Question about Multiphonics

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Question about Multiphonics

Post by DC99 » Sun Mar 16, 2014 7:38 pm


I study music and have this composition to write and need some help with understanding Multiphonics a little better. In short what I would like to know is how I should notate them, and is what I have written playable.

I have the following passage, it's for solo flute.

any other advice you would like to add would be much appreciated.


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Re: Question about Multiphonics

Post by pied_piper » Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:38 pm

The notation is probably OK, although some composers notate the multiphonic note(s) with diamond shaped note heads or the like. The thing that you have to realize though is that multiphonics are not part of the standard flutist's capabilities. They are a very advanced technique. Many composers who do write multiphonics for flute are themselves flutists, have experimented with the sound they want, and know what the flute/flutist is capable of doing. They will also often provide the fingerings that they used to produce the multiphonics. So, just be aware that you cannot plop something like your sample in front of an average flutist and expect them to be able to play it. For example, Robert Dick and Ian Clarke are both flutists/composers. They have been very successful writing compositions with multiphonics, but they are intimately familiar with the flute and its capabilities.

Some of the multiphonics you wrote cannot be played on the flute - at least, no one has yet figured out how to produce them. If you want to know which multiphonic notes can be played, you can try the Virtual Flute site: ... /main.html

You can enter the note combinations there and it will indicate "possible" fingerings. Not every fingering will work on every flute and it often matters whether the flute is equipped with a split-E or not and whether it has b foot or C foot. Even knowing this, not every flute/flutist will be able to produce every possible combination of notes.

Frankly, you'd be well advised to stay away from flute multiphonics in your compositions unless you are an experienced flutist and have multiple flutes that you can experiment with.
"Never give a flute player a screwdriver."

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Re: Question about Multiphonics

Post by DC99 » Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:36 am

Not really much help, but thanks for your reply.

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Re: Question about Multiphonics

Post by fluteguy18 » Sun Mar 23, 2014 8:45 am

I will make his answer very simple for you (because it was actually very thorough and helpful). No, what you wrote is not possible. If you're not an advanced level flutist who is capable of playing multiphonics, don't write them. You will get them wrong. If you choose to ignore this advice, here is a link to figure out IF your desired pitches in the multiphonic are even acoustically possible (regardless of whether or not they are practical or even possible to be played in any succession): ... /main.html

If you write those in, you'd better put the fingerings in the music, because no one will know what to do. If a flutist sees a multiphonic without written fingerings or instructions they usually put the music back and put it (and the composer) on their black list.

My advice: stay away from multiphonics.

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Re: Question about Multiphonics

Post by wkzh » Fri May 30, 2014 8:21 am

This comes a bit late, but I hope it's still relevant.

There is only one way to know whether some multiphonic (or multiphonic passage) is actually playable: know the instrument intimately - either yourself, or someone else. In other words, if you're not a flautist-composer, then the only way is to consult a flautist (who, hopefully, is the one who is going to perform your work).

While a multiphonic chart (even the Virtual Flute by PhysUNSW) may seem useful, there is a ton of missing information. Here's a short list of why you need to work with an actual flautist (with an actual flute)...

1. Difference in the flute design - Not just B/C-foot, E-mech or not, etc. Small differences such as the size of the holes in the perforated keys ("open hole key") would significantly alter the response and intonation of the multiphonics, amongst a multitude of factors. Some time back I played on a Sankyo, then switched to a Muramatsu. I noticed that my multiphonics had different intonations, and upon inspection, the Sankyo had larger holes in the perforated keys. On the plus side, this means that a flautist with sensitive fingers can control certain pitches in the multiphonic in certain ways. Here's an example:

{G1 + Bb2}
T | X X @ | X X X Eb

where "@" denotes depressing only the ring of the perforated key.

This multiphonic is pretty easy. With the hole in the perforated key completely open, Bb2 is really sharp. The larger the perforation, the sharper the Bb2. Typically, even small perforations would give you a sharp Bb2. Shading it a bit would give you a compound just minor third (12:5), and shading it a bit more would give you a compound septimal minor third (7:3). If your flautist can't even hear just intonation, you would have quite a headache.

