The 3 Hole Flute – playing and making (1)

davMy interest in the 3 holed flute has been a long one, but until recently I have not done anything about it. In February 2020 I got an ache in my shoulder which increased to become extremely painful. I self diagnosed an “impinged shoulder” (self diagnosed as the doctors were in lock-down). When the pain decreased I was left with a arm that could not be moved above the elbow. This curtailed my piping (and all music making) as I could not use the bellows, and I also realised I need both arms to play nearly all of my instruments, I had never thought of this before, but all the instruments I owned need both hands to play. Guitars, mandolin, whistles, bodhran…

The only exception was the keyboard, or my midi controller plugged into my laptop. Then I could play with one hand, improvise and run up and down the keyboard with my good left hand. At the time, I thought my playing career was over, as my right arm was not functioning normally and the pain/ache was not going away. The thought of giving up the instruments I had spent all my life learning was heartbreaking, but what was worse was the thought of giving up music all together.

So I decided to learn another instrument, one that needed 1 hand to play. So entered my renewed interest in the 3 holed flute. The pipe and tabor needs 2 hands of course, but I would only learn the pipe…the whistle…flute.

Lock-down made it difficult to order online, the shops that sold the 3 holed whistle were closed, the only place I could find was the Pipe and tabor Society they sold a 3 hole tin whistle type of instrument. I thought to learn on this before I splashed out on a more expensive instrument.

I ordered the whistle of Rob and Gillian, who were very kind and helpful, I got the whistle in the post sooner rather than later, via a neighbour who was going to the post office that weekend (lock-down put a stop to quick postal deliveries).  I waited, nothing came, I thought it was lost in the post (we had had some lost items already due to the problems lock-down was causing to the postal system). Nothing came, I gave up.

Eventually the whistle came, also included in the package was a finger chart, basic history, and an A4 sheet of melodies to begin playing. Also Gillian offered online tuition to get started, really nice people. The technique is similar to the tin whistle, blowing etc. but the difficulty was getting the top note in the octave, as well as notes above the octave. I was blowing hard and I was not getting any note….just a squeal, or it dropped down into the 2nd register.

I tried different ways of blowing and nothing was happening. Eventually I decided the instrument was a fault !! not the player!! and I felt if I had a better instrument I would achieve better results. So I began making a 3 hole flute. The 3 holed tin whistle is great for outdoors, but to practice indoors takes some getting used to.

The 3 holed tin whistle does have a sharp and piercing sound. What you would normally play on a tin whistle (the bottom octave/1st register) is not played on the 3 holed flute. It is too low and quiet. The fundamental starts on the 2nd register, and you are beginning to blow hard and the metallic sound is quite loud in a confined space.

Here is an explanation of the notes and registers:

Bass/1st register – D, E, F#, G (too weak to be played)

2nd Register/fundamental (by blowing harder) – d, e, f#, g

3rd register (blowing even harder) – a, b, c#, d’ (the top d’ is very difficult to achieve)

4th register (by blowing harder, and this is the register I could not achieve) d’, e’, f#’, g’

When played correctly you can play in D major and E minor.

I was getting frustrated with the top notes, and the piercing squeal of the top notes were not doing my relationship any good!! Leila, never complains about my playing, but she did by putting her hands over her ears….she never said a word. That was the final straw…or note. I thought at least by making a wooden flute I can reduce the metallic shrill sound, and leave the tin whistle to when I am outside.

I have never made a whistle before, so I took apart an old plastic recorder that I had bought in Madrid for 6 euros. I had been drying wood for years, from my garden, and I thought this was a good time to use it, I am not sure of the type of wood, but I am guessing beech? It has a lovely grain. I long bored 2 sections and turned them down, connecting one end to the recorder mouth piece, and the other end I joined to the other section (it was going to be in 2 sections).

Where to put the holes?  I tried the old fashioned method of placing ones fingers on the pipe and marking them off, then increasing the size of hole. My intention was to make a major scale, but it came out as a minor. Not to worry, as I had made a Spanish 3 holed flute! The key was not important to me, nor was it being exactly in tune (440c), as all I wanted was a flute to practice on, this was an experiment…not the finished article. At least I know now where to drill and if I make another pipe it will be a lot better and in tune.

