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Discussion Starter #1
Is it the similar situation to saxes where Yamaha seems to be the best? I know there have been a lot of improvements in flute scale technology over the last few years. Is a flute from 10 or 15 years ago appreciably less in tune?

By "in tune", I'm meaing playing along with keyboards and other non-flexible A=440 things.
 

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I'll keep my 32 year old Muramatsu thank you. No problems there. A cheap junky flute from any era is likely to be trouble, and I don't think 10 or 15 years has made that much difference in the greater scheme of things. Why, I even remember flautists who had instruments they could play in tune back in the 1960s, and I suspect there may have been a few before that.
 

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And in saxes, Yamaha isn't the best for intonation. There are many great saxes there will good intonation characteristics. I used to think Yanagisawa had the best intonation of any sax. But I've played some new horns that made me rethink my position. :cool:
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Gandalfe said:
In saxes, Yamaha isn't the best for intonation. There are many great saxes there will good intonation characteristics. I used to think Yanagisawa had the best intonation of any sax. But I've played some new horns that made me rethink my position. :cool:
Thanks, Gandalfe. So, is there an equivalent of Yanagisawa for flutes? I actually started on flute, played for many years and have a pro-model yamaha, so that's not the problem. I'm just thinking about getting a new flute and wondering what's the latest/greatest in intonation.
 

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In tune with what? An equally tempered scale? Playing "in tune" often involves the need to adjust to circumstances rather than the ability to stick rigidly to some set standard.

I agree that good intonation is extremely important, and you need to be able to achieve it, but it's not the only thing to consider when choosing an instrument. I've just switched around my tenors - the "main" one was a Yanagisawa (a bit over twenty years old), but I've reverted to my Beaugnier built Vito (a bit over forty years old). Sure, good intonation is harder work on the Vito (C# in particular), but it's manageable, and other characteristics of the horn are tipping the balance in it's favour.

In short I'm saying to look at the total package, not just one characteristic.
 

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soybean said:
Is it the similar situation to saxes where Yamaha seems to be the best? I know there have been a lot of improvements in flute scale technology over the last few years. Is a flute from 10 or 15 years ago appreciably less in tune?

By "in tune", I'm meaing playing along with keyboards and other non-flexible A=440 things.
First a non-flexible piano keyboard is not "in tune". Indeed, every note is OUT of tune, to a best compromise. Hence the "tempered" scale (consult Google). also, in order to accommodate the inharmonicity (the way in which the overtones of notes are out of tune with the fundamentals - consult Google) the octaves are "stretched" (consult Google), ie notes get progressively sharper as you go up the keyboard.

Second, the pitch of any note on a flute is highly dependent on its volume (and the ambient air temperature!), so the player makes adjustments all the time, note by note. So the player has to control the pitch of any given note, note by note as it is played, every bit as much as a violin player has to. This is a major difference between a beginner and an accomplished player of flute.

Many years ago, when flute-like instruments were way out of tune, accomplished players still played them in tune, by adjusting air pressure and many aspects of embouchure as required.

So although it is more comfortable to play a flute that is basically reasonably well in tune, discussion such as the one you are encouraging are usually quibbling about very minor tuning compromises. Very minor compared with what the player must face in real life as note-by-note adjustments.

Unless you buy an unrecognised brand name, basic tuning is pretty good on modern flutes. And the more perfect the tuning is on a top flute, the more likely that other undesirable compromises have been made.

Also to consider, tuning is relative to the players you are with. You may staunchly play a note at a certain frequency that you know to be "correct", but if that note is 'beating' with the note of a player beside you, then you are BOTH out of tune. And if the other player is unable to adjust, for any reason, then the responsibility for being out of tune is definitely yours. Being in tune is constant checking, and a willingness to make compromise adjustments.
 

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I find (and most pros I work with) that the Bennett or Cooper scale flutes are the closest. In lower priced flutes, the Emerson and DeFord are good and in the midline, Miyazawa is good and almost any of the high end models have a good scale. Most new flutes are tuned to A=442. I use the Bennett scale at 442 on all flutes I build
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Bruce, thanks for that information. I'll look for a good explanation of the Bennett scale. Is the decision to build flutes at 442 based on orchestral playing or something else? They say many orch. string players like to play sharp… some as much as 446.

Gordon and stfank, most of my flute playing is with rhythm sections or midi instruments, not other woodwind players. This is why I want to blend pitch with the 440 tempered scale. I realize equal temperment is not in tune and compromises are made. Major triads sound especially bad in equal tempered tuning. I am a big fan of 'just intonation' and practice those 3rds and 7ths all the time on tenor.
 