2. Timbre of individual notes - The multiphonic above {G1 + Bb2} is easy, but it isn't that straightforward. G1 has a very veiled, muted timbre, while Bb2 sounds pretty normal. That means if I want to approach this multiphonic from normal notes, the dynamic must be soft, and the timbre must be muted and hollow (rather than soft and brilliant).

3. Stability - {G1 + Bb2} is very stable: it can be consistently reproduced, just like any normal note. Another stable multiphonic is:

{C2 + D3}
T | O X X | O O O Eb

Most flautists would have accidently chanced upon this multiphonic, because it is the standard fingering for D3. As per {G1 + Bb2}, the lower note C2 is pretty veiled in timbre. Notice how the interval between the two notes are quite large. Compare with the multiphonic

{D2 + F2} AND/OR {D3 + F3}
T | X X X | X,O,O Eb

where the commas represent the trill keys. Note how the interval is just a mere minor third. It is a very unstable multiphonic. So unstable that it is impossible to play with a normal tone. The only way is to play it with a soft, airy, noisy tone, something like a "shhh" or "chhh", and even then the note WILL jump between D and F rather than stay on both. There are also half-stable ones, such as

{Eb2 + B2 + D3 + G‡3}
T | O X X | X X X | Eb C

I hope you're familiar with quartertones. Anyway, it is not too hard to produce a stable multiphonic {Eb2 + G‡3}, but the B2 and D3 are pretty hard to get. A noisy "ch" attack might bring them out, but almost impossible with a stable tone. Some multiphonics lie in the middle of the spectrum of stable and unstable, such as

{A1 + B1} AND/OR {A2 + B2}
T | X O X | X X X B

This multiphonic is used in the opening of Ian Clarke's "Zoom Tube". Not very stable, but much more stable than {D2 + F2}.

4. Awkward finger movements - While multiphonic fingerings are awkward, what is more awkward is approaching these fingerings. In the case of {G1 + Bb3}, if I wanted to approach it from a regular G1, I'd have to slide my left ring finger off the perforation in a split second... or simply have a rest between the two notes. Sometimes such rests break the flow of the music. Have a look at Julian Elvira's "Sakura Sakura" on YouTube where there is a multiphonic section, where there is an uncomfortable break between each multiphonic.

5. Wierd things that your flautist can do - There are some variations of multiphonics that you don't typically encounter. One gimmick I like to do is to play an octave multiphonic, and vary my airspeed such that the two notes are slightly out of tune, thus creating beats. I then go around telling people, "Hey, look! I can play out of tune with myself!" Not very useful, though, unless you want some form of weird, rapid vibrato.

A more interesting (and musically sensible) one I use is to do something to the effect of crossfading. I can fade out of one note and fade into another, such as a smooth "crossfade" between C2 and C3, instead of playing a clean octave jump. Do note, it is easier to "crossfade" upwards than it is downwards.

I hope this gives a clearer view of why you MUST understand the instrument inside-out if you want to write multiphonics. The best way is to consult a flautist who does it, and he/she will advise you on changes that you could make. I'll work out your passage a bit to show you what it might be like:

{C2 + Eb2}
{Bb1 + Ab2}
{C2 + E2}
{C#2 + A2}
{C2 + F#2}
{B1 + E2}
{A#1 + D2}

I'll just work on the first four. I suggest changing it to:

{C2 + Eb3} T | O X X Ab | O O O Eb
{Ab1 + Bb2} T | X @ X | O O O Eb
{C2 + E3} T | O X O | X X X C
{C#2 + A3} T | O X O | @ @ @ C#

I did a quick recording to show that it's plausible: ... honics.m4a

Not well done, but you can imagine that multiphonics don't work very well for sustained notes.
The flute family: probing the lower limit of human hearing and the upper limit of human tolerance.

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