3. …But don’t buy something that’s not designed for a beginner

It should go without saying that flutes classified as ‘beginner flutes’ have been designed specifically for beginner players. A good quality beginner flute should be easy to play, lightweight, and be able to withstand knocks and bumps.

On the other hand, step-up flutes, professional flutes and so on, have been designed for players who can already play the flute to an extent. They’re not designed to be as easy to play, but they don’t need to be – they tend to be heavier, offer the fuller sound and increased projection that an advanced player needs.

4. Stick to ‘traditional’ specifications

There’s a whole raft of options available on flutes. Open holes, C# trill keys, E mechanism, B footjoint, D# roller, silver this or that.

In our opinion, a beginner should start on a silver-plated flute with closed holes, E mechanism (sometimes called a Split E) and C footjoint. If you want to know what these terms mean, read our Jargon Buster, but basically a flute with these specifications will be (a) easier to play and (b) easier to re-sell at a higher value when the time arises.

5. Get the right size

Flutes don’t come in different ‘sizes’ as such, but you can get curved headjoints for a small beginner. This brings the keys of the flute closer to the body, reducing the stretch. If your child needs a curved headjoint, the truth is that it will cost more; but the problems if you don’t get a curved headjoint could far outweigh the price difference. Neck and back pain from over-stretching can arise, and players can easily get into the bad habit of poor posture. It can take many years to sort out a poor posture that wouldn’t have arisen with a curved headjoint.

For very small players (ages 5 to 7), you could start on the fife or Apprentice flute, both of which are affordable ‘mini’ flutes.

6. A good brand will hold its value

Unlike many things in this modern world – cars, computers, phones etc – flutes can hold their value very well. Many model numbers have been around for years – so you shouldn’t worry about your flute being obsolete in six months’ time. In fact, because of increasing metal prices, some customers have been lucky enough to discover that a Yamaha 211 flute bought new a few years ago is now worth more second hand than they paid new!

7. Think ahead

Hopefully, you’re buying a flute with the intention of sticking at it and developing your ability and sound. Certain beginner flutes – notably the Pearl PF-505 and Yamaha YFL-211 – are upgradable by replacing the headjoint (the part that you blow in to). Putting a handmade silver headjoint on one of these is like loading it with rocket fuel – the improvement is immense, for a fraction of the price of an intermediate flute.

Follow this advice and you’ll have an instrument that will give years of use and enjoyment. What’s more, it will give you room to develop your playing skill, too.

Now that you know what you are looking for, view the selection of beginner flutes on offer at Just Flutes
Haynes Flute

8 Top Tips on Testing a New Flute

When it comes to testing out a new flute, the experience can be overwhelming – what is the best way to test a new flute? We’ve put together our top tips to help you narrow down the choice and find your perfect upgrade flute. Whether you are looking for a step-up instrument or a professional model, follow these pointers to help you on your way!

1. Warm up on your current flute first

It’s natural to be excited about trying new flutes, but don’t test one of the new flutes with Flight of the Bumblebee quite yet – hold back! Get your chops warmed up on your existing flute with some long notes first. This has the added benefit of giving you a reference point for what you are comparing the new flutes to.

2. Scales. Sorry!

Once you’re warmed up, hold off the tunes for a little longer. Play some slow scales on each flute – this will give you an idea of how the instrument sounds across its entire range, and may expose weaker areas.

3. Check the dynamic ranges

This is something that can be done while you are playing scales. Can you play the low register with a strong, full sound? Can you play high notes quietly and sweetly?

4. Test the articulation

How responsive and clean is the articulation? Again, simple scales played slowly and tongued will give you a good idea. Also, try without tonguing (diaphragm only).

5. Get an idea of its tone colours

Play low, simple tunes (good ones are Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ or ‘The Aquarium’ from ‘Carnival of the Animals’), and aim at a very hollow, open sound. Go up an octave and see if you can produce the same sort of sound. It is very important that an instrument is capable of producing a similar quality of sound throughout the full range. Next, try a much harder sound with lots of harmonics, again in different octaves (Moyse 24 Easy Melodic Studies No. 10 – strong and trumpet like, is ideal).

6. Get a friend to help

A listener comes in useful when testing the projection. Some instruments appear to play loudly close up, but cannot be heard at the back of a concert hall. Others don’t sound loud close up, but the sound travels better – this is projection, and can be very deceiving. A good way to test this is to compare instruments while you have a listener outside the room with the door closed: which sounds louder?

7. Be prepared to compromise

You may have a pre-conceived idea of your ‘perfect’ instrument, (in terms of sound, feel or any other area really!).  But – take our word for it – it probably doesn’t exist!

