What is ‘tone color’ for flute, and why do you need to know about it?
Tone color is the quality of the sound you are either hearing or creating. Basically it is what helps you decide what adjective to use to describe the sound.
This is beyond whether or not someone has a good sound that is well supported. It is what you choose to do with the sound once you have learned how to play a good sound.
All of these adjectives are used to describe different aspects of a note. Some people like to assign colors to different qualities of tone. For example: something sweet and elegant could be pink, something intense and dramatic could be red, mysterious and distant could be silver, etc.
There is actually a medical condition where people can actually see colors when certain notes or keys are played. It is called Chromesthesia which is a form of Synesthesia.
Tone color is the quality of the sound you are either hearing or creating.
Billy Joel is one of many musicians said to have had this condition. He is quoted as saying:
“I would say the softer, more intimate songs — there’s ‘Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel), ‘And So It Goes,’ ‘Vienna’ and another called, ‘Summer, Highland Falls’ — when I think of different types of melodies which are slower or softer, I think in terms of blues or greens…When I [see] a particularly vivid color, it’s usually a strong melodic, strong rhythmic pattern that emerges at the same time. When I think of these songs, I think of vivid reds, oranges and golds.” — From an interview by Maureen Seaberg
Colors are created by the size and shape of the resonance chamber you use. This depends on your flute-barrel size and your throat and inside of your mouth size as well.
Every note vibrates at a specific frequency, like when you pluck a guitar string, you can see it move back and forth. If you were to grab the string while it was vibrating, you would muffle it, because you’ve interrupted the vibration.
As flute players our “mufflers” would be the size of the inside of our mouths, and how much of our sinus cavities we are using. Basically, the bigger the space inside of your mouth, the dark, richer, and louder the sound is going to be. The smaller and more concentrated space makes a thinner, sweeter and lighter sound.
There are endless possibilities of color combinations. Part of the adventure as flute players is to figure our new colors ourselves. Don’t be afraid to explore, you never know what you might create!
Tone color for flute players can be an endless conversation since there are thousands of shades to be explored. And, to take this one note further just think of the possibilities when different textures are added as well. Exciting!