Before adjusting the head joint position, several different notes should be tuned. Since low notes tend to be flat and high notes sharp on many flutes, students should tune notes in different octaves to improve overall intonation, while using a strong airstream. Using an electronic tuner, I suggest tuning 2nd octave D, as well as low A and middle A. Because more fingers are down, D is a more stable note than Bb. When students play with a strong and consistent airstream, the overall intonation of most flutes is best with the head joint pulled out 1/4 inch. Many students do not pull out far enough, resulting in a very sharp high register. After the flute has been tuned, the head joint should be marked with a fine point permanent marker to aid in consistent set up. Matching marks can also be made on the head joint and receiver showing proper alignment of the center of the embouchure hole with the center of the first key. (See photo #6 below)
For best intonation, teachers should stress the importance of pulling out and aligning the head joint consistently, even when practicing or playing alone.
At the beginning of the school year and on a periodic basis, it is beneficial to show students how to check their head cork position by inserting the flat end of the tuning/cleaning rod into the open of the head. There is a line inscribed approximately 17mm from the open end that should be aligned in the exact center of the embouchure hole. The scale of the flute will be affected if this line is not in the correct position, causing some of the notes to be out of tune. If the line is higher than the center, show students how to lower the cork by unscrewing the crown one or two turns and pushing on it until the cork moves and crown snaps back into place. If the line is lower than the center, students can push the cork to a slightly higher position with the flat end of the tuning rod in the open end of the head joint. Check the new position of the line on the road and repeat, if necessary. Sometimes the cork will refuse to move at all. It may have been sealed in place with wax, in which case consulting a flute repair technician will be necessary to move it. Also, if the cork moves too easily, it may have shrunk because of age and need to be replaced.
9. IMPROVING INTONATION ON INDIVIDUAL NOTES
After carefully tuning the instruments as in #8 above, students need to know that there are other methods of adjusting pitch besides pulling out or pushing in their head joint.
Slower air speed lowers pitch, while faster air speed raises pitch. Students should learn to play with a strong and consistent air speed and avoid their natural tendency to blow softer for low notes, which makes them flat and listless, and harder for high notes, making them sharp and shrill. Teaching students to blow at a more consistent speed helps them play better in tune throughout the range of the flute.