flute pitch?

Flute History and Instrument Purchase

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woof
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flute pitch?

Post by woof » Tue Apr 03, 2007 7:58 pm

What determines the pitch of the flute? Is it the headjoint, overall design or cork position?? If a person had a flute pitched at A=440 could they change it to A=442 or higher----by buying a new headjoint etc.... or would they have to buy a new flute??

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flutepicc06
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Post by flutepicc06 » Tue Apr 03, 2007 8:06 pm

When you buy a flute pitched at A-442, you're buying one where the scale is designed to allow it to play at that pitch standard. The tonehole size and position are the main factor in determining pitch, but headjoint taper, bore diameter, cork positioning, venting of keys, and any number of other factors also play a role. As such, it's best to assume that the overall design is determining the pitch...It's not just the body, but it's not just the head either. Buying a new head would not turn an A-440 flute into an A-442 flute, nor would moving the cork. The headjoint cork being moved affects tone and response as well as pitch, and moving it would have a negative impact on both of these, aside from making the scale uneven (some notes would be further from pitch than others). Most flutes can be played 2 Hz from the scale they're built on without any trouble (a 444 flute could be played any where in a range from 442-446), but depending on the flexibility of the player, may not be able to do much more. Most people will never need to play a pitch range larger than 4 Hz, unless they move to a different region.

ick27
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Post by ick27 » Wed Apr 04, 2007 1:55 am

The main thing is the spacing of the tone holes. A higher pitch flute will be slightly shorter, with all its tone holes closer together. (Shorter tubes = higher pitches). Headjoints are not made for specifically pitched flutes and are interchangeable as long as they fit physically.

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flutepicc06
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Post by flutepicc06 » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:53 am

ick27 wrote:The main thing is the spacing of the tone holes. A higher pitch flute will be slightly shorter, with all its tone holes closer together. (Shorter tubes = higher pitches). Headjoints are not made for specifically pitched flutes and are interchangeable as long as they fit physically.
That's not entirely true. The headjoint taper, as well as the length of the head and bore size (which does not necessarily reflect on the outer diameter of the head) will have a major impact on the flute's pitch, and if you don't match the headjoint to the body, you're going to have some interesting problems. Most makers have slight variations in the design of their flutes, and while for the most part it is possible to swap heads with very little negative (and often a positive) effect, this will not always be the case.
Last edited by flutepicc06 on Wed Apr 04, 2007 11:57 am, edited 2 times in total.

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woof
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pitch

Post by woof » Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:24 am

Thanks for the replies. I have a Pearl elegante which is presumably pitched at A-442 and I find it is mostly dead on throughout full range using an electronic tuner but it seems to sound a little flat when played with CD's of other artists- I guess they are pitched even higher and that means I have to learn to change my pitch. We need a "pitch knob" on our flutes to make this easier!! LOL

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flutepicc06
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Re: pitch

Post by flutepicc06 » Wed Apr 04, 2007 10:20 am

woof wrote:Thanks for the replies. I have a Pearl elegante which is presumably pitched at A-442 and I find it is mostly dead on throughout full range using an electronic tuner but it seems to sound a little flat when played with CD's of other artists- I guess they are pitched even higher and that means I have to learn to change my pitch. We need a "pitch knob" on our flutes to make this easier!! LOL
CD's tend to play sharp, even if the artist on the recording did not. If they're playing at a nice even 442 while recording, when you play it back from the CD, it may have risen to 443, 444, or higher.

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woof
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Re: pitch

Post by woof » Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:14 pm

flutepicc06 wrote: CD's tend to play sharp, even if the artist on the recording did not. If they're playing at a nice even 442 while recording, when you play it back from the CD, it may have risen to 443, 444, or higher.
That is interesting-- why is that so? Is it due to the speed of the playback? I wonder if this might create some interesting differences between live and recorded performances.

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flutepicc06
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Re: pitch

Post by flutepicc06 » Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:19 pm

woof wrote:
flutepicc06 wrote: CD's tend to play sharp, even if the artist on the recording did not. If they're playing at a nice even 442 while recording, when you play it back from the CD, it may have risen to 443, 444, or higher.
That is interesting-- why is that so? Is it due to the speed of the playback? I wonder if this might create some interesting differences between live and recorded performances.
To be honest, I don't know the reason. It's a phenomenon that I noticed and once had a discussion with one of my teachers about, but I either didn't ask WHY it happens, or I don't remember the explanation. Sorry.

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Post by fluteguy18 » Thu Apr 05, 2007 11:08 am

I have a theory as to why this happens, but there is little fact behind it, but this is still a hunch....

When a recording is compressed to be put into a cd or mp3 form, I think the piece is actually shortened by a few hundredths of a second. Because, if you play a record [ a record, not a cd] on a record player, and speed it up, the pitch of everything goes up. And the song becomes quite a bit shorter. So, if they merely shorten a piece by a very minimal amount, then it could be enough to raise the pitch by a cent or two.

So, even though this has very little evidence to support it.... it is a hunch...

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flute pitch?