8. Be realistic about what an upgrade offers

A new instrument can’t compensate for shortcomings in your playing – only hours of careful practice can do this. But a new instrument gives you the potential to improve your sound in all areas – practice will then make this a reality!

Not So Shiny Silver

We are often asked in the shop: “why has my new flute turned black?” One moment your silver flute is nice and shiny. The next, a cloudy colour all over. What’s going on here?

Silver. Chemical symbol Ag, atomic number 47. Used for thousands of years in ornaments, utensils, trade, and as the basis for monetary systems. In this blog we have already covered the allergic effects silver can have on the human body, but we haven’t yet covered the effects that the human body and everyday circumstances can have on silver.

Over time, silver reacts with air to produce a thin surface layer of oxidisation in the form of silver sulphide. Depending on the type of silver used, this tarnish can appear as black, brown or cloudy grey patches.

This is a totally natural process which occurs through normal use and it is not unusual for some people’s flutes to tarnish within weeks of purchase. It is not a manufacturing defect, but a property of silver. Tarnishing is purely cosmetic and does not affect the sound, but it can easily be removed with a silver polishing cloth

Silver-plated flutes are the norm for student to intermediate level instruments. These flutes have a layer of 100% pure silver to give a bright finish.

Sterling silver is the most usual metal for higher-level and pro flutes, and is formed of 92.5% silver with 7.5% other metals, often copper (100% pure silver is too soft to use in a musical instrument). With this addition of copper, you are weakening the silver’s resistance to tarnish.

Some flute manufacturers, primarily those in the Far East, use a process called “flash plating” on solid silver flutes, which involves silver-plating (again, with 100% silver) on top of the Sterling silver. This results in a brighter finish than Sterling, and has the benefit of slowing down the tarnishing process.

Many American flute companies do not use flash plating, so these flutes will react differently. If there is a spell of hot humid weather, the tarnish can appear much more quickly, sometimes overnight.

As a result, players who move from a Japanese flute to an American flute are often surprised to find thatf their new flute needs more regular polishing than their old one.

What can cause tarnishing?

As I mentioned, tarnishing is a natural reaction of silver with air. There are other things that speed up the process:

  • Acid in fingerprints. This varies from individual to individual, but it is a fact of life that everyone’s skin’s oil contains acids. Some people have more than others (which is why some people can turn a flute black almost by looking at it!), and these people need to take more care with their instrument.
  • Heat. As with most chemical reactions (think back to your school chemistry lessons spent with a bunsen burner), heat speeds up the process, so the tarnishing process is often faster in summer.
  • Moisture. Your breath contains hydrogen sulphide (the main ‘tarnishing agent’ in air), and any moisture left in the flute or case will speed up the tarnishing process.

While you cannot escape tarnishing entirely, you can help keep it at bay. This is why we recommend thorough cleaning of your flute both inside and out after you finish playing, and keeping it in its case when not in use. You can buy anti-tarnish strips (which work by absorbing the hydrogen sulphide in the air) to slow down the process, but at the end of the day, it is nothing to worry about and certainly doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the flute or the quality of the silver. In fact, it’s a sign that your lovely shiny flute is definitely silver!

Unless like some people, you find you prefer the tarnished look (trust me they’re out there), a silver polishing cloth will usually do the trick.

The Whole Musician: Becoming Happy, Healthy Musicians

Are you inclined to criticize yourself for the smallest things? Are you overly concerned about what others think of you and your playing? Are you fearful of getting it wrong? Are you stuck in a rut? It is very likely that we all have some emotionally charged reactions to these questions in some form or another. Their effect on our musical lives can shape our playing and alter the pure enjoyment we can attain from one simple note.

Christopher Lee: On Accuracy and Freedom

Christopher LeeWhen I first started playing in orchestras I remember it being one of the most stressful things in my life at that moment. You see, at the beginning, I (and I imagine lots of young musicians) felt I had something to prove. That I was worthy of sitting in that chair. So, I focussed on being an accurate player, and what that meant to me at the time was putting all the right notes in the right spot at the right dynamic and in tune. With that mindset, I never achieved this goal. There was something inside of me that made me want to play a phrase a certain way which in turn made it more difficult technically. Therefore, as every concert came up I’d be determined to have an accurate night. At the end of the concert I’d decide that the next night it was going to happen and so on.

Then, something changed somewhere. I forgot about my long-standing challenge and all it took was one concert where that focus wasn’t in my mind. It worked. It was an accurate concert, and also, musical! I realised then that my one-sided focus to be accurate was not going to work for me because my musical side was one to take risks and react to what others were doing in concert. Once my mind had switched to simply enjoying the music-making I found that the accuracy also became consistent.

