THE MYTH: Roll in! Roll out! Pull the headjoint out! Push the headjoint in!
These vague instructions can be confusing, leaving a flutist to wonder how to play in tune. I call these phrases the “band-aid” approach to tuning. While they provide temporary help, they don’t fix the long term reasons why a flutist is struggling with their tuning.
To truly play “in tune,” you must work at it every day, with a tuner. Here are my tips to help you grow in your ability to play “in tune.”
Use your tuner--it's your best friend!
Keep about 1/4 to 1/3 of the tone hole covered with your bottom lip. If you can see the back edge of the tone hole while you’re playing, you’ll need to adjust.
The cork should be about 17.3 mm from the center of the tone hole. Use the tuning rod to check. And resist the urge to tighten and loosen the crown.
Pull your headjoint out about 3-5mm. (Some flutes may require more, but most beginner flutes are designed to be set here.) If you’re pulling out an inch on the flute (yikes!), most likely, you are angling your air too high across the tone hole. Blow down into the flute more and see if that helps.
Make sure the tone hole and the closed “C” key are aligned center to center. Then leave it alone!
If you’re “out of tune” try adjusting your angle of air into the flute. If you’re flat, try raising the airstream. If you’re sharp, try blowing down into the flute more.
Make sure your aperture is not too big or too small. Either way will make your sound either to airy or thin, and probably sharp or flat.
Play with vibrato.
Relax as you play! Avoid tension in your throat or lips as you play.
Check your air speed. Too fast can make you sharp, while too slow can make you flat.
There may be other issues that are causing your intonation problems. For example, if you’re constantly readjusting the placement of your flute on your chin, there may be a balance issue with how you’re holding your flute. Check with your teacher to help you with these issues.
In order to have your best tuning, use the tuner in your daily practice. You’ll begin to form the correct angle as you practice. Tuning on the flute can be difficult. So, be patient. Don’t expect perfect pitch all the time.
Keep practicing and see how much you improve!