On the occasion of the publication of my article on Kazuo Fukushima’s Shun-San in Flute Talk May/June 2010 and Robert Dick’s upcoming masterclass in Bremen (July 6, 2010), I’d like to elucidate some ideas about multiphonics.
Working on Shun-San got me thinking about small-interval multiphonics (those with an interval of an augmented second or less). The first line of advice on how to produce these comes from Robert himself, and can be viewed here. His advice is fantastic, spot-on and humorful, I recommend viewing it.*
*Although I don’t agree with what Robert says in regard to offset G flutes or doing sit-ups, but that’s another story.
In my Flute Talk article, I touch on the subject of small-interval multiphonics. This passage has elicited some raised eyebrows and questions. To begin, I’ll site the passage:
Flutists often encounter difficulty with small-interval multiphonics because they are hung up on trying to produce a focus immediately. That is difficult to do when you are blowing in two directions at once. The irony of these small-interval multiphonics is, at first, you have to unfocus to get the sense of focus. Open up the embouchure hole and let both notes in. Initially there will be a lot of air, but with practice you can refine them. They will sound focused and rich because of the very low difference tone caused by a close interval. When you get the hang of playing these small intervals, it may help to focus on producing this difference tone rather than the individual notes themselves. That may seem strange but sometimes it works.
The first point of confusion may arise in that I assume the reader is already familiar with Robert Dick’s advice: get to know the dynamic range of each note first. Then, keeping a constant airspeed, use the angle of the air to find both notes. If you don’t research the gamut of air speed for each note, you’ll never find the small range of speed that overlaps and works for both.
This is what I meant by having to unfocus to get the sense of focus. You need a constant airspeed and a wide angle at first that will let both notes in. Please forgive my artistic crudeness, and the angles are unrealistic, but here hopefully you can see where the angles overlap. If your focus is too narrow at first, you may miss the range where the angles overlap.
Now, to explain that bit about the low difference tone. An explanation of difference tones can be found in Wiki. Often is is not an actual, distinct tone that I hear. Rather, it is just a low sort of humming sound, or it’s as if something opens acoustically at the bottom – a feeling rather than a sound.
I hope this has been of help. Some of those multiphonics in Shun-San are hair-raising! Even someone like me who has been familiar with them for years needs to put in serious practice time on them. It is a good refresher!
[later edit: here is a video tutorial on the subject.]
Q: Should I write in the fingerings for multiphonics? A: Yes. It saves time. It saves misunderstandings. Books go out of print, so please avoid naming multiphonics by number. I know writing or drawing in multiphonics can be a pain. If you have many of them and want to save time and ink, you could write the multiphonics with fingerings in your performance instructions so you need not repeat the fingerings in the score.
Q: How should I notate the fingering? A: Robert Dick has the most intuitive system, it is just a template of the layout of the flute’s keys. Carin Levine and Pierre Yves Artaud don’t draw the trill keys but refer to them with the letters “A” and “B”. A flutist unfamiliar with these books (esp. if they get out of print) won’t know what to do. If you need a template, you may use the jpg below (taken from Robert Dick’s Flying Lessons):
There is also a cheap downloadable font for Sibelius, Finale and text editors available here. I haven’t tried this out myself, so I don’t know how easy it is to use, but I like the results.
Q: Which multiphonic resource should I use? A: At the time of this writing, I would most highly recommend Robert Dick’s The Other Flute and Carin Levine’s The Techniques of Flute Playing. Do not use Bruno Bartolozzi’s New Sounds for Woodwinds.
Unless you are a flutist yourself, I would not advise using The Virtual Flutist. When a resource shows every single pitch that can be produced by a certain fingering, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a multiphonic can be created from these pitches. Try it with a live player before trusting a theoretical projection of the flute’s acoustic response.
Q: Can I just notate the main note and leave the multiphonic up to the player? A: Sure! Be aware though that on the lowest notes only harmonic multiphonics are possible. In layman’s terms, multiphonics are made possible by venting the tube at a certain location which causes the note to split. Low notes need the long tube of the flute. If we vent a key, we shorten the tube: therefore no low note. In short, the best range for “free” multiphonics is the middle register and up to the flute’s 3rd octave B-flat. At least that is the most comfortable for me.
Q: Can you trill a multiphonic? A: Depends. Almost all have the possibility to do at least a timbral trill. Check with your local flutist.
Q: Can you fluttertongue a multiphonic? A: Yes. Some very close multiphonics are actually easier with fluttertongue. This is assuming however, that the flutist can fluttertongue. It’s not always a given.