This led to a freedom of feeling and thinking which runs through all the repertoire that I play. It takes me a long time to come to an interpretation of a piece simply because it’s always changing as I discover more and more sounds, colours and moods. At times I incorporate so-called “extended techniques” in old repertoire because it gives light to a more musical sound. These are not things I learned from school, or from reading a textbook. These are things that came from imagination, and, happy accidents in the practice room. So from there, every “mistake” I make in practicing is merely an opportunity to see if I hear something else in a phrase.

This constant search for colours in sound can be somewhat addictive! Yet, for me, it is the way to tell my story when I play for others. A natural extension of this is my belief that everyone has something to say. For some of us it could be bottled up inside and we may not even know what it is yet! I use some acting techniques in workshops to help free this creativity in others. For we are all actors the minute we step on stage to deliver our story.

Meg Griffith: On Perfection and Perception

Meg GriffithAt a crossroads in my musical life, I sat trying to decide which direction to take my career. With so many inspiring opportunities surrounding us all, one would think this would be an exciting pastime. Unfortunately, I was filled with negative energy – there was a lack of passion towards music and disappointment and sometimes disgust directed toward myself and my playing. I thought I had no idea how to get to my goals efficiently and positively so I just stared at the seemingly unattainable, building my own walls around me and giving myself permission to expend less energy towards my goals. I thought of quitting.

Then I began to consider why I chose the flute in the first place – simple enjoyment of the instrument and the music itself. This idea had become clouded during the busy years of musical schooling in which I focused on what I ought to sound like and what others thought of me. I dusted the idea off, made it the basis of every aspect of my teaching and playing, and let it guide me as I determined how to approach problem solving on the road to my goals. The difference in both my attitude and the attitudes of my students was incredible – we still worked hard, still competed, still performed, still obsessed over small mistakes, but the approach, both intellectually and emotionally, was hugely different and far more positive. We spend so much time trying to attain perfection (whatever that really is in the long run) that we forget to look at the beauty we offer in each moment.

That is all well and good you say, but easier said than done. For me, things began to come together when I stood back to watch my reactions during my practice sessions and then ask questions to better understand those reactions:

  • After intense criticism over the smallest things, how do I feel? Is this helping me get to my goal? Why am I being so critical?
  • Are my reactions helpful and detailed in ways that lead to decisions that can help me get to my goal? Or are they overly general? (That sounded bad. VS I liked the musical approach, but I lost control of the register and it became airy. What tools do I use to solve the sound aspect while keeping the musical idea?)
  • Why do my reactions tend to be negative or critical? Am I afraid of getting something wrong? What happens if I do? (Nothing – except that I find a new understanding of my mental or physical approach to playing which helps me avoid the same mistake in the future.)
  • Is my fear of getting something wrong based in shame or embarrassment within the view of others? Where does this comparison come from? Do I feel my offerings are not worth as much as others? Why should another’s offerings define my own?

Asking these types of questions, even if you find out you don’t know every answer, is the first step to understanding yourself and therefore having compassion for your challenges rather than frustration and shame. One of my favorite teaching moments after walking through questions like these is seeing the emotions on a student’s face when he or she fully realizes that not only is there nothing to be ashamed about (relief) but that they do know the answers and have every tool to lead them to success (pride).

On Where to Turn

Whole MusicianOpportunities for one-on-one coaching in topics dedicated to these challenges as well as discussions with people just like us who can provide anecdotes like the ones above make up one of our favorite aspects of being musicians: the support within our community. Expand your network and open your mind to new approaches by surrounding yourself with positive energy and supporting yourself in mind and body. Whole Musician retreats bring all these aspects of musicianship and more into our awareness with the aim of making us all happy and healthy musicians. We will be presenting workshops on these ideas and more in London from August 26-28. If anyone is curious about what goes on at Whole Musician retreats, by all means look for our registration information online at WholeMusician.net.

Orchestral Audition Masterclasses

We’ve just been talking to a close Croydon colleague, Julian Morgenstern, of Morgensterns Diary Service, about their Orchestral Audition Masterclass partnership with Musicians’ Union.

As there’s little in the way of Continuing Professional Development for musicians once they leave college, these Audition Masterclasses look like a fantastic resource that will interest many of our customers. Take a look at Morgensterns’ informative Audition Masterclass videos, which provide insight into how orchestras assess audition candidates.

