The panflute is a diatonic instrument. Nevertheless, chromatics are possible by making use of flattenings. These flattenings can be done in several ways:
1. changing the angle of blowing into a pipe by tilting the instrument. The bottom of the instrument will be moved away from the player slightly;
2. lessening the tension of the lips;
3. lowering the speed of the air;
4. pressing the instrument more against the lower lip, causing the pipe to be covered more;
5. making a backward movement with the jaw to cause a slight tilt in the flute;
6. partially covering the top of the pipe with a finger.

The last method is at times indeed a very handy solution, but normally a combination of the first five methods will be used to realise a flattening. Having said this much, it follows that when the flute is held vertically or is even tilted backwards (with the bottom of the flute moved slightly towards the player), or when the lip tension and the speed of the air are increased, the tone will become higher in pitch. In practise it is hardly possible to raise the pitch by half a tone; this is only possible from the fourth octave, and the most that can be reached before that is a quarter tone from the second octave. Therefore, chromatics on a panflute can only be done with flats. A sharp will be played as a flat on the next pipe in pitch.

In short, on a panflute only the diatonic intervals from the C or a scales can be played on a flute in C. All other intervals are derived from these, and are realized through intonation. This leads to the remarkable phenomenon that, on panflute, a minor second is actually a prime in distance and movement, a minor third a second, a major third a fourth, or a major second a third.

Minor second is prime

Major second is third

This example shows that a major second on A is a diminished fourth on panflute; this interval is played on the pipes E and A.

This example shows how a minor third on G sharp is played: on the pipe A and B. A panflute player is used to this phenomenon, and will read as easily in D major as in F major. Enharmonic notation is therefore not necessary.

A flattening in itself is not too difficult to do. But, the lower the register, the more effort it takes to reach the right pitch. The movement becomes larger as the pipes do. Still, the context will always determine whether a flattening is possible or not. The change between flattened and normal tones determines the difficulty of the passage.

Sometimes the flattening in itself is not the problem, but the normal tone. This is the case when more tones are flattened than not. Playing a chromatic scale at a high tempo is simply always difficult, although it is not impossible. Of course, the required speed will always be the most important factor. In some instances fingerings can help. A trill, A flat - A, for example, can only be done by moving a finger on the A pipe. For this, the player needs sufficient time to place and remove the finger; while moving the hands the instrument is out of balance. This also goes for a trill such as C - D flat. This technique does require a player with large hand in the lower register. The lower pipes are comparatively long and the (left) hand needs to be able to support the bottom of the flute. This can often be done with the thumb, while the index or middle finger are used for the flattening. As soon as the length of the pipe exceeds the length of the thumb and index finger, this technique is no longer possible.

A trill B flat - B can be done in two ways. With the finger technique, or by flattening both the B and C pipes and playing those in quick succession. A C flat will sound as a B.

These enharmonic tones, then, influence the movements that need to be made. On a flute in C, one pipe need to be skipped to play a G/e scale:

But again enharmonic tones can help to get rid of the 'hole' in between e and g (f sharp), by playing the e on the f pipe by flattening the latter.

Whether this last option is suitable for the player, depends on speed, articulation, dynamics and sound colour. Flattenings have the tendency to be softer and have a different sound colour from unflattened tones. A choice will always have to be made between these parameters; the context determines which is more important. When there is plenty of time, an open sound is required, and a portato is written, the choice will
be to play the E on the E pipe. However, when the passage is fast, soft and legato the preferred playing method will be the second option, an E on a flattened F pipe.


Double Flats

The particular characteristic of flats to be softer than unflattened tones opens up new possibilities. The tones C D E, apart from being played on the corresponding pipes, can also be produced on the pipes D E F with the help of double flats for D and E. The F pipe only requires a half tone flattening. The double flat version will sound much softer, more intimate and more introvert. Here is another example:

In the case where the G is played on the G pipe, it will differ mainly in colour from the previous tones, as these are flattened. Should the G be played on an A pipe, this colour difference will be much smaller. This is the preferred option when the passage has to be played softly. This technique I have named 'couvré', since the essence lies in covering up the pipes with the lips to a great extent.

Verso by Ron Ford is a very good example of a piece that makes use of this technique. An immense difference in dynamics is realised by first playing a very strong unflattened tone, to be immediately followed by the neighbouring higher pipe in a double flat, in order to produce the same tone with extremely soft dynamics.

Another example:

On a panflute the tones A and F are situated next to the G. This pipe will have to be skipped to play to play the example above. This is not the case when the F is played on the G pipe, which enables true legato playing. This method can be applied when articulation is the most important factor, the dynamics not stronger than mezzo piano and when the F is that last note in the phrase. It would be a very different thing, were the F to be followed by an unflattened tone, for example a C a quarter down. In that case, the colour of the double flat F would stand out in a negative way and too much energy will be lost by tilting the flute and making the jump between G double flag and C. This will be very audible.


Double Tones

On panflute, the following intervals can sound simultaneously:
- Minor and Major Second
- Small Third
- Octave and Fifth (the latter will be out of tune)

The second and third are produced by blowing on two adjacent pipes at the same time. Since the panflute is a diatonic instrument in C, only the minor second e-f (or e flat - f flat) and b - c (or b flat and c flat) are possible. All other double tones are major seconds.