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soybean said:
Gordon and stfank, most of my flute playing is with rhythm sections or midi instruments, not other woodwind players. This is why I want to blend pitch with the 440 tempered scale. I realize equal temperment is not in tune and compromises are made. Major triads sound especially bad in equal tempered tuning. I am a big fan of 'just intonation' and practice those 3rds and 7ths all the time on tenor.
If that is the case, you are best to have the other instruments adjust to the scaling at whatever pitch your flute was built for. If you set up your flute with the correct headjoint draw taking into account it's octave length and your influence onto the air column, you be able to play most in tune at that particular pitch scale without having to do as much adjusting as otherwise would be needed.

Most modern electronic keyboards can adjust their pitch and subsequent scaling to a pitch with the touch of a button or two. I would suggest that perhaps you should investigate getting the keyboard player to adjust to your scaling instead. (I've had to do this with many primitive instruments whose pitch scaling is sometimes not close to 440.)

If you play with an acoustic piano, get a good piano tuner and TELL them what pitch you want the temperament set at.

(had a piano tuner tune a piano for me once to what was about 444 for bolling suite performance. My C flute is 442 (modified cooper scale) so it wasn't too big a deal, but when I picked up my older 440 Alto flute, cold, and had a lot of low register playing, well, that should state the picture accurately...)

Never used that piano tuner again.

Joe B
 

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The Boehm flute has, by far, the most accurate intonation of an woodwind instrument. Saxes are primitive by comparison. And while the Cooper scale and its derivatives have supposedly improved the "long octave" of past Boehm flutes, I find the difference almost imperceptible (I have both Cooper and traditional Boston scale flutes). As Gordon points out, the adjustment of the embouchure to play the different rnages well, and to play the same note at different dynamics, far exceeds the amount of adjustment necessary to compensate for a small octave stretch, which simply becomes part of the overall adjustment needed to sound the different notes optimally.

There then is the question of temperature, and tuning. If you are playing below 20 C, or are playing a 440 flute at 444 or vice versa, you have already to make adjustments far exceeding the differences between the traditional and Cooper scale.

The important thing is that the tuning of individual neighbor notes be consistent, and in this the flute excels. The scale of the flute should be just about the least of your considerations when buying a new flute...

Toby
 

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The brief history of flute scales is that the original Boehm flute was made for a lower A - something like 438. As the A slowly climbed toward 440 (or higher), tradition was stronger than engineering among flutemakers and they never repositioned the tone holes. They just made shorter head tubes. But since the head tube length affects short tube nodes (e.g. C#) more than long tube notes (e.b. Eb), this just put the flute out of tune with itself by raising some notes more than others.

In the 60s or 70s Cooper repositioned the toneholes for the higher A. His work was both theoretical (mathematically computing the best position) and empirical (tweaking position based on actual playing). The Bennett scale is a slight variation of Cooper. The only difference I notice between Cooper & Bennett is the C# vs. high D. Some manufacturers have their own modern scale, many of which are variations of Cooper scale.

I said "tradeoff" because no flute scale can be perfect, not even theoretically, because the same toneholes are used differently for different notes. Each of these different usages would want a different position or size of the same tonehole, so the size & position of the tonehole is a compromise among them.

Even if a theoretically perfect scale could be built, however, I'm not sure all flute players would like it. We get accustomed to blowing each note a certain way and it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks - especially when the dog doesn't want to learn any new tricks because he can already play in tune so there is little or no benefit to learning yet another scale.

Personally, I find that the scale of the flute makes quite a big difference. Going from a flute with a terrible scale - say a Gemeinhardt - to a Cooper or Bennett scale flute makes a WORLD of difference. The better scales make it a LOT easier to play in tune.

Some people seem less sensitive to the scale of the flute than others. The two most common reasons why that I have encountered are: (1) Some automatically adjust to it without even thinking about it so they never realize what a difference it makes. This is common among professional or highly accomplished players. or (2) Some are less sensitive to intonation and don't notice how out of tune it is. This is more common among students and beginners.

If you ever want to test out the scale of a flute there are a few key notes you can play in front of a tuning meter: middle C#, middle E, middle & high Eb, high D, high F#, highest Bb, and a few others.

Also the headjoint plays a role in the scale. The geometry - for example the rate & amount of tube taper, among other things - affects intonation. So the head should be matched to the body for ideal intonation.

Then there is the "A": 440 or 442. Most flutists find it easier to play in tune at A=440, with a flute set up for A=442. The $64k question is why. I think it has to do with the fact that the air is warmer at the head of the flute than at the foot. This difference in temperature means the speed of sound is faster at the head than at the foot. Since a flute selects a tone by wavelength (distance to tonehole), faster speed of sound means a higher frequency matches that wavelength distance. This will tend to make a flute sound sharper for the short tube notes, relative to the long tube notes. Tuning the flute to A=442 and playing it at A=440 means you have to pull out the head further to get that A=440, which flattens the short tube notes more than the long tube notes, which reverses the effect.

