The Virtual Flute How To Guide
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1. Click the keys of a fingering to search for all its predicted notes and multiphonics

This tool gives the predicted notes and multiphonics, if applicable, for any given fingering. It's a good way to check multiphonic possibilities. It's also a good way for you to check how well our model works. Can you play all the notes suggested? Does the ease of playing agree with our 'playability' rating? Are they in tune?*

To use this tool:

  • Specify your flute on the diagram - B foot or C foot, split E mechanism or not - by clicking on the checkboxes. (If you have a split E fingering, the fingering for E6 will leave only one hole open between LH3 and RH1. Without this mechanism, two holes are open.)
  • Click on the keys to enter the fingering.
  • If you don't mind awkward fingerings, you could click "Allow unconventional finger positions". (See Unconventional flute finger positions.)
Then click "Search" and The Virtual Flute calculates the predicted notes. If the notes are not in a harmonic series (see Search for a multiphonic fingering) you will usually be able to play two or more of them as a multiphonic. Note that most of the standard fingerings have notes in a harmonic series, so they usually do not play multiphonics.
* Flutists, flutes and flute adjustments vary! Please note that the pitch results may not be accurate for your particular flute, its adjustments (slide and cork positions, open key heights) and your embouchure. (See also A note on flute models.)

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The predicted ease of playability, from most playable  ()  to least playabile  (
Fingerings which are predicted to have a dark, or dull timbre
Multiphonic fingerings which are predicted to have an optimal note distribution for the given chord (see Search for a multiphonic fingering)
Post a comment on a given fingering
View the complete list of predicted notes and multiphonics for a given fingering

2. Select a note from the list to search for an alternate fingering, trill or microtone

This tool allows you to find alternative fingerings that may be:

  • useful in fast passages or trills;
  • easier to play in certain contexts;
  • have different timbre from the standard fingering;
  • have intonation that differs from the standard fingering;
  • play microtones.
The number of fingerings for notes ranges from one (for B3 or C4) to several thousand (e.g. for C#5). The number varies with the pitch and with the length of tube in use.

Depending on musical context, you may wish to include certain keys, i.e. specify which keys you want to hold down, or exclude certain keys, those that would be inconvenient to touch. For a trill fingering, include the pressed keys from one note in the search of the alternate note. The Virtual Flute will return a number of fingerings that play the desired note with a range of pitch and timbre; you can choose the one that suits best.

You can rank fingerings by the following criteria:

  • intonation (default): ordered by the deviation in cents (whether sharp or flat) from the standard note frequency;
  • playability: ordered from most playable  ()  to least playabile  () ; and
  • darkness: ordered from most dark, or dull  ()  to most bright in timbre.
Browse the User comments page for good examples of how musicians have used this tool.

Finding trills

Example: To find a trill from G#6 to A#6. Search for A#6, but specify that it must include the keys of the fingering you like for G#6 (e.g. Th, LH2, LH3, G#, D#). The search returns several useful trills.

Example: To find a trill from F6 to A6. Search for an F6 fingering that includes Th, L2, R1, D#, the standard fingering for A6. One fingering from the search result is Th 1 2 3 | 1 tr2 D#, which gives a comfortable trill.

Alternatively you may decide to exclude certain keys.

Example: To find a trill from Eb5 to F5. Search for F5, but exclude the keys that would be awkward to reach from your Eb5 fingering (e.g. exclude tr1, tr2, Bblever, C, C#, B, gizmo). Again you'll find that the search returns useful options from which to choose.

Finding microtones

When you search for alternate fingerings, the default ranking of fingerings is by intonation, so similar pitched notes are grouped together. If you are looking for quarter tones, start looking at the end of the list by clicking  () , where the notes will approach 50 cents sharp or 50 cents flat. (There are 100 cents in a semitone.)

* Flutists, flutes and flute adjustments vary! Please note that the pitch results may not be accurate for your particular flute, its adjustments (slide and cork positions, open key heights) and your embouchure. (See also A note on flute models.)

3. Search for a multiphonic fingering

Each fingering plays a handful of notes and, if some of the notes are not harmonically related, the fingering can produce multiphonics. Not all pairs of notes can be played simultaneously. When The Virtual Flute finds a fingering for your requested multiphonic, it is up to you to work out how to blow, which notes to get and to check the intonation.

The multiphonics tool allows you to search for two note and three note multiphonics. You can also perform searches with a single note to find all two note and three note multiphonics which include that note. This feature is particularly useful for composers. Simply enter a single note at the three note interface of the multiphonics search.

The likelihood of playing a multiphonic depends on the pitches of the inharmonic notes in relation to the remaining notes of the fingering. Ideally, the notes of a multiphonic are adjacent to each other in a fingering's frequency-ordered sequence of playable notes. For example, consider a fingering which plays the notes C5, D6, G#6 and B6. The notes C5 and D6 are not harmonically related, and furthermore, no playable note lies between them. The Virtual Flute denotes these optimal multiphonic fingerings with a  ()  icon.

In the bottom one and a half octaves of the flute, multiphonics are rare, but they become much more common in the higher range. Multiphonics involve cross fingerings: a hole open with the next several keys closed. These fingerings work best for low notes when they use the three small holes on the flute (the two trill keys and the key operated by LH1). Opening these keys tends to produce notes around C5-D#5, so there are many multiphonics in the middle range of the flute in which one of the played notes falls in this range. In the high range, the larger holes work for cross fingering and so there are many more possible multiphonics.

* Flutists, flutes and flute adjustments vary! Please note that the pitch results may not be accurate for your particular flute, its adjustments (slide and cork positions, open key heights) and your embouchure. (See also A note on flute models.)

Unconventional flute finger positions

In the diagram below, the keys that your fingers normally touch are white with a bold outline. The shaded keys are not touched in conventional fingerings, but you may use them for some alternate, microtonic and multiphonic fingerings.

  • The A# key lies between the '1' and '2' keys of the left hand.
  • The G key and the F# key lie between the LH3 key and the RH1 key.
On the interactive graphic for The Virtual Flute, these keys are normally grey and inactive. Clicking the box "Allow unconventional finger positions" makes them coloured and clickable. When you search for alternate, microtonic or multiphonic fingerings, the search will normally not return fingerings using the unconventional fingering positions. If you select the checkbox however, fingering possibilities including unconventional positions will be included.

In addition to fingerings that include keys that are not normally touched, there are many fingerings that are difficult to finger because they simply include too many pressed keys. Ensuring that the "Allow unconventional finger positions" option is not selected will remove these fingerings from the search results. When this is done, no fingering should contain more pressed keys than fingers on a hand (except for the foot keys, which can be multiply selected reasonably easily).

A note on flute models

How well will The Virtual Flute work for your particular instrument?

Most modern flutes can be played using the same fingering, because their key systems and tone hole placings and sizes are fairly similar. For the same reason, The Virtual Flute will work for most flutes. However, just as the intonation or ease of playing may vary slightly from one instrument to another, The Virtual Flute's predictions may have small errors for your instrument. (The predictions of The Virtual Flute are based on a Pearl PF-661 flute.)

One variant key system is the Boehm flute with open G# - the system that Boehm preferred because of its elegance and simplicity. Most of The Virtual Flute's fingerings can be easily converted for open G#, simply by reversing the use of the G# key. (This conversion does not apply when fingerings have both of the G# keys open: when the G# key is pressed, but neither LH3 nor RH2 is pressed.) Much rarer are flutes with separate C# and register keys. The properties of any fingering which includes one of these keys will not be predicted accurately by The Virtual Flute.

The Virtual Flute © 2001-2014 Andrew Botros