Post by pied_piper » Thu Apr 05, 2007 1:38 pm

There are many factors that can affect recorded sound and the resulting playback. When music is recorded onto a CD, it normally is not compressed. It IS digitized, but not compressed. Compression can introduce inaccuracies, but that is generally heard as distortion rather than a change in frequency. I don't want to get overly technical, but I'll try to give brief explanation.

Digitizing audio involves converting it from an analog signal to a digital signal. This process requires that the original sound be sampled at a regular, but very fast interval. The faster the sample rate, the greater the accuracy of the analog-to-digital conversion and vice-versa. Audio CDs are created with a sampling frequency of 44,100 Hz (44,100 samples per second). The sample rate needs to be roughly double the maximum frequency. Since the range of human hearing is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz and most music falls in the middle of this range, the sample rate is more than adequate to transform the analog sound into digital data with reasonable accuracy.

The problem with frequency changes during playback most likely occurs due to variances in electronic components from one device to another. Consumer devices such as CD players use electronic components that often have a maximum 5-10% tolerance from their specification. Most components will usually be well within the tolerance and will be very close to the specified value, but rarely will they be exact.

For example, if an electronic component used to generate the sample frequency (44,100 Hz) is off by as little as ± 1%, when the digital data is converted back into analog, that ± 1% difference can be introduced as variation in the output. So a recording with an original A=440Hz could end up being played back with a frequency that might vary by ± 4.4Hz resulting in output between A=435.6Hz and A=444.4Hz.

I hope this wasn't too technical or too off-topic.
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flutepicc06
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Re: flute pitch?

Post by flutepicc06 » Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:34 pm

pied_piper wrote:I hope this wasn't too technical or too off-topic.
Not at all! I found it very interesting. Thank you for explaining that! :)

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Re: flute pitch?

Post by fluteguy18 » Thu Apr 05, 2007 7:27 pm

flutepicc06 wrote:
pied_piper wrote:I hope this wasn't too technical or too off-topic.
Not at all! I found it very interesting. Thank you for explaining that! :)
Very interesting indeed! But.... I guess I was wrong though.... oh well. It was just a theory, and I am no expert in this area. :lol:

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Post by pied_piper » Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:23 pm

Fluteguy, your theory isn't necessarily wrong. I was offering some other possibilities for the pitch change on CDs. You mentioned MP3s, and that's a whole different issue because of the compression.

There are a number of different compression algorithms. Some are lossy while others are lossless. MP3 uses a lossy algorithm, so it definitely degrades the CD quality. Most MP3 compression is variable, so you can use a greater degree of compression to further reduce the file size, but greater compression results in greater degradation of the quality. Usually the result is more distortion, but I wouldn't rule out a slight pitch change either.

BTW - I probably have a somewhat unique perspective on music and data compression. I have a B.S. in Music Ed. and M.S. in Computer Science. For my M.S. project, I did research on data compression and wrote a paper that ended up getting published in the Computer Journal of Cambridge. I guess that was my 15 minutes of fame! :D
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woof
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Re: flute pitch?

Post by woof » Thu Apr 05, 2007 9:06 pm

pied_piper wrote: The problem with frequency changes during playback most likely occurs due to variances in electronic components from one device to another. Consumer devices such as CD players use electronic components that often have a maximum 5-10% tolerance from their specification. Most components will usually be well within the tolerance and will be very close to the specified value, but rarely will they be exact.

For example, if an electronic component used to generate the sample frequency (44,100 Hz) is off by as little as ± 1%, when the digital data is converted back into analog, that ± 1% difference can be introduced as variation in the output. So a recording with an original A=440Hz could end up being played back with a frequency that might vary by ± 4.4Hz resulting in output between A=435.6Hz and A=444.4Hz.

.
Great explanation. So does this mean when I am playing flat against a CD I can blame my CD player or their recorder and not my embochure?LOL.

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Post by ick27 » Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:28 pm

To clear things up a little:

CDs do NOT play sharp. Records and tape are susceptible to this... It is possible for a recording to be sharper than the actual performance if it is first recorded on tape or vinyl and later transfered to CD (this includes all recordings made before about 1980). CD players do have various problems, but pitch fluctuation is not one of them. If you hear a relatively recent recording that sounds sharp, it probably was sharp to begin with (this is not uncommon).

Electronic components do have tolerances, but only from an analog point of view. CD players simply stop playing (this is called skipping) if they don't sample data fast enough, they don't slow down the sample rate.

CDs contain raw data (without any compression). The data is usually passed through a variety of filters (equalizers, band pass filters, etc.) before being sent to the speakers, but this does not affect the overall pitch.

To prove this for yourself, take a CD and play it in several players and see if there is any variation. Or, choose a CD with a sustained tone so you can check it with a tuner. If any of you try this out, please let us know your results!


Regarding what makes a flute play at A 440, 442, or 444:

The only thing that is different between flutes pitched at A 440 - 444 is the spacing of the tone holes. While it is true that many factors affect the pitch of a flute (including all those flutepicc06 mentioned), flute makers are really only talking about a difference in tone hole spacing when they refer to flutes as A 440 - 444.

Head joints are not made for specifically pitched flute, and can easily be pushed in or pulled out to adjust pitch. You can use a head joint sold with an A 440 flute on an A 444 flute as long as it fits.

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