Playing an Unknown Wooden or Bamboo Flute

If you have a flute that you don’t know or forgot what the key was, here’s what you can do:

Use a Chromatic Tuner which can read the Instrument sound just from listening to the audio (not the clip-on kind that reads vibration, unless your opening is big enough to fit one)

You can use a Software version for your phone, such as this one

  • Start in a very silent environment, without any noise or wind etc.
  • Plug all of the holes in your flute, to play the “Fundamental Key”
  • Blow into your flute to make the lowest sound possible
  • Read the note on the chromatic tuner
  • Try blowing harder or softer to see how the tuner reads the changes
  • At the point you are in tune, or the closest in tune, is the ideal blow pressure amount
  • The Note that it reads when all holes are covered is the Fundamental Key of your flute, or the key of the flute prior to drilling holes, even, based on its length and chamber.
  • Try using a few different tuners, software and device to get a good baseline read

Most every note can be made using more than one fingering pattern, so you can either use your tuner to figure out each step of the scale and write it down, or use the chart above for an average 6 hole flute, or search online for other charts with how many holes your flute has.

The sounds your flute makes at those fingerings could vary or be different, so you should use your tuner and see what key they make at different blow pressures, try varying the finger pattern to get the right note for your flute, and mark that down as the scale.

I’ve included a blank Fingering Chart you can fill in with the help of a Chromatic Tuner.

Hole 1 is farthest from your mouth at the bottom, and hole 6 is closest to your mouth.

Most similar Chinese Flutes have their Fundamental Key Names after the sound created by plugging only the top 3 holes, instead.

The shorter your flute is, the higher it will be. If you cut off about 25mm from the end of your flute, the Fundamental Key of the flute should go up a full step. Likewise, if you add 25mm to the end of the flute, the Fundamental Key should go down a full step.

Making slightly wider holes will lower the sound bit by bit, and making the holes smaller will raise the tone bit by bit.

Sounding and venting holes can also be drilled to tune or adjust tone etc.

Tone, range & octave tuning are also effected by Wall thickness, making a larger or smaller air chamber.

Some Flutes can come apart or be extended in the center, to tune the flute by extending it out along a tightly-fitted internal piece

Opening a finger hole on your flute is the same as cutting off a bit of your flute, or shortening your flute, reducing the overall flute chamber space, and raising the pitch slightly. The more holes that are open, the higher the sound will be.

But you don’t need to worry about it being exactly in tune, that takes away from the beauty of wooden & bamboo flutes, and it’s uniquely haunting or ethereal sound.

You can cover a hole only partly, to achieve a different note as well, and each flute will have its own sweet spot for partial covering, anywhere from 1/4 of the hole covered to 2/3 of the hole covered.

To play a song:

  • Tap it out on the piano or pick it out on guitar or ukulele etc
  • Mark down each note as it’s picked or played, just like you would for tablature or sheet music, except only writing note names or filling out a Grand Staff on blank Sheet Music sheet, if you can read music, or prefer to.
  • Use that and your chart to make it a flute song easy to play along to. You  may need to adjust it for your flute, so follow the next steps.

To make a song suitable for the Key of your flute:

  • After writing down your notes, identify the lowest note in your song.
  • Note the difference in steps & half steps between the lowest note in your song and the lowest note your flute can play, with all the holes covered.
  • Transpose the lowest note in the song to the lowest note on your flute.
  • Mark how many steps & half steps your low note transposition was.
  • Mark down all the unique notes in your song in a little chart.
  • Change all the unique notes in your song by the same number of steps & half steps.
  • Using your new chart of original notes, begin Transposing all the notes in your entire song.
  • You may also need to adjust the high part or low part of your song into a slightly different key or played in a slightly different way, to truncate the highest & lowest notes, creating a new song which is in the range of your flute.
  • Again, don’t worry about it being exactly in tune or perfect, as that just detracts from the beauty of handmade wooden & bamboo flute sounds.

For example, the pattern for the song here I made for my Flute with the Fundamental Key of B, as detailed in my flute tab system here, using the following notes in the song: A, B, D, D#, E, F#, & G

And if your flute had the Fundamental Key of C, you would change all of the notes above to one half step higher (because B to C is one half step up), as follows:

A=Bb
B=C
D=D#
D#=E
E=F
F#=G
G=G#
Then you’d rewrite the song using those notes for your C flute.

or if your flute had the Fundamental key of G, it would be down 2 full steps (B to G is down two full steps), as follows:

A=F
B=G
D=Bb
D#=B
E=C
F#=D
G=D#
Then you’d rewrite the song using those notes for your G flute, and so on.

Here is the Chart below, to use it, mark down your Flute’s Fundamental Key in the Grey Box under “Key”, then do all the fingering patterns possible, one by one, and mark down the fingering you used by filling in the holes either fully or completely, and the corresponding note you achieved according to the tuner, with each fingering. For partial fingerings, fill in the percentage of the hole you feel you covered which worked best.

You can then rewrite the notes in a separate new chart in the proper scale order.

You can also use this chart for a 5-hole Flute, by just crossing out hole 1 or 3 etc, or use it for a 3 hole flute etc.

All Fingering Options Blank

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