Audition Masterclasses give you the opportunity to test your audition performance in front of a panel of four leading orchestral principal players, and then to discuss your performance with the panelists – something that never happens in an official orchestral audition! Having four expert panelists to talk to gives you a very rounded idea of what orchestras look for when selecting applicants for trials and when making appointments.

Morgensterns and the Musicians’ Union ran three days of masterclasses in 2013 and they are now working on their 2014 masterclasses – please click here for their confirmed panelist list. A number of our clients, including Simon Channing, Helen Keen and Margaret Campbell, have already been confirmed as panelists.

  • Sunday March 23rd, RAM (string)
  • Sunday April 6th, RCM (woodwind)
  • Sunday May 4th, Birmingham Conservatoire (brass)
  • Sunday June 1st, Birmingham Conservatoire (woodwind)
  • Sunday July 6th, Guildhall School (woodwind/brass)

If you’d like register as a masterclass participant please download the Morgensterns Audition Masterclass application form.

For more information about Audition Masterclasses please visit the following links

Scales: An Incomplete Look at What Every Flutist Should Know

What’s in a scale? More to the point, what’s in “the Cooper scale”? This short primer on scale — and why every flutist needs to understand its importance — includes a heartfelt appeal for the open information-sharing that defined the character of the late Albert Cooper.

The crucial concept of “scale” in the lives of flutists began, more or less, with Theobald Böhm — and, sadly, its technical understanding largely ended with his death in 1881. But throughout much of the 20th century, a gang of mostly British flutist-technicians (along with myself as a token American), searched for ways to improve the tuning (and with it the sound quality) of the modern flute.

Following the death in 2011 of the group’s key member, Albert Cooper, the man whose name will be forever linked with the flutemaker’s Holy Grail — the Cooper Scale — there has come a renewed interest in explaining, disseminating, and perfecting the details of this approach, so that future flutists can continue the work that Cooper and his friends began.

In the Beginning

“Scale,” for our purposes, means a set of proportions that can be seen in the different placement of frets on a guitar fingerboard and the curve of a rank of organ pipes or piano strings. In equal temperament, these follow a simple mathematical formula. Multiplying by 1.06 (or 1.0594630948 or 12,-2.) increases the overall length proportionately to  eventually reach the octave — exactly.

Stringed instruments are well behaved and follow this rule closely. Sadly, flutes are not well behaved. Because we move our lips, intonation is a moving target.

Holes, the crux of the matter. Top to bottom: Figures 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D.

Before Theobald Böhm, the concept of “scale” was lost on flutists. Figures 1A and 1B in the photo above show two one-key flutes pitched at A=427 and 442, with nearly identical hole placement. While flutemakers were not concerned with mathematical abstractions, they were not ignorant. With the finger position decided on, tuning could be dealt with by changing the size of the holes. A larger hole raises the pitch and a smaller hole lowers it. Makers sometimes also undercut the tonehole, making it larger and raising the pitch without changing what you see on the outside. Remember this principle, as there will be a quiz later.

The larger holes of our modern flute absolutely require an accurate “scale.” The photo’s figure 1C shows a Nicholson model flute, with the usual placement and wildly enlarged finger holes. Figure 1D shows an 1832 Böhm model flute as made by Rudall & Rose. This is Böhm’s direct response to the Nicholson instrument. Notice the absolute regularity of tonehole size and placement. Böhm’s understanding of “scales” must have been extraordinary, but the knowledge largely died with him. Flutemakers were left to copy existing instruments and make the occasional tweak.

A New Era

In the United States, we can easily imagine what happened with scales in the early 20th century. As the French style of playing became fashionable, so did French-style flutes — namely those made by Louis Lot. Most of these were intended for diapason normale, or A=435. These can be played at A=440 by shortening the headjoint, but this leaves the holes too far apart. If A is in tune, C-sharp will be sharp and the low notes will be flat. This is what the famous flutists played, so customers wanted a copy, and makers did their best to provide. A flutemaker might tweak something here or there, but they would have been crazy to deviate significantly from the “ideal.” Players learned to adjust for the errant notes (with mixed success), creating a paradox: a theoretically perfect flute would have been unacceptable, because established players would find the low notes sharp and the C-sharp flat! And this is exactly what happened.

Albert Cooper in the doorway of his shop.

In 1974, Bickford Brannen visited Albert Cooper in London, brought the scale back to Powell Flutes, and so contributed to an historic decision. Powell, at the height of prestige and with no need to innovate, introduced not just a new scale but an entirely new instrument and approach to flutemaking. It is difficult today to appreciate the controversy this created. This pivotal moment in our history deserves a separate article, if not a book. Suffice it to say that we are all deeply indebted to Bick Brannen for taking the first step on this groundbreaking journey.

