I was doing some research on difference tones, looking for more ways to use them in the flute choir and in my intonation studies, and Googled “difference tone duets.” I got one(!) exact result which led me to this webpage, www.forthecontemporaryflutist.com/etude/etude-03.html. It is from a website by one of my favorite flutists and teachers, Wil Offermans, whose class I just happened to have attended at this year’s NFA convention. The class was about how to go about learning to play Offerman’s composition for solo flute, Honami. I had purchased the piece at this year’s Florida Flute Fair and was hoping for some insights in how to approach it. I got that and much more!
It was a GREAT class, in which he took a group of players (myself included, you can’t up opportunities like this!) through the entire piece, demonstrating and instructing each of us in how to execute the techniques and gestures featured in each section of the piece. Even though the piece features some extended techniques and includes many interpretive choices, I left feeling confident I could go home knowing exactly how to go about learning the piece and some day perform it. Very cool!
Anyway, this article thoroughly explains what difference tones are and how they work, as well as giving a couple of experiments to try with a flute-playing friend. Offermans wants flutists to explore all the different sounds and tone qualities that are possible on the flute, and this is one of the avenues he suggests trying out. Or as I have said for years, “Explore your sonic resources!” Flutists like Offermans, Ghobriel, Pattillo, and others continue to push the boundaries of flute sound, giving us that much more to explore.
Next week is the National Flute Association’s yearly convention and many attendees will be spending time at the flute vendors’ booths, trying out all the newest and coolest the flute makers have to offer. For those of you thinking you might like to upgrade your flute, but don’t have the budget to buy a new flute, I want to suggest that a different head joint may get you the results you are looking for, at least in the short term, and won’t cost you quite so much.
There are so many options when it comes to head joints. You can try different metals, different cuts and sizes of the embouchure hole, different configurations of the lip plate, the list goes on and on. Most makers will have several different options for you to try, according to your preferences and goals. Looking for a more open sound? Maybe a more oval embouchure is what you want. Looking for more projection? Maybe you want some platinum in the alloy, or a sharper angle on the strike wall.
When you test different head joints on your flute, make sure to test them using the same criteria. Play the same things on each one, play in all the registers, check the response to different articulations and attacks, to differently sized slurred intervals, different dynamic levels. Many flutists choose an excerpt from a piece that will test for the qualities they are looking for. (That is why may you hear someone playing the same thing as they go from booth to booth. Either that or they only have one tune memorized!)
Feel weird about putting a head joint from a different maker on your flute? Don’t be! My flute is a hybrid, a Powell head joint on a Miyazawa body, that has served me well for many years. The mechanism of the body is wonderful and the head gives the sound extra weight and fullness than the original did. There are several craftsmen out there that only make head joints. Where would they be if no one was willing mix and match? And don’t forget, a fabulous, handmade head joint will probably only cost a tenth of what a good, handmade flute will cost. It might just be so affordable, you’ll want to spring for some fancy engraving!