Now finally, to answer your question, any flute with Cooper, Bennett or a scale based on them is likely to have good intonation (assuming a good headjoint match). Yamaha used to have a poor scale but they improved that a few years back and now they are OK. Jupiter & Sonare also have a good scale.
 

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Thanks. BTW if air cooling as it leaves the player's mouth passes down the flute tube affecting pitch seems far fetched, consider the following:

Suppose the air coming out of the flutist's mouth at the embouchure hole is 10* F warmer than the ambient air at the foot of the flute.

Speed of sound at 68* F is 1126 f/s.
Speed of sound at 78* F is 1138 f/s.
The difference is 12 f/s or about 1%.
That means a 1% difference in pitch.
That's A=440 versus A=444.
This is a big difference.

A=440 versus A=442 is about 0.5% difference. This is about equal to a temperature difference of only 4* F.
 

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No arguments there. It just underlines the point that no flute, by itself, is going to play perfectly in tune in all conditions. In fact no flute, by itself, is going to play anything at all - it takes a person to to do that. Which brings us to the most likely cause of intonation problems........
 

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The human voice's pitch varies infinitely, like a slide trombone, if you will, over its range entire of (for lucky ones) slightly more than two octaves. So, theoretically, s singer can always be "in tune" with whatever accompnying instruments are at hand. But we've all heard singers slip under or squeeze over pitch. Why is that, given their instrument should be able to exactly match pitch? Ear, skill, attentiveness....all of which lie within the player, not the instrument. The answer is the same as for a flute, a sax, or any other instrument whose pitch can be varied by the player, intentionally or not!
 

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mostly alto guy said:
The human voice's pitch varies infinitely, like a slide trombone, if you will, over its range entire of (for lucky ones) slightly more than two octaves. So, theoretically, s singer can always be "in tune" with whatever accompnying instruments are at hand. But we've all heard singers slip under or squeeze over pitch. Why is that, given their instrument should be able to exactly match pitch? Ear, skill, attentiveness....all of which lie within the player, not the instrument. The answer is the same as for a flute, a sax, or any other instrument whose pitch can be varied by the player, intentionally or not!
But there is a difference. Woodwind instruments vary pitch by discrete units, determined by opening or closing tone holes. The trick is that these steps should create the desired frequency *without* requiring the player to change the embouchure any more than necessary to optimally sound the note being played.

For example different ranges on the flute require different air speeds, a different amount of embouchure hole coverage and a different distance from lips to embouchure hole edge. These factors also influence the pitch, of course, but if tone holes are of the right size and in the right place, neighboring notes will not require embouchure adjustment, and notes in different ranges will require only that the player adjust the embouchure to correctly sound the range, and not have to further adjust the embouchure to pull the note into tune.

Toby
 

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kymarto said:
For example different ranges on the flute require different air speeds, a different amount of embouchure hole coverage and a different distance from lips to embouchure hole edge. These factors also influence the pitch, of course, but if tone holes are of the right size and in the right place, neighboring notes will not require embouchure adjustment, and notes in different ranges will require only that the player adjust the embouchure to correctly sound the range, and not have to further adjust the embouchure to pull the note into tune.

Toby
Once again, I reiterate, this is the reason you need to have the adjusted draw of the headjoint not deviate from its resultant octave length. The more you deviate from the optimum location, the greater these adjustments on behalf of the player will become. Changing the headjoint draw effectively does relatively change whether the tone holes are in the "right" place.

How the player achieves tone vs pitch is an extreme variable in light of the specifics you mentioned. That is precisely why I included it in determining what the correct draw of the headjoint must be. You must take these individual ranges into account for adjusting the overall effective length given the scaling you have. And I reiterate, that increasing the deviation from the player adjusted scaling length increases the amount of intonation adjustment one must make.

You can "bend" a note on a flute a pretty good amount. But you want to minimize that bending by playing at the pitch your flute was designed to produce. The more you deviate from that ideal, the more adjustments the player must make. Forced player deviation sacrifices tonal consistency and pitch corrections.

Joe B
 

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Hi Joe,

You are absolutely correct. I didn't mention this. However when talking about a flute being in tune, and comparing that to the sax, I assumed that the OP was most concerned with intonation between neighboring or close notes, and not so much intonational tendencies in whole ranges, as this can (as you point) out, be adjusted with the head cork end correction in a way that is impossible on all other woodwinds.

Toby
 

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Discussion Starter #20
JButky said:
Once again, I reiterate, this is the reason you need to have the adjusted draw of the headjoint not deviate from its resultant octave length.
Is there an article somewhere online that would show how to do this correctly?
 
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