Fingering Diagram Builder, version 0.6

I have just released version 0.6 of the Fingering Diagram Builder. It’s almost a maintenance release, that mostly just attempts to fix a few problems and add a little polish. Your suggestions and bug reports are, as always, welcome (as are your donations, social media pings, links, etc.). Go play around with it or read on for the details.

New hotness
New hotness

Here’s what’s new:

  • The user interface got a minor facelift and some usability improvements. For example, if you dare to use the “Keywork details” tab, you may notice that the menu stays a little more manageable size-wise, and if you’re working at a desktop monitor you can tweak things without losing sight of the diagram.
  • Several of you wrote in to point out that the Dropbox functionality had become broken. Dropbox changed some things on their end and I got a little behind on making the necessary adjustments on my end. Long story short, the FDB now uses Dropbox’s slick little popup thing if you want to save your fingering diagrams there. You might have to enable popups for the FDB in your browser. Also, if you’re not using Dropbox yet, how do you even survive?
  • Valved brass instrument diagrams have been around since version 0.2, but they were little-known because for some reason I lumped them in with the simple-system flutes. I know. They are much easier to find now. You can stop writing in to ask if I know of a website that does diagrams for brass instruments.
  • If you are into creating custom styles, you can now include your selected instrument as part of those if you wish.
  • The Creative Commons license has been updated to version 4.0. That really just means that some of the legalese underlying it has changed. You’re still totally free to use the diagrams for your not-for-profit projects, or to hit me up and make the necessary arrangements if you want to use the diagrams to make something you’re going to sell. (Here’s a cool example of something made with literally one bazillion FDB diagrams: it’s a book.)
  • I did a bunch of other stuff under the hood to improve stability and speed and to lay groundwork for future improvements.

As always, there are more improvements in the works. I usually wait until I have more of a “wow” feature to show off before doing a release, but I wanted to get a fix out there for the Dropbox users. Enjoy!

Making sense of third-octave flute fingerings

I recall as a beginning flutist (coming from background in saxophone) finding the third-octave fingerings to be a confusing, illogical jumble, but they do actually make some sense. There is an incorrect explanation for these fingerings that I hear every so often, and have seen published on a couple of flute-related blogs recently. It goes something like this: the flute’s third-octave fingerings are some kind of combination of two different first/second-octave fingerings. For example:

ta4 + te5 = te6 ?
1424179983 1424179997 1424180007

Or…

tbf4 + tf5 = tf6 ?
1424180013 1424180018 1424180777

If I squint my eyes just right I can sort of see how this almost makes sense fingerings-wise and overtones-wise, but ultimately this system is unnecessarily confusing and also doesn’t reflect acoustical realities.

Here’s a better way to look at third-octave flute fingerings: they are the same as the first/second octave fingerings, with a vent opened. This is very similar to how upper registers are achieved on the reed instruments: by adding an octave or register key or releasing a whisper key to open a vent. Since the flute doesn’t have dedicated vent holes, toneholes are used.

For some of the third octave notes, additional keys must be added or subtracted to improve pitch, tone, or response; again this is analogous to the systems used for the reed instruments. But here are the simplest examples of opening single vents for the third octave:

te5  open vent te6
1424179997 1424183194 1424180007
tf5 open vent tf6
1424180018 1424183208 1424180777
tfs5 open vent tfs6
1424184167 1424183218 1424184173
tg5 open vent tg6
1424184151 1424183227 1424184158

It is probably worth pointing out that having any “system” for remembering fingerings is just a crutch; for a performing musician, the only practical “system” is to thoroughly habituate them to the point that no conscious thought is required. Practice carefully and be on the alert for dubious pedagogy.

Make your own handsome woodwind fingering diagrams with the Fingering Diagram Builder

Voicing: stable vs. flexible

I have discussed here previously the importance of proper voicing for woodwind instruments. In a nutshell, voicing is the configuration of the oral cavity, manipulated by moving the back of the tongue.

There seems to be some debate about voicing: is it something static, or something that changes from note to note? I find that the answer is, sort of, both.

photo, stonelucifer
photo, stonelucifer

For beginning woodwind players, tone, intonation, and response (virtually every aspect of tone production) can be improved by habituating a single, stable, “correct” voicing. When this is accomplished, an ideal woodwind instrument, which of course does not exist, would play perfectly in tune, with perfectly consistent tone from note to note, and with perfectly even and reliable response.

An instrument that is merely good will do these things well, but imperfectly. A more advanced musician can use small and temporary voicing adjustments to improve individual notes by altering their pitch, tone, or responsiveness. Doing this requires a “stable” voicing as a stepping-off point, fine control of the mechanics of voicing, and an ear trained to hear notes that are out of tune, uncharacteristic in tone, or problematic response-wise.

So, in general, when working with beginning students or others with significant tone production issues, the goal is to work toward a stable voicing that stays the same from note to note, but with more advanced students the goal is to learn to adjust the voicing ever so slightly to improve each note as needed.