Discovering the NAF, part 5: E4 cedar harmony drone

Oops, just realized I forgot to hit “Publish” on this one, like six weeks ago. ☺️

This is my first two chamber flute often called a drone flute. But I wanted something a little bit different than the more normal “root only” drone. When I ran across the “harmony drone” concept I was immediately intrigued. This combines a 6-hole flute on one side with a 3-hole flute of the other side. The 6-hole side is just like a single chamber flute and can be played by itself. The 3-hole side is tuned just like the bottom three holes of the 6-hole side. With hole plugs, this provides several possibilities for single note drones, not just the root note. And without plugs, it provides the option of 5th harmony as well as the option of playing both sides at the same time – tricky but can be done.

There aren’t many builders making these kinds of flutes. I found Southern Cross Flutes with their Temple Drone design which look great on video but are a good bit outside my price range. Kuzin Bruce used to make a “duet flute“, but in talking with him, he doesn’t really like to make them anymore. I also saw examples by Ed Hrebec and JP Gomez and maybe a few others. But when I saw and heard Temple Winds Flutes/Craig Paterson’s “sacred heart” design, I was intrigued.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the 4-chamber design. Yeah, it sounds cool, but is a little more complex than I want to deal with right now. I was more interested in just the “top half”. I didn’t see any examples in Craig’s gallery, but when I emailed him about the idea, he was immediately enthusiastic about it. We exchanged several other emails to work out particulars. I wanted to see if there were any local (to west coast of Canada) woods he liked. The main hardwood options were big leaf maple and arbutus (madrone), but there weren’t any pieces readily available that were big enough for a double E flute, so we settled on western red cedar. The other elements of the design I left up to Craig. This is what he came up with:

Both chambers are 7/8″ bore. The bottom of the hole plugs are cork – a brilliant idea to keep from damaging the soft cedar wood. I had mentioned the idea of plugs at one point but wasn’t really expecting them, so that was a pleasant surprise. The flute is surprisingly light. I haven’t put it on a scale, but subjectively it seems very close to my large bore D flute and definitely lighter than my maple G.

The tone is quite nice. I’d call it “cooler side of warm”, definitely not bright like a higher keyed hardwood but not super mellow due to the relatively narrow bore for an E flute.

The tuning is quite good for the main scale, though there are a couple of quirks on a few of the chromatics. The “Eb” note (relative to the flute – really Bb) normally fingered <XXX|OXO is rather sharp compared to surrounding notes, but it can be pulled down with breath pressure or half-holed to compensate. The usual <XXO|OOO “F#” is rather flat; the “Gb” fingering <XOX|XOO works better. The usual <XOO|OOO “G#” is almost a quarter tone and works better with the alternate <OXO|OXO. The upper octave “Bb” and “B” notes are quite solid and in-tune. I was told not to expect a third octave note, but there is a high “Cb” available by rolling off a finger from the “B” note.

Hopefully the last paragraph doesn’t come off as too negative. NAF tuning is always a compromise, and I think the tuning here is optimized with the harmony side in mind. It is possible to get “beating” between the two chambers, but using even breath pressure to each yields beatless unison when the same note is played with each. My guess is that achieving that on the bottom three holes affects what can be done with the top three holes and leads to the aforementioned “quirks . And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on context. For example, that flat F# played against a D drone doesn’t sound bad at all as it is pretty close to a “just” interval; I almost wonder if that was intentional.

And that brings me to the harmony side. With three holes, there are 8 different ways the plugs can be arranged, and at least 5 of them are useful. The normal fingerings for A, C, C#, D, and E all work for a well in-tune drone note. As mentioned, the OXO Eb is less good, and the OXX and OOX notes don’t yield any new notes. With all plugs in, the A can be overblown to the octave. With all plugs out, all those notes can be fingered while the other chamber can get E, F#, G, G#(sort of), and A. Obviously there are a lot of interval combinations. I’m just scratching the surface but here are a few of them in action:

That’s enough for the intro. I’m looking forward to composing for this flute with the different drone options. And I have several projects lined up that need an E flute. The discovery continues.


2 thoughts on “Discovering the NAF, part 5: E4 cedar harmony drone

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