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 a mean tone tuning 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 Alpha Omega 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 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 a note 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 if necessary.

Temperament for Band Flutes

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 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 etc between the flutes.

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”; in our case Bb and F. If you were however to try to play tunes on these instruments in say the keys of F# or E, then the consort tuning temperament would work against you and there would be some horrible out of tune chords between the instruments in the consort.

The original Hawkes and Son Crown AZ flutes were tuned almost exactly to the historic temperament known as Werckmeister III and 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. If anyone is keen to understand more on this subject then I will be pleased to get out the charts and talk through the details over a long evening in the pub perhaps. There are also numerous sad web sites (see our links page) devoted to the ins and outs of a gnats knee on this should you desperately need to know more.

The upshot of all this is that hopefully you will agree that our band flutes play well in tune with each other.