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Lesson Focus: Take a good look and listen to the C#’s

Find the music for this study HERE.

This is a great study for addressing the tuning and colour of your middle register C#’s. This note is a formidable obstacle for many students but rest assured playing them in tune and with a great sound is very possible with the right type of work and set up.

Firstly, be sure that you have learned the rhythm, notes and articulations using the practice methods outlined in the previous study guides in this series. Don’t skip the basic fundamental work. It will be much easier to work on the lesson focus when you have a good understand and command of the basic elements.

STEP 1: Commit to understanding the nature of middle C#

I find that many people avoid this note on multiple levels.

  • Sometimes people choose to be unaware of the intonation. I say “choose” because it takes effort and practice to learn to hear where the note is supposed to sit. Almost no one is able to just hear if it is in tune or not without training their ear. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “I can’t tell” or “I thought it was in tune”. These are not good reasons to be playing out of tune. These excuses reflect your time investment in the process more than your ears.

  • Often people elect for the “quick fix” rather than making a long-term adjustment to their fundamentals. Compromising the sound to adjust the intonation is not a good fix. It is also not a step towards a good fix, it is just a step in the wrong direction and won’t turn into something much better unless you make a larger adjustment.

So how do you do it?

STEP 2: Train your ear

  1. Learn to identify your intervals

  2. Learn to sing your intervals

  3. Practicing hearing the C#s before you play.

I know this seems like more than a week of work and honestly, it is. Just start. Make a plan and bite off a little bit a day. Training your ear will improve more than just your C#’s.

STEP 2: Understand the fundamentals

When you play with proper embouchure position and technique, a beautiful, flexible C# becomes possible. Think of the C# not as a problem note, but as an indicator for the set up you are using to play across the board. When the headjoint is in the correct position on the lip and the jaw is in the correct place, the C# speaks in tune with a good sound easily and without major in the moment adjustment. Definitely view the tips video for this because it is not effectively explained in writing alone. Here are some tips for understanding the middle C#.

  • Think of this note as part of the low register in terms of air direction, positioning and sound quality.

  • Practice moving from lower notes upward without making a huge adjustment. It is common for people to aim too high for the C# thinking it is in the middle register.

  • Make sure the flute is low on the lip and the air direction is controlled and directed downwards at a 45 degree angle by the top lip and assisted by the bottom teeth or jaw moved back, same as when you are saying a deep “ah”.

  • Avoid rolling in to control the pitch. This compromises the sound quality.

  • Get to know your flute. I have two Brannens and the C#’s are in very different places. All flutes are different so there is always going to be some flexibility in what I am saying to match your equipment.

Obviously there is more to this study than middle C# but it will be worth it to really focus on handling it within the study. C# is not a problem that can be solved in a week but a really good effort will go a long way towards building your awareness of the issues surrounding it and how to tackle them going forward.

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