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PostPosted: Sun Apr 29, 2018 2:24 pm 
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Hi All,

I did a search with the word "altitude" on the flute forum and did not find a discussion on this topic. Maybe I missed it, so if I did, forgive me!

So, as some may know, I try to play many instruments, Irish flute among them, and I enjoy trying different flutes. I have bought and sold many flutes, and my goal is to find the "best" flute, without losing any money. I have not made any money in this venture. Also, I occasionally sell a very fine flute, as I occasionally decide that I need to focus on another instrument, most notably and recently the lap slide/dobro/weissenborn guitar, which I have found pretty challenging, since there are no frets. In spite of my best attempts to focus, I often come back to the flute, as I seem to like blowing on the instrument, and I find it reinforcing when I make good sounds occasionally.

My latest flute acquisition is a keyless blackwood Noy in the Nicholson style. I acquired this flute from another Chiffer in a trade. I have really struggled to play this flute, and have a history of playing some really good makers' flutes flat on the bottom D. The advice I usually get is that I need to practice more and work on my embouchure and that with practice, it will come in tune. That, or that I need to roll the flute out more to sharpen the flute. This advice is disheartening, as I like to play lots of instruments, and so focused practice hasn't really happened. So.... I decided to sell this flute in frustration and really give up flute playing this time.

So, last night I decided to buy a higher-end dobro and was really thinking of practically giving the Noy away at a very low price. In one last-ditch effort with the flute, I remembered some discussion about the stopper position and thought that maybe I would mess with it. I found the dowel and pushed the stopper a bit away from the embouchure hole.

The flute immediately produced a nice, hard, reedy low D that was WAY sharper than I could play it before. So much so, I had to pull the tuning slide pretty far out (a little more than a 1/2 inch). The flute is in tune in both octaves and all 3 D's. I now love this flute, and I didn't even have to work on my embouchure, or practice or do much of anything!

I used to play uilleann pipes (not well) and used to shove all manner of objects (guitar strings, twisty ties, balls of cat hair) into the bell and bore to make the chanter play in tune. I know that on the pipes moving the reed out of seat lowers the high holes much more than the low holes (hence the stuffing of things mentioned above). I really don't know how the stopper functions on the Irish flute. The following is from Terry McGee's website:

"Conclusions
We can draw these conclusions:

moving the stopper makes no appreciable change in intonation in the lowest octave
there is some change by the upper end of the second octave, increasing as you go up in pitch
there is substantial change in the third octave, increasing as you go up in pitch
all changes are in the same direction - moving the stopper towards the embouchure hole sharpens the higher notes
the relationship between third octave notes and their lower octave counterparts provides a method to fine-tune stopper position.

This is not a knock on Terry at all. I look at his website often for info and interest. I just don't get it. I am thinking that altitude is a factor here that I have not seen discussed. I live in Albuquerque at right around 5000 feet.

Your comments and expertise are appreciated. The Noy is no longer for sale :love:

Sorry about the long post. I got some new fresh-roasted coffee beans from a local roaster. Too many lattes!

Now off to a session! Watch out!

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2018 4:22 am 
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Location: Malua Bay, on the NSW Nature Coast
Very interesting José

Now note, when I made those pronouncements, I was talking about intonation, not pitch. Intonation is pitch relative to other adjacent notes, but not absolute pitch. I haven't looked into the issue of the effect of stopper position on absolute pitch.

If your flute plays all three D's in tune, you can be pretty confident you've found the right stopper distance.

Now you raise the issue of what happens at altitude. In broad terms, the speed of sound drops as you go up. (From a brisk 340m/sec at my place, to a sluggish 280m/sec at yours!) But my understanding is (and again I haven't looked into it) is that, providing you maintain the same air temperature, there won't be any difference in pitch of a woodwind instrument. Can't quite remember why, but I can look into it if you have reason to think it's messing with you.

It would be interesting to return your stopper to the earlier position and see what the effect is. Make sure you measure the current location first so you can get it back there! Indeed, write it down!


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2018 7:36 am 
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Thanks for the clarification Terry.

I will likely spend more time with stopper and study the effect. I did note the position of the stopper before I moved it, and it was in the "recommended" position.

I was lucky enough to get to play music with Sky Kelsey yesterday, a young man from Anchorage Alaska who is really expert on many instruments. I began quizzing him, and learned that he cannot (yet?) play pipes or box. He had a go on the flute and he and the flute sounded great with the new stopper position. He said that he thinks that stopper position is specific to the player's embouchure, not altitude... However, all the folks who played the flute yesterday sounded great on the flute and it was in tune. I am finding it hard to believe that all these folks and myself have an embouchure that is different from the previous owner of the flute (who live in Connecticut, I believe). Also, in thinking back, I did not have trouble playing flutes in tune with a nice bottom D in Michigan when I lived there (??)

