|Posted on March 30, 2011 at 12:14 PM|
Here's another essential skill that falls into the "things they never taught you as part of your music education undergraduate degree" category.
A standard concert flute, from student models on up, have small screws on the right hand pad keys that adjust the height of each individual key above its respective tone hole. I na ver really understood why these adjustment screws were present - no other woodwind instrument has them. However, through typical use (and misuse) of a flute over time, the height of the pads above the keys can change. This will cause the flute to play normally on pitches above the affected key, but cause tonal and pitch problems at or below the affected key.
Small flat-head screwdriver is required to adjust these screws properly (an eyeglass screwdriver from your local department store works well). If you look at the body of the flute from the side as you tighten and loosen the screw, you will notice that the height of the key you are adjusting will change from making contact with the raised rim of the tone hole to floating above the hole and vice versa. When you adjust the screw, be sure to look at the left-hand keys of the flute as well. As you adjust a right-hand key height, you also affect one of the keys on the left-hand. There is a "perfect height" that you must adjust the right-hand key to create closure for that key without causing the left-hand key to open. Generally speaking, if you make an adjustment to one right-hand key, you typically have to adjust all of them.
If you have adjusted all of the screws and still are not getting improved pitch and tone, it is possible that one or more of the pads needs to be replaced, or a key has become bent and is not laying parallel to the body of the flute. Both of these situations are minor repairs that can be done on your own.
Dr. Cate Hummel, professional flute performer and teacher, added the following comments:
"You are right about bent keys and torn pads. Adjusting the screws won't do anything to improve how the pads seal with either of those problems. It is important to note that there is an adjustment key on the left hand as well that works the A key in combination with the Bb (that you don't finger) just above it. In the right hand, the adjustment screws control the balance between the fingered note and the F# key just above it. So if you turn the screw, you have to look to see whether the D, E or F closes completely in combination with the F#. Even if the fingered key is fully closed, if the F# or Bb key is cracking, everything below it won't work.
Different brands have the adjustment screws in different places. Some are on the top by the key cups and others are underneath the rods. High end flutes don't have the adjustment screws at all, but do it by balancing cork or felt on the little kickers.
I do adjustment screws all the time in lessons, but save pad work and bent keys for a repair person."
Thanks to Dr. Cate for the additional info. The tips I shared are based on my own on-the-job experience. If you are a flutist or an instrument repair technician and have any additional thoughts, please let me know.
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