Across the Pond

One does wonder why this new scale came from London and not some American  corporation or university. The answer seems to be found in our different histories and attitudes. In the US, flutes were (and are) considered art objects. Tampering was strictly forbidden and so experimentation was discouraged. Verne Powell left us with many colorful quotes, one of which nicely sums up the American attitude toward innovation: “I made it, it’s right, go play it!”

The situation in England could not have been more different. Like the Powell scale in the U.S., the Rudall & Carte “schema” was presumed perfect. However, Rudall & Carte made quite a few “HP” (high pitch) flutes, and with the establishment of A=440 as the international standard (1939), these became obsolete. R&C could have sold many new flutes but instead transplanted the old mechanism to a new tube at the new pitch. This in itself was not “experimentation”; the concept of repurposing flutes was well established. Further, London flute players are arguably (pun intended) more critical of flutes and flutemakers. Everyone seems to have strong opinions and “agreeing to disagree” is an absolute tradition.

By the 1950s, R&C had gone into decline and then folded. This removed the sort of central authority the U.S. had in Boston and also left a number of highly skilled craftsmen to fend for themselves, most notably Albert Cooper.

The Cooper Scale “Brand”

When Powell (and later Brannen Brothers) invested in the Cooper scale, it became a brand — and should have. The companies took risks, and Cooper certainly deserved financial reward and every bit of credit. That said, Albert Cooper did not invent the scale out of whole cloth. What became “the Cooper scale” evolved as a group effort, with input from many different players. What in the United States became an industrial property remained “Cooper’s scale” to those who had played a part in its development.

A letter to William Bennett from Albert Cooper.

The best known of these is William Bennett (aka WIBB), author of the William Bennett scale. Cooper and WIBB agreed to disagree on some details but were long-time friends who shared information and opinions freely. It was WIBB who first said, “If the hole is in the wrong place, move it!” And he did, beginning in 1954. In 1956 he invented the technique of “patching” toneholes. This allowed an incremental approach to tuning flutes rather than building an entirely new instrument to test every possibility. The process has always been one of trial and error, and without this expediency, progress would have been slow indeed.

Cooper left R&C and began making his own flutes around 1958. Both he and WIBB experimented with fixing the worst notes, but a systematic approach was needed.

The person who most deserves recognition here is Elmer Cole, principal flutist with the English National Opera Orchestra for nearly 35 years. (Cole also invented the convertible footjoint, an improved system of trill keys, and who knows what else.) Cole had ordered a flute from Cooper around this time, and as it was being made, Alex Murray (inventor of the Murray-system flute) suggested Cole look into Böhm’s book. He did, but unfortunately, the flute was finished too soon to incorporate the new ideas.

The Cole Factor

Regardless, Elmer Cole set the entire effort on a straight course by insisting that, whatever else, the scale must have an underlying mathematical basis. He coined the term “octave length” and laid the groundwork for everything that followed. And octave length continues to be a subject of discussion. It determines the overall pitch of a scale (A=440, 442, or whatever)—and small uncertainties still continue about the best starting measurement and how, exactly, to proportion the tonehole placement.

Obviously, Albert Cooper made the largest contributions to the effort. Among many things, he developed a “displacement graph” that enabled makers to substitute different-sized toneholes in a predictable way. Just one example of Cooper’s quiet genius: When the strict “Böhm schema” was tried, the left-hand notes were found to be flat—a very serious problem. Instead of belaboring theory, Cooper simply (but rationally) jumped to a workable solution. In essence, he grafted two different scales together—what we now call the “Cooper stretch.”

This was a major breakthrough, and one that Cooper could well have kept to himself. Instead, all developments were shared, discussed, and incorporated into the general effort. This attitude of sharing both effort and credit seems difficult for Americans to understand, i.e.: “My scale is better than your scale!”

This is not to say there was agreement on every item. Everyone was working toward a common goal — better flutes — but not necessarily a common solution. There are myriad compromises, and everyone had slightly different opinions. Quite remarkably, there was a common understanding of what the compromises were and why certain choices were made.

As an example, the octave between low and middle D tends to be wide. If you make the low D “in tune,” the middle D will be sharp. Conversely, if the middle D is “in tune,” low D will be flat. What to do? Cooper reasoned that since third-space C-sharp also tends to be sharp, putting two sharp notes together might lead players astray. WIBB reasoned that if the player is already adjusting the C-sharp, why not humor the D as well?

They were both right.

