The flute is one of the oldest instruments that we know of. In fact, there are fragments of instruments resembling early flutes that date back 40,000 years. It has undergone many changes since the days when it was made of bone.
However, there are two things about the flute that haven’t changed. The mouthpiece for blowing air and the holes needed to create notes.
The modern-day flute is a highly technical instrument that has evolved over the centuries. But one problem still exists among flutists today. That is how to improve the note E on the flute.
Three Types of Flute
There are plenty of instruments that you could call flutes, and it is easier to split them into three different kinds of flute.
- Fipple Flute – the recorder, ocarina, flageolet are common fipple flutes with the air duct built-in to direct the blown air.
- End Blown Flute – similar to Fipple flutes but without the air duct and not so common these days.
- Side Blown Flute – this is the flute that most people would picture in their mind when someone says flute.
The Side Blown Flute is what you will see in concert orchestras, four and five-piece bands, and even in rock music. Thijs Van Leer of Dutch band Focus, and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull are two great examples of amazing flutists in rock bands. It is the instrument we usually think of when someone says ‘flute.’
It is an open-ended instrument, and that creates the brightness of its timbre. Also, it allows more in the way of natural harmonics.
The progression of the flute over the years, as I mentioned, has been quite startling. Scale, pitch, and response have all been improved. And many of the most notable flute makers employ new technologies.
News designs and technologies to ensure that all of the notes you are playing are true to their pitch and stable. However, even for the most experienced flute players, there are challenges.
One of the challenges of playing the flute is the E and especially the third octave E. Depending on the player, this note may prove not to be as stable as others.
Not Just the Third Octave E
Different ‘E-notes,’ in all the octaves on the flute, are well-known for being problematic. Therefore, it might be worth treating some ‘E-notes’ as you would an ‘overtone.’ The fingering necessary to make an E-note can contribute to the problem. That is why it can be much harder to control.
What Is An Overtone?
If you blow a note too aggressively or even too hard, it may create the pitch of a higher note. The result is a note that you do not want. Of course, flutists most of the time do not want this to happen. This is what is known as an overtone.
A little one of those things that you need to learn to control through dedicated and good practice.
Is There Anything Else About The E-note?
Actually, yes, there is. The E, when played well, is one of the sweetest sounding notes on the flute. It is, therefore, worth spending some time and effort getting it right. But, there are other considerations when playing it you need to be aware of.
The E-note is quite a hard note to hit accurately. There are reasons for this. It is naturally more off-pitch than other notes. How much off-pitch will depend a little on the following:
- The condition of your flute.
- Flute manufacturer and model.
- The quality of the playing level of the flute.
- Your own experience and ability.
A Common Flute Concern
Flutes will often play the third octave E slightly sharp. They will also play the second octave E a little flat. This is an obstacle for new players and still represents a challenge to those with more experience.
It is something about the flute you need to learn how to deal with. Let’s consider some practical advice on how to play an E note on the flute.
As I mentioned, it could be beneficial to treat the middle E like you would an overtone. Possibly use a softer but faster airspeed. It will also help to create ‘head resonance,’ i.e., to let your air flow around your head before it comes from your nose. This will help your sinus cavities to resonate and vibrate as well.
To tackle the problem at High E, it will help to create a smaller embouchure than you normally would. And then try and direct the airflow into a much finer, projected delivery.
Two Mechanisms To Help You
Two innovations have been designed and implemented on some flutes to help with the ‘E’ problem.
The ‘E’ Facilitator
This is an added piece to the standard flute. It improves the response time of the third octave, the high E. It works by closing an extra key, improving the response time dramatically. Without the facilitator, the E is slightly flat, and this corrects that.
The ‘Split E’ Mechanism
This mechanism is not dissimilar to the Facilitator and is another reliable solution to E-note problems on the flute. It also improves the response of the third octave E by closing the lower G when you play a high E.
Let’s Identify The Problem
The third octave E on the flute is what is known as unstable. In other words, it can be off-pitch when played. The reason for this is that some of the keys on the flute have ‘partner keys.’ Meaning that when you press a certain key, its partner key is pressed down as well.
The Split E Mechanism lets a key function separate from its partner. So, when you press down on your E key, it will also press down the partner key, G, and also G’s partner key. The Split E prevents that actual G key from being pressed, only the G’s partner.
This also has an added rod included during the manufacture that adds a little bit of weight to the flute. It is not something you can add to a flute at a later date as it is built-in at the manufacturing stage.
Similar As You Can See
They are both alike in what they do and the results they achieve. Although, there are some small differences to consider.
- The Facilitator weighs less than the Split E mechanism.
- It is a cheaper option and doesn’t usually increase the price as much.
- The Facilitator can, in the first two octaves, lower the pitch of the ‘A’ note.
Some manufacturers are making the Facilitator a standard fitting. If you prefer a Split E Mechanism, you will need to specify it when buying, as some manufacturers also include that option. But that will also apply to the Facilitator option. You will need to specify the option you prefer:
- No Facilitator or Split E mechanisms at all.
- A Split E fitted.
- A Facilitator fitted.
A Bone Of Contention
As always, there are differing opinions on how to improve the note E on the flute. One side of the argument says that new technology has made something to solve the ‘E’ problem, and that is a good thing.
The other side says it is an unnecessary extra. It increases the price and makes the flute heavier. These are traditionalists who think that a good flute, plenty of practice, and you can solve the problem yourself.
It is going to be a personal choice whether you buy or upgrade to a flute with these additions. Here are some to consider:
- Azumi AZ1 Flute with Offset G and Split E Mechanism
- Yamaha YFL-222 Intermediate Flute for Student
- Yamaha YFL-362H Intermediate Flute Offset G B-Foot
- Eastar C Flutes Open/Closed Hole
Interested in Playing the Flute?
We can help with that. Have a look at our handy articles on How to Learn Flute Notes for Beginners, How Many Notes Can You Play On A Flute, How to Choose a Flute – B foot or C foot, How Much Does a Good Flute Cost, and The Difference Between Brass and Woodwind Instruments.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Flute, the Best Student Flute, the Best Ocarinas, the Best Tin Whistles, the Best Melodica, the Best Blues Harmonicas, and the Best Bagpipes you can buy in 2023.
How to Improve The Note E on The Flute – Final Thoughts
At some point, the starter always has to upgrade their instrument. It is then that you need to decide on which side of the argument you will sit.
Ultimately, though, remember this. Any additions to your flute do not mean you don’t have to practice so hard. There is no substitute for that. If you want a good stable E sound, which is important, you can achieve that with practice.
There are ways that you can improve the sound of your Es on the flute naturally and without additions. Even though at times it will be hard. Or there are the other options. The choice is your alone.
Until next time, let your music play.