There is a trick to increase possibilities, however. By lowering the shortest pipe (highest in pitch) by half covering it with a finger, you can create a minor second on all pipe combinations. By covering the longer pipe (lowest in pitch), you can create a minor third.

Because two pipes are blown at the same time, this technique requires a lot of air, especially in the lowest register. Furthermore, the dynamic range is limited as the air pressure needs to be relatively strong, making piano double tones almost impossible.

Flattened double tones break rather easily when played strong. Good examples of second double tones can be heard in Lifebirds by Timuçin Sahin. A misunderstanding with the composer forced me to look for this technique, for which I now am very grateful.

The interval octave and fifth can be realized by overblowing and thus playing the first harmonic of the pipe. The trick then is to play right at the breaking point of the pipe, so that the ground and the harmonic sound simultaneously. This works best when the ground is a flat. The effect works really well, and can be heard in the piece Drei Steine Hoch (1999) by David Helbich.

De eerste maat van Free the Birds (1999) van Chiel Meijering. Hier hoeven geen vingers te worden gebruikt om de verlagingen te maken: de samenklinken de tonen zijn allebij verlaagd.

Eerste maat van Drei Steine hoch van David Helbich. Hierin wordt een combinatie van verschillende mogelijkheden gemaak, waaronder de dubbeltoon. De dubbeltoon is hoorbaar doordat de fluitist het moment opzoekt waar de grondtoon overgaat naar de1e boventoon.



These are the dynamic properties of the instrument:
- An average of mf - mp;
- The lower register sounds softer than the higher register;
- Flattened pipes as a rule sound softer than unflattened pipes;
- A high tempo combined with jumps diminishes the dynamic range; piano in the higher register will become more difficult, forte in the lower registers.

Dynamic differences can be made extreme on panflute, especially when good use is being made of the natural dynamics of the instrument. Double flats are the solution for playing very softly. A good example for this is Verso by Ron Ford. In this work a sforzato is repeatedly followed by a pianissimo, at the same pitch. This can be done by playing the sforzato on the pipe matching the pitch, and the pianissimo on the pipe one pitch higher in double flat. Harmonics can at times also be used, when the score asks for high and soft pitches. Harmonics will be discussed in a later section. Of course, the sound colour will change when using these techniques.

As ever, context determines what the dynamic range is. The available time also makes a big difference. The longer a tone can sound, the softer of louder it can be played. The bigger the distance between pipes, the shorter the time they can sound as the movement from one pipe to the next takes time. This is also true for soft passages: even though the pipe sounds for a shorter period of time, the pipe still needs time to produce the initial sound. When there is little time to produce sound, more force will be needed to make it happen, making it impossible to play the pipe at its softest. These are general rules,that are good to keep in mind when exploring the extremes of the instrument.

There are many examples of pieces with fast passages and plenty of jumps that still sound forte. A good example of this is PERFLA by Daan Manneke, for panflute and organ. The dynamics could have been stronger, however, if the tones had had more time to sound. Fast passages could also be extremely soft when played entirely as double flats, but then it should be written in double flats in the first place. The danger of out of tune playing increases considerably, though.


Fluttertongue Frulatto

This technique is known on most wind instruments and works very well on panflute. By moving the tongue inside the mouth, the air stream is continually disturbed; compare pronouncing a sharp R for a while in one airstream. Since an R needs a more or less constant airstream, it is rather difficult to play this softly. Also a legato where one or more pipes are skipped is very difficult.



The glissando that I want to discuss first is the glissando on one pipe. As was mentioned before, only flattenings are possible on panflute. For chromatics the player changes the air pressure, embouchure and the position of the flute to such an extent that the original tone becomes half a second lower. It is possible, however, to flatten far more than that; for the smaller and higher pipes even more than a sixth. To play a flat on the lower pipes, a much larger movement needs to be made in comparison to the higher and smaller pipes.

The example below shows how much more flexible the higher pipes on panflute actually are. It needs to be noted that the dynamic possibilities become more limited as the flattening becomes bigger, the tone becomes softer and the colour changes: it sounds more and more closed - which is exactly what happens to the pipe.

A melody of which the main tones are connected to each other with glissandi will never have one colour. The same dynamics are theoretically possible, but then the note material has to be chosen very carefully. The glissandi cannot be to big, for example. The player will then look for a solution in double flats, as a normal playing of the pipe will always sound louder and more open than the flat.

The second way of making a glissando on panflute, is to move past several pipes without articulating them. This is very much a stereotypical way of playing. Such a glissando, on principal, will consists of tones from the diatonic scale according to the tuning of the instrument (C major, a minor, C flat major, a flat minor).

When there is time, a finger can be put on the pipe that should sound half a tone lower. The flat will not be clearly audible, as it will be softer in comparison to the other notes. The next pipe will also sound less clearly, because the finger inevitably also covers part of that pipe.

In Memoriam Toru Takemitsu (1997), voor 5 panfluiten van André Douw. Dichte pijlpunten geven een glissando over meerdere pijpen aan, de open pijlpunten een glissando op 1 pijp.

Bird (1999) van Gerard Beljon.


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