The flute with three feet – but why ?

Came across this on ebay, a new flute from China, with a body, a head-joint – and C, B and Bb foot-joints. But why three separate ones ?

Normally flutes come with a foot-joint to low C (front right – two pads) – sometimes manufacturers offer an option buy one that goes down to low B, meaning there are then three pads on the single foot-joint. A low B flute will naturally happily play low C, so doesn’t normally come with two foot-joints – at least not any I’ve seen.

But this flute, going down to low Bb – uncharted territory for most flute players – has one foot-joint to low C, a second one to low B, and a third foot-joint (front left) with four pads down to low Bb.

Can anyone tell me why three foot-joints are necessary – OK, I can possibly imagine one to low C, and maybe a second one to low Bb for special occasions. After all, playing normal music, who wants the extra two hole length adding to the balance (or lack of…). But three foot-joints ? All that unnecessary engineering, and cost !

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11 Responses to The flute with three feet – but why ?

  1. Mal-2 says:

    Simply put, the response in the fourth octave is different depending on the foot in use. Although the B foot with gizmo key (which closes ONLY the low B, and not the C or C#) helps with the response of fourth-octave C, some players consider the extra tubing to be a hindrance for the notes higher than that and prefer to play a C foot if the piece in question does not require the low B. But enough orchestral pieces now DO require the low B that they must have both.

    There are some works that call for the low Bb, and even the A below that. The usual workaround (when practicable) is to play the part with the extra notes on alto flute, but if the range gets excessive without a chance to switch back, then a low Bb foot would be required.

    Here’s a list of pieces requiring low B:

    In particular I note this:

    Doppler, F. & C.: Fantaisie on Hungarian Motives, Op.35 (three low Bb’s in the second flute part)

    So the need does exist. Whether it will be satisfied by an unproven Chinese brand remains to be seen.

  2. Mal-2 says:

    Sorry, should have put this in the first comment, but here is some information about pieces using notes below B:

    But if you’re too lazy to look for it:

    Notes below b usually indicate that long Viennese-style simple system flutes were expected. Low bb occurs in flute parts of Mahler’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies and Balikirev’s Second Symphony. Bb-footed 19th century Boehm flutes are rare. (But A. G. Badger of New York did make Bb-footed Boehm flutes, and probably Sidney Lanier had such a flute when he played his Wind-Sing of 1874 in which there are three occurences of low a#.) Guilio Briccialdi (1818–1881) presumably played an Italian or Viennese style flute with an A-foot in 1846 when his Duo concertant, op.36 appeared. Low a and a# occur a number of times in both flute parts.

  3. Ross says:

    The flute to Bb is not all that uncommon in flute circles.
    A seriously good flautist I know has a  Sankyo  with a custom Bb
    Some of the Romantic flute literature was written for the Bb "flute d’amore"
    and has been transposed down for the concert flute, with the occasional
    low Bb.
    The modern, and relatively cheap, alto flute has also stepped in to fill the gap.
    Altus Flutes will make to order a "flute d’amore" in Bb or A in the precious metal
    of your choice. Prices start at around $7,000!
    As the Chinese expand their manufacturing to niche markets perhaps they will
    diversify to the other, rarer, members of the flute choir.

  4. Mal-2 says:

    I can hope! I’ve wanted a treble G flute to play charanga for a long time. I’m not real comfortable in the top end of the third octave, let alone the fourth octave, and although I can sometimes use a piccolo to take up the slack, the lack of range gets tiresome. I basically can’t use anything above third octave A on picc, and that’s not particularly pleasant. I can get the Bb and B to come out but they’re more air than sound, and they’re up in the "only dogs can hear them" range anyhow. C just isn’t happening. I would gladly trade the notes I can’t use for extra range on the bottom and a somewhat larger sound. Myall-Allen would happily do it for 3,000 quid!

    Last gig, I was actually able to hear my flute in the monitors and for the first time that I can remember, played the better part of a solo in the low range of the instrument. I also played the C-mel more than I played alto, but I had to still turn to the alto for "stunt saxophone" duty, as I’m still not totally up to speed on altissimo with the C-mel yet. I have the fingerings, but at fff volume levels the notes just don’t want to speak. On alto, with a Lakey 4*3, this is very much not a problem. I was even "crossing over" with the trumpet player at times, as his chops started to give out. It was fun to make him laugh when I’d hang over the cut-off by a second or so just like a typical arrogant big-band lead trumpet.

    In any case, I hope the same people putting alto flutes and bass flutes into production in China turn their attentions to the lesser-known members like the treble G and the Eb soprano (I’d buy one of those too).

  5. alan says:

    Aaahhh – my knowledge horizons have just been expanded…  Thanks.  So it’s the Bb foot for the "flute d’amore" – and somehow I can’t ever see me worrying about the fourth octave, I only go as far as A in the third !  That dislodges wax from the ear 🙄

    I can understand about the low B – I have an 1800’s (simple system) low B flute on the bench at the moment – so scores must be around calling for that.  Unfortunately I’ll be selling that one, the finger stretch is just too much.  It’s bad enough needing the extra stretch now I’ve gone over to open hole Boehm….  Makes me realise that I used to finger D with minimal contact from that bottom finger – I have to properly cover the hole now 😕

    From memory, I think that flute was around £1200 – about US$2400 – not bad considering it was wooden as well. Of course, that’s with unknown playing quality – I assume it’ll be reasonable, but you never know…

  6. Ross says:

    Mal-2 – I can thoroughly recommend the Eb soprano flute. I have had one for over 20 years
    and it gets more use than my C.
    I use it for big band lead on some latin pieces and it’s great as a solo flute – a lot less flats!

    Alan – I put those little plugs in the lower holes of my flute to make life easy! As the fingers age I found I was also hitting those pesky trill keys – so back to a more sax "feel".

  7. alan says:

    Ross – the reason I moved to an open-hole flute was to be able to bend the notes more, so I daren’t use plugs without giving it a good try. Strangely, I do have a ‘half-plateau’ clarinet in the repair pile, left hand open holes, right hand covered/plateau ones ! Maybe I’ll keep that for my old age 😆

    By the way, there are still eight of those ebony three-feet flutes still available – I’ve found the ebay listing – just under US$2000 (including shipping/ins) and it can be yours, they are cheaper than I remembered !

  8. Lewis Pelham says:

    One almost envies trombone players…just a piece of plumbing with no maintenance …delightful simplicity…left or right handed…what joy.

  9. alan says:

    Ah – but if you play it left-handed, the spit valve is on the top…

  10. Lewis Pelham says:

    Isn’t that just typical. Were I a lesbian, disabled, black single mother there would be a host of liberal, Guardian reading pressure groups protecting my rights; but, being left handed, I have to suffer a reversed spit valve….Hey Ho  😥

  11. adi says:

    As a flute player I can tell that my experience simply says that the more buttons you have over at the back there – the harder.
    So if you are only going to go down so low you’d want to use the shortest one that fits the notes you’ll be playing.
    The option for expanding and yet comfortableness is wonderful imo.

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