To be clear: despite superficial differences, both Cooper and Bennett scales were always based on these same underlying concepts and measurements. I last saw Albert Cooper at the 1998 NFA Phoenix convention (at which, along with Charles DeLaney, he received the NFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award). He was his usual cheerful self, but a bit contemplative. He said quite clearly that he thought “the scale” was essentially complete, yet there were still details to be worked out, and that WIBB would likely run those to ground. There was nothing about “his scale”—it would have been out of character.

Keeping the Scale Alive

Edred Spell, left, Jack Moore, and William Bennett in 1978.

More than a decade ago, WIBB voiced concern that as the principal characters age and die, the process leading to “the scale” would be lost. This started me on a mission to document as much as possible. Sadly, this was about the time that Albert stepped in front of an oncoming car. He never really recovered, and WIBB’s fears were partially realized. Fortunately, WIBB kept detailed notes from the start. In reviewing five decades of his research, I noted a pattern of uncertainty about the tonehole displacement graph and the adjustments needed for open holes. Trevor Wye (another significant contributor and the engine behind our present effort) had built a mechanical flute player in the early days and got it working well enough to prove that things were actually headed in the right direction. It seemed a simple project to build another, take a few measurements, and settle matters.

Judith Gilbert with a version of Wye’s flute player, dubbed “Trevor 3.2.”

Right. Wye’s students called his machine an “Automated Trevor.” Borrowing computer technology, I dubbed mine “Trevor 3.0.” Years and sleepless nights later, “Trevor 5.3” is
beginning to behave predictably, and the open-hole corrections are taking shape. The displacement graph just might come together in the next year.

Everybody Else

As the initial controversy subsided, other makers were left to make tough choices. A few companies really did try to develop their own scales from scratch, with mixed success, but a simpler approach was to copy a “Cooper scale” flute and use it without giving credit.

Or they could get the William Bennett scale for asking.

Or they could copy either and announce their new “Brand XXX” scale.

Or they could tweak something (usually for the worse) and claim to have invented the thing entirely.

In any case, these came after the fact. It was the initial concept that mattered, and once the idea of improved tuning was accepted, anything seemed possible.

Sadly, in the past few years WIBB, Trevor Wye, and I have become increasingly concerned (annoyed/frustrated) at having students with expensive flutes that are obviously (in our opinion) out of tune. We don’t mean to appoint ourselves the “pitch police,” but it’s been a long road, and the desire to make everyone’s lives easier remains.

We hoped that if we published the actual numbers, flutemakers could use them directly or at least compare their numbers to ours and note the differences.

Thus, we offer — in a gesture of the openness and sharing that was a hallmark Albert Cooper’s character — our most recent numbers for all to view and use. You can find them (and much more useful information from Wye, a 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient) at trevorwye.com. They also are available in one easy-to-find location at eldredspellflutes.com/scales/index.htm

This article first appeared in the spring 2012 issue of The Flutist Quarterly, the membership magazine of the National Flute Association, and appears here with permission.

Don’t Let A Metal Allergy Stop You Playing Flute

Over recent years in Jonathan Myall Music, we have come across more and more flute players who suffer a silver allergy – and I’m one of them. I have several allergies: silver, dust, cats, (sharp flute playing!), and have found that I can not do anything about them other than to find a way not to be exposed to the causes. However, a silver allergy really isn’t helped by playing a silver flute! If you are like me, and need help with finding an answer to this miserable problem, read on!

I first noticed my silver allergy when I was much younger and upgraded my flute to a silver-headed Yamaha YFL-381. I kept getting mouth ulcers and my lips used to swell up, right to the centre of the embouchure hole, meaning that I would be unable to play for weeks. Back then, though, I did not realise the severity of my allergy and struggled on.

When I started at the Royal Academy of Music, I was very lucky and was loaned a flute to play on. It did not come with a headjoint so I had to provide my own. At the same time, I started working at Just Flutes, where their wonderful headjoint maker, Ian McLauchlan, offered to make me a silver headjoint. Of course, the allergy problem persisted.

I initially experimented by applying a thin layer of nail vanish on the lip-plate to act as an invisible layer between the flute and my mouth. However, I soon discovered that this was not a suitable solution: as I was playing, the lip-plate would warm up and the nail varnish started giving off fumes, which made me… well, nothing short of “high”!

Ian McLauchlan suggested gold-plating the lip plate. This sounded a good idea, and we went for the thickest plating possible: 9 microns. Initially, this solved the problem and I could play trouble-free. However, the lip-plate rubs a lot against one’s chin, and after just a few months of practicing several hours a day the plating began to wear off and my allergy started up again.

Maybe something more industrial would work, we thought, so we plated my flute’s lip-plate with a metal that is used by car companies to stop the car corroding. Unfortunately, after practicing for a couple of hours on one hot Summer day, I noticed that some plating had flaked off the flute and onto my mouth. Not good.

