Erin Spencer - flute expert

The Best Way to Put Curved Headjoints on Low Flutes

If you want to play an alto or bass flute, this video is for you!

In this video, Erin teaches you how to deal with curved headjoints, a feature of alto and bass flutes.

Released on February 3, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, guys. This is Erin back for another flute video here in Virtual Sheet Music. And today, we're going to talk about low flutes, but more specifically how to put a curved headjoint onto a low flute. Alto flutes can come with a curved or a straight headjoint, and the sound of a straight headjoint is always going to be better. But if you're playing a ton of alto or you're a smaller human in general, then a curved headjoint is probably a better fit for you.

Personally, I bought a alto with both because I want my students to be able to find also more accessible by using a curved headjoint, but then I can use a straight headjoint for all my recording and any time my sound is super important. For most altos when they are put away in the case, the headjoint is going to have to be rotated so that it can fit flat in here to an angle that is not conducive to putting it on the flute and getting a good sound.

If I take this out of here and put it on the body of the flute ... I just took this straight out of the case. And if I put it on the flute ... If I put it here, that's clearly not going to work. I would have to have my elbow up here. Now, I like to have my headjoint diagonal from the rods, which we'll talk about in a moment. But if I put it here, that angle doesn't work. If you put it straight behind it still doesn't work. You're going to have to rotate this part of your headjoint every time you take it in and out of the case. That's just a fact of curved headjoints. And the same is true for bass flute. That's just so the headjoint can fit nice and tightly in the case, and the case can be smaller without having this fly around in your case. Which you definitely do not want.

The basic principle here is that you want your keys and your tone hole to be parallel to each other. If you drew a line through your tone hole, then you would want that to be parallel with the plane of your keys. I personally like to do a diagonal setup. Some low flute players like to have their headjoint on top of their keys. For me, this pushes my shoulder too low and back. It's actually lower than what we would normally do with flute. Even if you're playing C-flute at an angle down like this, it's still just isn't ideal with how low it is for our shoulder.

Other people like to put the headjoint completely behind the flute, so it's at a parallel angle to the keys. The whole headjoint is parallel to the keys. For me, this position is less stable with the angle of the headjoint. Sometimes if you put it here ... if your headjoint is just a tiny bit loose and you push it onto your face, it'll actually push the headjoint down which definitely isn't good. And this headjoint isn't too loose, right? I don't recommend doing this, but I can hold it by just the headjoint. This is not too loose, but it can still just push it around if I have it parallel to the keys.

What I like to do, and what a lot of other good low flute players I've talked to like to do, is actually a 45 degree angle. So, I line it up with the rods of the flute. I line the middle of the headjoint up with the rods. I'll show you what that looks like.

From your angle, you can see that my headjoint is lined up with the rods here. If I leave my keys flat to the ground, it's about a 45 degree angle up. That's what we're looking for. Next thing you're looking for is that the tone hole, if you drew a line through it, is also parallel with the ceiling and the floor, and parallel to the flat keys on the alto flute. And this is looking good to me.

Let's test it out. Now, I love this position for alto because it does let my hands be a little bit more relaxed than if they're straight out in front of me, like this kind of angle would be. And I can push the end of the flute forward, and then my hands aren't quite as low and my shoulders not as cramped as if I have the headjoint on top of the keys. For me, this is really optimal headjoint positioning.

Now, it is important to put your headjoint at the same angle every time you play. Of course, you can experiment a little bit and see if a different angle works better for you. But once you find an angle that works really well, it's helpful to mark your headjoint there so that you can always put it in a consistent place. You still want to be able to pull out and push in and adjust intonation. But you can mark it either with just a Sharpie or with nail polish, which is what I'm about to do, to make sure that you play with it at a consistent angle.

If you don't put your headjoint at a consistent angle, your embouchure will not be able to develop the same kind of muscle memory as if your headjoint is at the same place every single time. And that also goes for C-flute. It's important to keep the angle of your headjoint to your keys the same every time you play. I'm going to go ahead and mark this with nail polish and then show you what it looks like, so you can see an example of how that works. All right. I have my headjoint all marked with nail polish. I did get a little bit on my fingers, but I'll show you up close what I did.

This is the part of the headjoint that you're going to have to rotate every time it goes in and out of the case. I wanted to make sure I marked this part. And you might be pushing and out a little bit here. Usually, most of our intonation will changes will come from here. But I just pull out a teeny tiny bit in general here at this joint. I just tried to get a dot on this part of the headjoint, and a dot or line on this part of the headjoint that are about the same width, so that I can see every time that they're lined up.

And then over here, I actually pushed all the way in and did a line. And then if you're pulling out, it's really easy to just make sure it's still lined up. But if you do it with it pushed in all the way, then you don't have to worry about rubbing it off from changing your intonation.

I'm going to let this dry before I put it back in my case, but all these same principles apply to bass flute. So, you want to get the headjoint itself lined up with the rods of the flute, and then make sure that the tone hole is flat to the keys, and then when you play the keys are flat to the floor. That will make a huge difference in your consistency on low flutes and your sound in general.

Thank you guys so much for watching. Let me know if you'd like to see more low flute videos. This is my newest flute baby. So, I'm very excited about it and would love an excuse to mess around with it some more. Thanks for watching. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on February 3, 2021 @10:17 pm PST
Thanks for this really good explanation of alignment of a curved head. I have taught young students on curved head C-flute and find that keeping the head joint over the main tubing, not rotated inwards, is very helpful in maintaining balance of the instrument and thus avoiding strain in the hands to keep the flute from rotating. I use this same alignment for Alto & Bass flute although you are correct in saying that it alters the right arm & shoulder somewhat. I feel that one should be able to hold the flute away from the chin without it rotating in the hands in order to have freedom of finger motion and minimal stress in holding the instrument. Absolutely, the tone hole of the headjoint needs to be in the same plane as the tone holes in the body of the flute. Thanks for excellent presentation.
Erin Spencer - host, on February 4, 2021 @9:09 am PST
Hi Elizabeth! I'm glad to hear your experience teaching young kids with curved headjoints. I can definitely see how it would be different for them. I have only taught two littles on curved headjoints. But I think the Nuvo flute donut-style headjoints look awesome for little kids. Thanks for watching Smiley Face
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