How to choose a new flute headjoint?
Ory’s Flute Tips
How to choose a new flute headjoint?
I was just asked this week by a student for my advice regarding how to choose a new headjoint and thought it would be a great topic for a new article for you.
In this article I’ll try to share with you my thoughts of what you should consider when testing different headjoints and help you figure out whether you actually need to change and purchase a new one (and who knows, maybe save you some money this way).
Let’s start with an important question first then:
⚠ Do you really need a new headjoint?
In my Intensive Masterclasses and online warm-up routine courses I meet constantly flutists from all over the world with a wide range of instruments, from simple student models up to top quality gold flutes worth ten thousands of dollars. But, do they really reach the full potential of their instruments?
Often, my answer would be definitely not. Most of the players (in any level) are able to discover that their current instrument and headjoint can produce very different results and that what they thought to be impossible with their current gear is actually possible with the right guidance and newly learnt skills.
If you think about changing, I’d suggest to first allow your teacher or another experienced player to try your instrument. While every flutist is physically different and each one has a different embouchure and way of playing, I believe another experienced player will able to assess what’s the potential of your headjoint and what it’s limitations.
I’ve sometimes tried some headjoints of the students that were really difficult to play with, limited their performance and then suggested them to consider to change the headjoint. In these cases the transformation after the change is enormous and makes totally sense to do. Otherwise, I’d suggest to first learn how to get the most of your current headjoint. By learning specific exercises during your practice time you can find out the real limits of your headjoint and expand those limits on a daily basis.
If you have decided that a change is really needed and you’re willing to take that step, here are my suggestions while testing them.
Become the Flutist You Wish to Hear.
Quickly and Efficiently in an Intensive Masterclass
What to test in the new headjoint?
While I know it’s very tempting to play your concerti and excerpts immediately, try first to get an impression of what does the new headjoint really allows you to get.
There are certain points I’d absolutely test and compare with the new headjoint:
There are tremendous differences between headjoints and their intonation. I’d recommend try the headjoint calmly in a quiet environment and use your tuner or tuner app on your phone to see how you flute reacts with the new headjoint.
After checking the tendencies of all the notes (just play a chromatic scale and notice which notes are problematic), you can as well let your tuner play a ‘drone’ note (constant note) and play slowly a 2 octaves arpeggio (major/minor) and listen carefully if you can easily adapt and fit the notes’ intonation to the right interval. More about the correct intonation with free exercises you can find in my article here.
🚥 Dynamic range and limits
When you test new headjoints you’d like to understand how far you can push the limits of the new headjoint – and specifically how much of a dynamic range you can achieve. Can you easily play a ppp note in all registers? How loud does the headjoint allow you play? How smooth is the transition between fff to ppp?
👅 Articulation and attack
You want to discover how quickly the headjoint reacts to your air. How clear and precise are the beginning of the notes in all registers. Since you are interested now in the beginning of the notes, playing a short note only would be enough. Take a scale and play only short notes and test whether you are happy with the beginning of the notes across all registers.
You can then play few quick articulated passages (such as Voliere, Mendelssohn’s Scherzo, William Tell Overture, Enescu’s Presto, Dutilleux Sonatine, Mozart’s Concerti, Beethoven excerpts and many more). These will allow you to understand how difficult or easy it is to play these demanding passages in our repertoire.
🎨 Colors range
You’d want to test the colors range the headjoint can allow you. Do you like and enjoy these colors? Is that the kind of sound you are looking for? Are the low notes rich enough for your taste? Can you get full and rich tone in the top register or is the tone too thin? How easily can you change between colors, even on the same note?
This is important because eventually this is how you’d sound with the new headjoint and you’d want to understand what kind of sound(s) can you get out of the headjoint.
🎯 Tone focus and air noise
Here you’d want to test and understand how easy or difficult is it for you to achieve focus across the different registers. At the same time you’d want to figure out how ‘dirty’ is the headjoint – how much air noise (‘hisss’ sound) is present when you play. Of course, you wouldn’t want to get an headjoint with a too dirty sound – that’s not why you’d switch to a new headjoint.
You can use this exercise to discover the focus potential of the headjoint. I normally teach this exercise with every student I work with in my online warm-up routine courses and Intensive Masterclasses and you can gain a lot of insights about the new headjoint with it.
🔝 Don’t forget: Set your priorities
A headjoint is very often also a compromise. In order to achieve some specific abilities of the headjoint you might need to slightly give up on something else. For example, it’s very popular to have headjoints with ‘wings’ next to the embouchure hole. While these help to focus the air and have quick and precise attack, they might slightly limit your colors possibilities. A headjoint that might sound amazing in the low register and help playing the low register very easily, might be slightly harder for the top register – and vice versa.
Therefore, you should know very clearly what you wish to get out of a new headjoint and how it should help you in comparison to what your current headjoint allows you.
👂 Seek for a professional to listen to you
If possible, have an experienced player listening to you while you test the headjoints. It’s good to have someone that can listen further away and give you feedback about the projection of the sound and how clean/dirty the sound is from the distance.
I hope this article gave you few ideas of what to consider when buying a new headjoint and will help you to find the perfect headjoint for you.
You are very welcome to leave your comments and questions,
Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN – Intensive Masterclasses in Vienna.