Pitch and Tuning

Pitch and Tuning for Traditional Simple System Flutes

Our Simple System Traditional Flutes are tuned to modern concert pitch and have the note “a” above “middle c” pitched at a frequency of 440Hz. The tuning, or temperament, of the flutes are normally set to the historic tuning Werkmeister 3 which will be more in tune for the keys of D and G and their relative minor keys. If preferred, flutes can be ordered with an equal temperament tuning if players are, for instance, likely to be playing with other equally tempered keyboard instruments such as accordions and melodeons. If you are playing solo or in a general session of mixed instruments, then our standard mean tone tuning will suit better.

Pitch for Band Flutes

Our band flutes are tuned to the historic pitch known as High British Band Pitch which is the pitch used by most marching bands in the UK. High British Band Pitch is about half a semitone sharp of modern concert pitch and has the note a above middle c pitched at a frequency of 452H. (Concert Pitch has the note “a” at 440Hz).

Please note that it is not possible to play these flutes completely in tune at concert pitch. While it would be possible to pull the head joint out a long way to make the three finger note correct to concert pitch, the open, first and second finger notes will become flat with respect to the three finger note and the fifth and sixth finger notes will become relatively sharp. If you require these flutes to be at concert pitch please contact us as we can make Bb, F and Eb piccolos at concert pitch.

Tuning Temperament

It would be possible to tune the flutes to the temperament known as Equal Temperament. This tuning temperament is most commonly used for pianos and is a compromise to enable the piano to be played in all major and minor keys, without the minor thirds, major thirds, fourths and fifths being significantly out of tune. (There is a problem with the western music scale of 12 semitones to the octave which cannot be satisfactorily resolved. A perfect fifth for instance has a frequency ratio of 2:3 while this is 7 semitones out of the 12 in an octave. If the ratio of 7:12 were the same as 2:3 we would not have the problem but sadly this is not the case.)

There is therefore a potential problem when instruments of different keys are played with other instruments or in consort as is the case with band flutes in F, Bb and Eb. If they were each to be tuned to Equal Temperament, then the compromises which make it possibly to play comfortably (but slightly out of tune) in all the keys on a piano would result in some less than well tuned thirds and fourths.

This problem has been known of since the 16th Century and consort instruments have been tuned to various historic temperaments to enable better tuning between the instruments when they are played together. This works well providing the instruments are played in their “Home Keys”; for traditional flutes in D and G and for Band Flutes in Bb and F. If you were to try to play tunes on these instruments in some other keys then the tuning temperament can work against you and there could be some horribly out of tune intervals.

For our Band Flutes, the original Hawkes and Son Crown AZ flutes, which we used as the basis for our flutes, were tuned almost exactly to the historic temperament known as Werckmeister III. This is perhaps why these flutes are so much loved by flute bands as this is a tuning used by wind bands playing shawms and curtals back in the 16th Century. We have used the Werckmeister III tuning temperament as the basis for our flutes with a couple of very minor variations as flute bands don’t use deep bass instruments.

The upshot of all this is that hopefully you will agree that our flutes play comfortably well in tune.