Multiphonics: more notes – more fun

“Your teacher made you play this study, didn’t he?” That was the first question I got after playing two bars of a study by Robert Dick. The study involved a lot of multiphonics and this was my first piece with multiphonics. Well, he was right. My teacher made me study this piece. I didn’t understand it at all at first.

A multiphonic is a combination of two (or more) tones that we play on the flute at the same time. For this we need a different fingering to play both notes at the same time. There are more than a thousand possibilities. Playing a flute with open holes allows you to play more multiphonics, because you can also work with a semi-closed key.

Multiphonics are very interesting and teach us a lot about the flute. All the things we learned playing the traditional way don’t really work for multiphonics. Let’s take this multiphone as an example:

From: The Flute Colors book,

We need to play the C5 and D6 at the same time. Normally we have to increase the airspeed to get from the C5 to the D6. But if we do that in this case, we get the D6, but lose the C5. And vice versa. If we lower the airspeed, we get the C5 but lose the D6.

One way to approach this is to use vowels. Use the vowel “aw” as in “law” to play the low C5 (use the fingering of D6). Find the right airspeed and don’t force the sound. It will sound like a weak bamboo like C5.

Now gradually change the vowel in ‘ee’, as in ‘cheese’. Don’t increase the airspeed (too much) but rely on the vowel change. Maybe you’ve already managed to play the two notes at the same time, maybe you haven’t. Play with this concept for a while. Experiment with the vowels. Finally, we need to combine the vowels “aw” and “ee” to play both notes at the same time.
A common mistake is that we do increase the airspeed. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it. Become aware of that.

Dynamics are very important. Not every multiphonic works in every dynamic. So look at the dynamics. If it says “pp,” the multiphonic probably works best with a slower airflow. If it says “ff”, you can do more.

You can also experiment a bit with turning the flute in or out. Some multiphonics work better if you turn the flute in or out a little bit.

If you’ve done all the work of practicing a multiphonic, my personal experience is to just go for it in a piece!


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