So, it seemed that silver was a lost cause for my flute and me. I asked Ian to make me another headjoint, this time with a gold lip-plate. My problem was solved.

Except, not quite. After graduating from the Academy, I had to give my loan flute back and buy my own. I simply fell in love with the silver Altus 1807 (AL): the problem was that it has a silver lip-plate and I had had to sell my gold-lip headjoint to fund a new flute! Back to square one?

I already knew what things wouldn’t work, so I set out to find something else to solve the problem. I tried the Just Flutes lip-plate patches, which were good, but did not cover quite enough of the lip-plate for the allergy to disappear altogether. I tried covering the lip with Gaffer tape, which worked very well (and, with it looking so weird, was definitely a conversation starter!) But, I had to change the tape every few weeks and it would leave a sticky residue on the headjoint which then went into my mouth. Not ideal.

Then a good friend and customer gave me a sheet of sticky-back silver paper. Yes, silver paper! He explained that it is the same paper that they use in garages when cars are painted: the tape is put over the headlights and windscreens to cover them against splashes of paint. This tape is very thin (but thick enough to work against the allergy) and sticks perfectly to the lip-plate.

All in all, for me this is a perfect solution: it solves my allergy problem, it’s inexpensive, looks the part and is durable. About one year ago, I cut out one small lip-plate shaped piece from this paper, and it still holds… I hope it will continue to hold for a long time, because I can’t find the original sheet any more!

Flute Pad Saver

Flute Essentials: Cleaning and Maintenance Accessories

There are masses of accessories designed for cleaning your flute and keeping it in top playing order. Here’s our round-up of what we suggest every flute (and piccolo) player should have in their cleaning arsenal.

1. Cleaning Rod and Gauze

Flute Cleaning RodThe most important cleaning accessory for every flute player! You should use a good-quality wooden cleaning rod (a metal one can scratch the inside of the instrument) with a lint-free, non-fluffy gauze, after every playing session. This will absorb the bulk of the water from inside your instrument, meaning your pads will last longer.

You shouldn’t store the gauze in the case with the flute – leaving a soggy cloth in the case isn’t good for the mechanism, plus there often isn’t space! Store it in the side pouch of your case cover.

Wood Cleaning RodCleaning Gauze

2. A Silver Cloth

Most flutes are either silver or silver-plated. Silver reacts with sulphur in the air over time, making it look tarnished, dull and blackened. A silver cloth is impregnated with a chemical compound, and can polish silver up to make it bright again. If you notice that your flute is looking tarnished, a silver cloth will almost certainly do the trick.

Silver Cloth

Silver cloths are very mildly abrasive, and so should be used just once in a while on a lightly tarnished instrument. For everyday use, you should use…

3. A Fine Microfibre Cloth

Shinvision ClothYour finger prints contain grease and mild acids, and you should use a fine polishing cloth to gently remove them. This will keep your flute’s finish in its best condition, and is especially important on a silver-plated instrument, where silver-plating can begin to come off (‘pit’) if not kept clean.

Fine Microfibre Cloth

4. Pad Saver

Flute Pad SaverWhen used correctly, a pad saver can help increase the life of your flute’s pads. They work with the help of an impregnated dessicant which draws extra moisture from the pads’ surface. You should use the pad saver after cleaning your flute with a rod and gauze, and not as a substitute. Store it inside your flute body while it’s in its case, and it will help to reduce condensation when moving from warm to cold environments, too.

Flute Pad SaverPiccolo Pad Saver

5. Picc Stick

Picc Stick

This is an incredibly useful cleaner for piccolo players who suffer from water-logging keys. It assembles to the full length of your piccolo, so can be used mid-gig to quickly swab it out without having to take the headjoint off and re-tune. It takes down in to two pieces, which will easily fit your shoulder bag.

Picc Stick

Yamaha Pocketrak C24

Assessing Your Practice through Recording

Sometimes the best teacher you ever have will be yourself. Yes, it’s true! Many of us are used to listening to recording of ‘the greats’ performing the pieces that we are learning, and we know how they sound through our headphones, stereo or computer speakers. Why not listen to yourself like that too? By doing so, you have the opportunity to find out what it that ‘the greats’ have that you don’t (or even vice versa!).

Here is my attempt at trying to persuade you to do some homework and record yourself. How to do it, however, is another question, so I will give you a common set-up which you can follow.

Firstly, the recording equipment you use is very important. Your computer microphone can be of use, but due to the limited frequency range of the small mics, you may not hear what you actually sound like. It will give you an idea but for the purposes of learning you need something better.

