Define: The “mature” flute sound

Excellent Flute Tone: What IS that and why are people, from lay audiences to professionals, fairly obsessed with the sound that is the either the capability of the player or the flute and certainly the combination of the two? Can we discuss this? I’ve been around for many a year and as a flutist and, happily, produce what most consider an extraordinary sound. My flute helps me for sure! But taking an important step back, let’s say it this way: Our tone helps us to communicate the music, the music itself. I’m bringing this conversation forward at this time because I have an advanced student who is exploring her sound, creating colors as well as a basic tone. She is younger than I was when I was developing My Best Tone, which really was guided by my teachers explaining how to work the embouchure. I became a very malleable created of different tones. I became enraptured with a darker, mature sound rather than a bright, edgy sound. Ah, but what IS the mature sound, how much of the bottom part of the sound, the full circle of harmonics, the upper part, makes it “mature”. I know what it means for me. I know what I’m listening to with my ears and eyes with my students and professionals. Label it, tho? Mm, not so easy. Wanna say your piece? Would love to hear! Comment in my blog!

4 comments

  • Tom Miller
    Tom Miller N.E. Ohio
    Tone. It's complicated :-) Many greats have compared instrumental music to the the human voice in song. As we know, our instrument is an extension of of ourselves and the mature player will try to connect with the soul of their being through the voice and it's infinite variables. So, getting a good tone is only the beginning. Learning to be flexible is where the interest lies. It may be that players buy into an instrument that proivides a good tone easily but they end up in a box because the instrument doesn't direct the player to growth and development. Of course there's one aspect that I usually try to leave out. When we hear 'that' great tone being played by someone it's seductive. We savor it and want to hear more. When we hear a good player that has a good tone then we've heard everything they have to offer within the first few moments. Most flutists know what I mean by this.

    Tone. It's complicated :-) Many greats have compared instrumental music to the the human voice in song. As we know, our instrument is an extension of of ourselves and the mature player will try to connect with the soul of their being through the voice and it's infinite variables. So, getting a good tone is only the beginning. Learning to be flexible is where the interest lies. It may be that players buy into an instrument that proivides a good tone easily but they end up in a box because the instrument doesn't direct the player to growth and development.
    Of course there's one aspect that I usually try to leave out. When we hear 'that' great tone being played by someone it's seductive. We savor it and want to hear more. When we hear a good player that has a good tone then we've heard everything they have to offer within the first few moments. Most flutists know what I mean by this.

  • Adrianne Greenbaum
    Adrianne Greenbaum
    YES, flexibility is SO key. I do indeed worry that, when a student purchases a new flute, the “work” on nuance almost automatically comes to an end. Why? The flute practically plays before it’s even up to the mouth. It’s that kind of immediate response that places any development of color, even dynamics, subtleties, in a stagnant position. Easier to get that Basic Good Tone and that sound becomes the only goal. And then, what IS that basic sound? Tom, you said it: It’s complicated. I want to further this discussion by addressing that question of Why we are so obsessed with tone all by itself vs how tone gets incorporated into music so as not to even be mentioned. The tone serves our purpose of expressing music well. Tone is worthy of much attention, for sure; how can anyone love the music they are hearing if a tone is poor? Standard practice, I would think. Scratchy violin tone, thin sound, not pleasant. Within the flute community we want ________ to be the golden standard. Thin, no harmonics in the sound, dull, are not qualities that will be appreciated. Even the non-flutist listener gets that. So let’s keep talkin’! Complicated for damned sure!

    YES, flexibility is SO key. I do indeed worry that, when a student purchases a new flute, the “work” on nuance almost automatically comes to an end. Why? The flute practically plays before it’s even up to the mouth. It’s that kind of immediate response that places any development of color, even dynamics, subtleties, in a stagnant position. Easier to get that Basic Good Tone and that sound becomes the only goal. And then, what IS that basic sound? Tom, you said it: It’s complicated. I want to further this discussion by addressing that question of Why we are so obsessed with tone all by itself vs how tone gets incorporated into music so as not to even be mentioned. The tone serves our purpose of expressing music well. Tone is worthy of much attention, for sure; how can anyone love the music they are hearing if a tone is poor? Standard practice, I would think. Scratchy violin tone, thin sound, not pleasant. Within the flute community we want ________ to be the golden standard. Thin, no harmonics in the sound, dull, are not qualities that will be appreciated. Even the non-flutist listener gets that. So let’s keep talkin’! Complicated for damned sure!

  • Kimwei
    Kimwei UK
    Returning to flute after spending a long time as a non-classical guitarist, I can't help but feel that the obsession with flute tone tone comes from the pursuit of purity rather than artistry. What's freeing about playing the guitar is that we have guitarists who make use of 'ugly' sounds who are massively popular - it's become the norm and it sounds great and moves people. I personally often get complimented for my flute tone on the pop/folk circuit, which I think is because when I was a kid and I was told to practice tonal exercises every day, I actually did it, not realising that most of my friends didn't do it because they thought it was boring. However, I didn't know that my embouchure wasn't great, so I feel that since learning with you Adrianne my tone has improved even more since we've changed my embouchure... and YET, I would still like to keep the choice to make ugly sounds - fizzy, breathy, sharp, flat, with bite, because I think it's important to practice tone in order to have more choices, whereas I think that lots of people want to practice tone in order to have fewer choices in their playing - always choosing the best tone possible... which could be boring. I love the way you describe 'mature' tone... since that definition feels dark and full rather than pretty or sweet. Dark is enchanting.

    Returning to flute after spending a long time as a non-classical guitarist, I can't help but feel that the obsession with flute tone tone comes from the pursuit of purity rather than artistry. What's freeing about playing the guitar is that we have guitarists who make use of 'ugly' sounds who are massively popular - it's become the norm and it sounds great and moves people. I personally often get complimented for my flute tone on the pop/folk circuit, which I think is because when I was a kid and I was told to practice tonal exercises every day, I actually did it, not realising that most of my friends didn't do it because they thought it was boring. However, I didn't know that my embouchure wasn't great, so I feel that since learning with you Adrianne my tone has improved even more since we've changed my embouchure... and YET, I would still like to keep the choice to make ugly sounds - fizzy, breathy, sharp, flat, with bite, because I think it's important to practice tone in order to have more choices, whereas I think that lots of people want to practice tone in order to have fewer choices in their playing - always choosing the best tone possible... which could be boring. I love the way you describe 'mature' tone... since that definition feels dark and full rather than pretty or sweet. Dark is enchanting.

  • Adrianne Greenbaum
    Adrianne Greenbaum
    Thank you for the comments to date. I totally agree with the notion that purity is where many a player and listener are residing. But as also is being noted, artistry includes actually making those choices. Whenever I’ve had a student who is outspoken about not wanting to try a different sound, using perhaps a different embouchure or angle, I often counter with not being able to make a change cannot be our default. I like “dark” as enchanting. Next we should all tackle “artistry” itself and whether tone is as tied into artistry as it currently is.

    Thank you for the comments to date. I totally agree with the notion that purity is where many a player and listener are residing. But as also is being noted, artistry includes actually making those choices. Whenever I’ve had a student who is outspoken about not wanting to try a different sound, using perhaps a different embouchure or angle, I often counter with not being able to make a change cannot be our default. I like “dark” as enchanting. Next we should all tackle “artistry” itself and whether tone is as tied into artistry as it currently is.

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