I often get asked if glissandi and quarter tones are possible on the lowest notes of the flute. Sure, I say, theoretically. Nine times out of ten, I regret this positive answer. Here are the notes in question:
On these notes, glissandi and quarter tones are produced with the embouchure. There are no open holes to help. This is also true for Kingma system flutes, although they can easily start quarter tones from D. Since the tube is long (especially if the flute in question is alto or bass), don’t expect large-interval glissandi.
Lipped glissandi that follow the easy (but not hard-and-fast) rule work well:
- Glissando upwards with crescendo
- Glissando downwards with decrescendo
Since quarter tones must also be produced with the embouchure, there are limitations of speed and accuracy. And the bigger the flute, the the longer the tube and the less pitch flexibility you have.
Bear in mind that notes that are lipped down will have a diffuse character that will not carry well in an ensemble situation. Notes that are lipped up will carry easier, but may have a higher air component.
These are just caveats, not prohibitions. It’s always good to ask your local flutist for advice 🙂
Here is a tutorial for composers interested in specifying consonant articulations (p, b, k) and vowel colorations (o, a, i) for flute. Or for those who are interested in combining text with flute sounds. There are different contexts that can be applied. In the first few minutes I talk about phonemes and aeolian (air) sounds. The later bit refers to phonemes combined with a traditional flute sound, and this is where things get trickier: