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Extended Techniques for Flute: Common Techniques – John McMurtery

Module by: Patricia Gray. E-mail the author

Summary: The modules contains, video, scores and text describing the most frequently used extended techniques for flute in contemporary literature.

John McMurtery Website

Flutter Tonguing

Flutter-tonguing is one of the oldest and most widely-used extended techniques, dating back to the works of Richard Strauss. Flutists should be familiar with and be able to execute the two different types: one produced by rolling the tongue; the other by vibrating the throat. Composers notate flutter-tonguing in one of two ways: through use of three slashes through a note stem, or by writing “flatterzunge” (or flatt.). Composers are more and more commonly choosing to specify the type of flutter-tonguing to be used in a given passage, indicating “rrrr” for the throat version. The technique has many uses beyond the mere “special effect.” In the following passage from his solo flute piece Oiseau Miro, for example, James Romig uses flutter-tonguing to highlight prominent individual and small groups of notes within a dense musical surface.

Play Movie

James Romig: Oiseau Mirò (m. 54-58)

Figure 1
Figure 1 (Graphic1.png)

Pitch Bends Ex. 1

Another extremely common technique in flute writing is the pitch bend, or glissando. There are two different kinds of glissandi, the fingered gliss, and the lip gliss. The lip gliss has a smaller pitch range than the fingered variety, but is more versatile because just about every note on the flute can be bent to a certain extent (though pitches in the first two octaves are much easier to bend than third-octave notes). Fingered glissandi are only possible on certain notes of a French model (open-hole) flute, so it is best for a composer to consult a performer before using them. A glissando is notated as a straight line from the note head, up or down depending on its direction. This example illustrates the lip gliss.

Play Movie

James Romig, Sonnet 2 (m. 30-31)

Figure 2
Figure 2 (Graphic2.jpg)

Pitch Bends Ex. 2

Play Movie

Edward Taylor, Voices in the Night (VII: m. 1-3)


Harmonics are produced on the flute in a similar way as on brass instruments: by fingering one note and manipulating the embouchure to produce higher pitches corresponding to the harmonic series. These alternate fingerings affect both the tone color and the pitch of the written note. Composers exploit flute harmonics in a variety of ways. One particularly beautiful passage is the "Sea Nocturne" variation in George Crumb's Vox Balanae, or Voice of the Whale. Here, several harmonics are alternated with regular fingerings in rapid succession to create a "shimmering" effect. Crumb uses the standard notation of a small circle above the note head, and indicates the fingered notes in parentheses.

Play Movie

George Crumb, Vox Balanae (Sea Nocturne, p. 14, top)

Figure 3
Figure 3 (Graphic3.png)

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