Don’t get me wrong, the recording doesn’t have to be done in a professional recording studio (but if you can afford a couple of hours at Abbey Road go for it!). The best thing to do is to buy a stand-alone HD recorder like the Yamaha Pocketrak C24 or the Zoom H2N, or, if you want a little more flexibility, go for the Zoom H4n. All of these include an SD memory card slot and a USB plug, so that, after you have finished playing, the recording can be transferred directly to your PC or Mac.

The Equipment

Yamaha Pocketrak C24 Recorder

Yamaha Pocketrak C24 Recorder

The Yamaha Pocketrak C24 Digital Recorder is a great machine with two medium sized mics and a frequency response range of 20Hz-20KHz, which is suitable for most uses. The USB stick is built in, so there are no cables co carry. The whole thing is powered by a single AAA battery (which lasts a long time), takes up little space and weighs virtually nothing.

 

Zoom H2N Handy Recorder

Zoom H2N Handy Recorder

For a more sophisticated machine, one should look at the Zoom H2N Digital Recorder. This features 4 microphones, two of which are at a 90° angle, the other two at 180°. The 90° microphones are ideal for solo recordings, and the latter is suitable for recording larger ensembles, such as a quintet or even a chamber orchestra. Power supply is by mains or batteries, which last for about a day of recording.

The H2N has the capability to record at different ‘sampling rates’. The sample rate is the number of times a second that the audio is ‘sampled’; the higher the sample rate, the better the quality of the recording. 44.1kHz is CD-quality, or you can opt for 48kHz or 96kHz, which is DVD-Audio quality. A higher sample rate means that the end audio file will be larger. Now, the SD card that comes with the H2 has 512MB of storage space, which is enough for general recording, but not enough if you are recording at higher sample rates, so a 1GB or 4GB SD card is preferable.

Zoom H4n Handy Digital Recorder

Zoom H4n Handy Digital Recorder

The H4N, also from Zoom, does even more. Apart from having two XY formation microphones, which can be adjusted from 90° to 180° degrees, at the back of the device there are two XLR inputs (for connecting external microphones) and a built-in four-track recorder. On top as this, it has a built-in effects module, with which you can add reverb, echo, chorus, fizz-wah and distortion effects to your recordings. Essentially, you could plug an electric guitar into it and use it as an amp!

Furthermore, if you plug the H4N into a computer, you can use it as an audio interface, enabling you to record straight into your computer using the Zoom’s mics.

The Basic Set-Up

So you are in your practice room. You have your music stand, the music, the instrument in your hands. The best place to put the recorder is about 2ft away, directly in front of you, preferably at the same height as your instrument when you’re playing it. The microphones on the recording device need to be pointing straight towards you: if you are using the Zoom H2N or H4N, make sure the mics are set to the 90° angle and not 180°; if you are using the Yamaha Pocketrak C24, you can clip it to your music stand.

Next, set the ‘gain’ of the input. This is the level at which the mic will record the sound, and on most devices there are three settings: low, medium and high. Use ‘low’ if you are recordings something loud; ‘high’ is used for very quiet audio sources. If you are not sure how loud or quiet you play, stick to ‘medium’. Press the record button and off you go!

Assessing Your Practice

Sometimes it can prove useful to record just one piece, or even just one movement, although it is highly useful to record long chunks of practice too – for example 15-30 minutes at a time. If you think about it, with one hour recording and one hour listening back to it and analysing, you can say you practiced for two hours! When listening, have the music in front of you: it is incredibly useful to mark wrong notes, rhythms and articulation, as well as make general notes. Don’t forget to stick the metronome on every now and again to check the speed. You can also use these devices to record your lessons (with the teacher’s consent), concerts and recitals.

I find that it is best to listen back to the longer recordings a couple of hours later, or maybe even the following day. Doing so gives you a better perspective on all aspects of your playing.

You can listen back to the recording on the actual devices, or you can connect to a speaker system or headphones, but what if you want to transfer it to your PC and edit, enhance or simply send it to someone? Here is where the USB connection comes handy: simply connect to your PC or Mac, and the recorder will mount as an external hard drive, then it’s just a drag and drop action to transfer the files to your computer. Editing software (usually Cubase) is provided with most recorders, but if you are unsure of what to do, I would suggest steering clear of this part.

Hopefully you now have enough information to give you confidence and encourage you to get recording; many professional musicians in orchestras today have used this method while studying at conservatories, and these days the hardware and software is priced so competitively, one can’t afford not to try it!

Zoom and Yamaha digital recorders are available from Just Flutes.