Scott

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2018 5:36 pm 
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Scott - I can say that on every flute I have owned, it has taken experimentation with moving stopper position to find a sweet spot, and there may be a tradeoff - for example free blowing hard d and first octave vs. high second octave going a bit flat. My 2 Prattons seem a bit more prone to that (and are consistent), and Terry's GLP somewhat less, as it seems to want to play with the cork where recommended at around 19mm. But moving the cork can make a world of difference. Just an observation.

Bring the Noy by some Thursday - would love to see it - I was impressed by Elliot's a few years back.


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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2018 3:27 am 
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Now, just to confuse things further (my life's work!), I'm wondering if there may be embouchure-approach issues that complicate ideal stopper location. We touched recently elsewhere on the notion of easy-to-play flutes and harder-to-play flutes, and I related some experiences. People have suggested larger and smaller sweet spots, and looser and tighter embouchures, but I'm also wondering about slower and faster jet speeds. More work needed to nail this, I think.

But consider this possibility. If you are playing the bottom octave in a relaxed way, you might benefit from moving the stopper back from the embouchure to around 23mm or so (nearly an inch), especially if you don't need to go into the third octave.

But, if you are playing in a more intense way, pushing most of the energy into the second octave while still maintaining the harmonic series of the low octave to get a really "hard" low D, you might benefit from moving it closer to the embouchure, say between 19mm and 15mm.

I think there's no substitute for some rigorous experimentation. Given we all have "bad-embouchure days" (sorry, Matt, most of us have bad embouchure days....), you may need to be rigorous, repeat the experiments and keep good notes.


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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2018 7:57 am 
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The speed of sound is determined more by temperature and humidity than air pressure. For a flute, you pretty much determine the temperature and humidity of the air in the flute.

I tried modelling a typical flute in Ontario:

- Air at 24.00 C, 98.400 kPa, 100% humidity, 40000 ppm CO2.
- Speed of sound is 344.021 m/s.
- Density is 1.1592 kg/m^3.

... and in New Mexico at 5000':

- Air at 24.00 C, 84.300 kPa, 100% humidity, 40000 ppm CO2.
- Speed of sound is 344.322 m/s.
- Density is 0.9911 kg/m^3.

The difference in tuning was maybe 1 cent across two octaves. In other words, imperceptible.

I have heard from someone in Utah that the sound of a woodwind gets thinner in the lower density air at higher altitudes, but the tuning stays pretty much the same.


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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2018 8:13 am 
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I've been playing the flute a lot more lately (especially since acquiring a used Casey Burns folk flute a couple months ago). I've even gotten confident enough to play it a bit at session.

The first time I played in session, I was sitting next to another flute player and remarked that I couldn't get the bottom D into tune, no matter what I did. She suggested the same thing that you've discovered: Moving the stopper. I spent about 5 minutes with her fiddling with it, and lo and behold, everything came nicely into tune.

I suppose now that I'm playing flute more, i should pay more attention to this particular forum on C&F..I might've learned that trick weeks ago ;)

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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2018 10:12 am 
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Jose' Scotte' Este' wrote:
...I am finding it hard to believe that all these folks and myself have an embouchure that is different from the previous owner of the flute (who lives in Connecticut, I believe). ...


Data point: The previous owner lives near the coast in Massachusetts and the second floor of his home—where the Noy was mostly played—is at approximately 32 feet above sea level (on a high tide).

Best wishes.

Steve

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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2018 8:19 pm 
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FWIW, I get the best results with the cork on my Windward flute set a little more towards the endcap than the theoretically ideal position. That's where I still get a nice hard low D, pretty well in tune, and not too much difference between first and second octaves. No idea if that's me or the flute. it might be me, because the maker supplies a blackwood rod with a white mark showing where the cork should be, for ideal results. I just need it a scosh further back. Maybe a better player would use the recommended cork position.

If you really want to fall down this rabbit hole, and if you have a smartphone, I recommend picking up the "TTUner app" available for iPhone and Android phones. Thanks to Terry McGee for helping to popularize this RTTA approach, and this app in particular. More info on his web page on RTTA here:

http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/RTTA.htm

What this does is record your flute playing as you're playing and not watching a tuner, which is the critical difference compared with using a standard tuning app. The statistical analysis will show you exactly which notes are sharp or flat across the octaves. Which can be kind of depressing, but hey... we're playing antique-design instruments, yeah?

I've found this app very valuable. It will store recordings so you can compare what you're doing with cork adjustments, or just improving your embouchure. I do try not fall too far into chasing rainbows by fine-tuning the cork position, because there is no way to correlate the results with embouchure development over time. But this app is still useful if you don't chase those rainbows too far.


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