Advice for Composers

Style Guide for Composers

If you are a composer looking for general-purpose layout advice, or a performer/group looking for a single page reference guide to give to the people who write for you, here is a document my colleagues and I at Musikfabrik have come up with. It is by no means exhaustive. One could read the 704-page Behind Bars by Elaine Gould, but we have tried to distill everything on to one page. Ideally the second page will have links to specific instrumental techniques. I should also apply the disclaimer that these guidelines reflect our own ensemble culture at the present time.

Here is the link in case the embedding does not work below:

Advice for Composers extended techniques

Extended Techniques for Flute – Notation Cheat-Sheet

So here is my attempt to get a lot of information to you quickly and succinctly via Google spreadsheets. The photo quality is not so good, but this way I can make quick changes, and you are always viewing the latest version. This is not an exhaustive overview of all notation practices – it is a quick-fix if you are looking for a standard, acceptable notation.

You can go to this document directly and download it as a PDF or view it here:

Advice for Composers low register microtonality

Glissandi and Quarter Tones on the Lowest Notes

I often get asked if (lipped) 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:

The lowest notes on the flute

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 🙂