Monday, 9 April 2012

Practice Flutes

Been busy recently with a large commission for practice flutes, which are now all done and waiting for the courier to collect and deliver. That's part of the reason for lack of posts, but the whole thing got me thinking about practice flutes, and the role they've played in my work over the past good few years.
The first flutes of this type that I made were prompted by necessity. In the early 1980s I was asked to teach a class in Bantry, and when I arrived to find a room with about 12 or 15 students, I also discovered that they had at the most two flutes between them, and they weren't the most playable of instruments.
Rather than let the class founder on it's first appearance, I went home, had a think about it, and came back the next week with a bunch of flutes made from black plastic pipe. It was what was called overflow pipe, destined to carry excess water from attic water tanks, but it was around the diameter, 19mm internal, that I wanted. They were extremely basic. A 19mm tube with a wall thickness of around 2mm, a circular   embouchure, and six finger holes, and an old wine cork. But they got a lot of kids started on the path of music.
Of course I soon realised, or already knew, their limitations. A purely cylindrical bore will never play in tune with itself over more than about one and a half octaves, certainly with a flute in this pitch (440).
(It's a bit different for smaller cylindrical flutes, like fifes)
The other restriction was that the embouchure had only a depth of 2mm, determined by the wall thickness of the tube, and it's very difficult to develop a proper player's embouchure with a flute embouchure like that. So the Mark II flute was an aluminium tube with a wooden sleeve over the embouchure which allowed me to make an embouchure that had a depth similar to that on a wooden flute.
This worked much better, but didn't solve the tuning problem. The Mark III addressed this by introducing a taper into the bore. The technical issue of tapering an aluminium tube led me to adopt a basic Boehm bore, making a plastic head with a taper which fitted onto the tube.
This, with a few tweaks over the years, is still the basic design of the practice flute, and it has proved amazingly successful. I'm not sure how many I've made to date, but it's many hundred, and a good proportion of people come back to me looking for a "real" flute having learned the basics on one of these.
The aesthetics of the design might not be the most attractive, but I work on the principle of keeping the price as low as possible, and the functionality as high as possible.

Our annual flute festival, Cruinniú na bhFliúit ( The Flute Meeting) kicks off in a few days time here in the village
We've managed to get a new website and forum up and running this year. Have a look, and I'll try and post about it, and put up a few video and sound files.

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