Harmonics for flute

Finger a low C and find your best, beautiful sound. Now blow a little faster, see how a higher, smoky sounding note pops out? Now experiment a little bit. More air, less air, direct it higher up toward the ceiling, then down toward the floor. See all the different notes you can play with just one fingering? You can do this with almost all of your fingerings. These are harmonics.

Harmonics for flute are mystical, fun to play, and enchanting to the listener. 

 It’s almost like a second dimension of music, a dream of a note if you will.

Flute harmonics are basically layers of notes or frequencies that are contained in each note. As we blow at different speeds, we will wake up different notes that are hiding within the original note we played.

Another way of understanding what a harmonic note is would be to relate them to colors. Think ofharmonics for flute rainbow the color white. In the Additive Color Theory*, it explains that all color is light that has been refracted. So white or light is the combination of ALL the colors, but if you bend it the right way, you get specific colors. To our eyes,  all of those colors are contained in the color white. Just like colors, “hidden” notes are contained in an audible note. Playing a harmonic note is simply bringing out what was there the whole time, but was hidden.

Perhaps you have heard flute harmonics being played by a beginner playing the wrong fingering of a note. Especially when learning low notes, blowing the air at a wrong angle can cause harmonics to slip out. Or perhaps you yourself have slipped into harmonics!

Playing Harmonics on flute (on purpose), and making them sound good can take practice, mostly while controlling the angle of the air as blows across the flute. It is a feel, more than a technical fingering. Take time to play with your flute, and learn to control them. Even if you don’t use harmonic notes in any songs that you play, the extra practice gives you greater control over your airstream. When you properly incorporate it into a song,  it adds a great and unique sound to your playing style!

What have you learned about harmonics? Leave a comment below.

Rebecca Fuller Flute TeacherRebecca Fuller

 

 

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4 Comments

  • Jim Shea

    Reply Reply April 22, 2018

    I have a question.. on a brass instrument, harmonics is the name of the game.. trumpet has three valves.. a bugle, sometimes a valve and a trigger.. so, harmonics becomes vitally important, because you need to be able to play a whole lotta notes with each combination of fingerings. Flute’s a little different, because it has all those keys to work with… or is it? I had a teacher that was a stickler for harmonics… or, “flexibility exercises.” He began each lesson with them.. how many would you like to hear? Well, play all of them, of course. LOL .. start at the bottom.. play to the highest pitch you were able to reach, and back down. Almost like arpeggios. Until I got used to them, I could easily wipe out my chops, before we ever cracked open a book. LOL …. but I did turn a corner on that. It would be hard to say whether my lips developed muscle memory, or scar tissue.. LOL .. but I did teach them to be flexible. I have to think flute is much the same, yes? With all those keys to play with, the harmonics pattern out much differently.. but between the harmonics and scales and arpeggios.. that has to be the keys to flexibility? .. well, that.. and keeping the lip plate flat.. and all that air.. and of course long tones… and now I’m back where I was at the beginning! My chops are shot, before I ever open a book. 🙂 One of my favorite things…. you’re right.. hitting the harmonics is more of a feel.. but once you snag the first note, running up and down a scale on those harmonic pitches sounds way cool. .. very modal. 🙂 Ok, my comment is almost as long as the article, so, I best stop!

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply April 30, 2018

      Hey Jim, you’re right! We do have harmonics on the flute, and the more advanced you get the more you use. I definitely use harmonics exercises for my students – it’s a good idea! The only issue newer flutists have is that once they get used to one position (usually high) they have a really hard time remembering how to relax to get the low notes out again. Experiment and see how it goes for you. ~Rebecca

  • Jim Shea

    Reply Reply May 1, 2018

    I have noticed that. For such a long time, I thought I would never have any range. I still don’t have anything to write home about.. I can play pretty comfortably to third octave G. The A,B and C are still a bit beyond me. That’s fine. If I can’t make something happen with two and a half octaves, I may as well pack it up! : ) You’re right though.. once my lips find a comfort zone in that second octave, it can be pretty tricky to get them to go above or below that. So, I play around with octaves.. just to remind them who’s the boss. LOL That’s part of why I never have anything really prepared.. I can kill an hour or more, sometimes much more, just fooling around with intervals, or things like harmonics.. how much air.. trying to keep the position of that head joint and lip plate where it should be.. experimenting. In the end, all of that will be its own reward. I liken it to training a horse. People never want to spend the time on ground work. When I got my horse, he was certifiably crazy. For two years, I did nothing but ground work. Developed unbelievable trust and bonds. The first time I rode him, all that work paid off. There was no “breaking” him.. we just rode off, nice as could be. People were shocked at how good he was.. still is. I guess I’m doing much the same with my flute.. I like that comparison. : ) Much more important to me to spend the time learning my flute…. “ground work” .. all the rest will come in time.

    • RebeccaFuller

      Reply Reply May 8, 2018

      Yes, Jim. Ground work is everything. If we just purchase a new horse/flute and all we want to do is ride fast, yet we can’t even stay in the saddle and the horse doesn’t understand any of our scattered queues, we’ll get pretty frustrated very quickly…. moving in the order I have set here in the membership modules is the best way to keep on the path of success. For sure. Thanks for the comment. 🙂 ~Rebecca

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