In fact the pipe came out as a B on my chromatic tuner, making it a B minor pipe. After some consultation with Alberto Jambrina (a master of Spanish folk music in the north of Spain), I learned new things about tuning and pitch, and of the different types of tuning that the 3 hole flutes use in northern Spain.

With my research into the Ney and Kaval I realised that the duct flute was too short in length, it needed to be longer. I had tried to copy the tin whistle, but this was a mistake, I had to go back to the beginning.

This was an experiment and it achieved its aim of playing at a quieter volume. The tone was sweet, light and smooth… I love the sound. The top B was a problem, but I think the flute is too short to get it. But as the mind is always seeking new solutions, my interest was not satisfied and I had already begun to plan my next experiment for this 3 holed flute…


Drumpellier Country Park / Music / Video

With lock-down being the party-pooper for any 50th birthday celebration (not mine), we decided to keep our social distancing, and head for the nature…

Glasgow´s Drumpellier Country Park is just about walking distance for us, 1 hour of crossing motorways and following main roads, until you get to the small path that leads into the woods and small pathways that snake around lakes and natural forested areas.

I am not sure if it was because I had not been out of the house in ages, or because the damp weather highlighted the forest colours, but I was fascinated with the richness of the flora, with the colour of green. So many different shades of green…

I was expecting wild flowers and carpets of different coloured mosses, but I must have just missed them or they will be coming out later on? But I was not disappointed with the depth of colour and the freshness of the woods, to take videos of our walk.

I removed the background sounds from the video, as although there was a lot of bird song, there was a loud backdrop of motorway sounds… I replaced it with some recordings I did a few years ago, mandolin and English concertina, traditional melodies from Spain and the Scottish Borders.




Spring, Flowers, Music and Nature…

I have been taking photos of the surrounding area during lock-down! Not many people around so I could go out and photograph areas that are coming to life with the onset of Spring.
Sometimes I think that the old way of taking photos, with film, has something to recommend it. Then you had to develop with film and you had to be careful what you took, as it cost you money to get the film developed. Now it is click, click, click with our digital cameras, and we do not “see” what we are taking in the lens…most of the time (do we ever look at them afterwards?).
I also had these old recordings that was going to be for a CD, they have been sitting around for months now so I included in the video.
The melodies are of Scottish and English folk tunes. I wanted it to be only with mandolin and concertina. So I did the recording and I was not really happy with the mixing of it, so I let it collect dust… so I thought to combine the 2 together to see how they come out.
The first video is of Port Carlisle, and the harbour there. I often go there and I enjoy the peace of the area, the coastline and bird life. I was there recently and I was astounded by the beauty of the place in bright sun light, the air was so clear and there was a slight breeze cooling everything off. I took a video of the surroundings and then the yellow on the “broom” the yellow flowers, it was beautiful and it reminded me of the song “when yellow is on the broom” a Scottish song.
I decided to remove the wind and other audio sounds and add just the demo track of mandolin and concertina. Although it would of been nice to mix the wind and bird song with the melodies, in practice it never came out well.

The 2nd video shows an wooded area close to Port Carlisle. There is a walk adjacent to the sea, which is part of the Hadrian´s Wall Footpath, which in Spring is beautiful to do. It is a wooded area and with the sun and shadow it is a delightful stroll.

These photos are of bluebells, that come out in a wood at Crofton, every year in April. It is a small wooded area and every year it becomes are carpeted area of bluebells. I find it amazing something so close to where I live is not appreciated more. It is over looked, as far as I can tell, people do not linger or stop and admire. They are not appreciated, so much so that a local farmer wanted to plough it up to make a car park…he was looking for sponsors to do it, luckily he has not found any yet.
I thought just to take these photos of a memory, a record that they existed. I did not mean to make a video of them afterwards, but later I thought, why not?
Using Camtasia Software for the first time, to edit the video, was easy enough, I have used a few programmes to edit video and it sees to be getting easier as the years go on. I also like Camtasia for doing tutorials and screen savers, something i have recently started to do.