Science Questions

Sat, 20th May 2006

Part of the show New Planets, Harmonics and the science of Sound.

Question

Steph via email asked:

When I play my flute, sometimes it gets a really screechy noise. What is it? It only happens when I play medium E natural.

Answer

Instruments are quirky things. It's a bit like cars; you might be driving along and when you go 57.5 miles per hour, the steering wheel starts to wobble. That's just a particular characteristic of your car. Some things you can fix and other things you can't. Some of you who play the cello or others stringed instruments might know about the wolf note: there's a certain note that just does funny things. It could be that it's an interaction between the acoustic mode or the note you're playing which is all to do with the air, and the actual structure of the flute such as it being made of metal. That's very important. You can think of a saxophone and a clarinet: a clarinet is made of wood and a saxophone is made of metal. That's essentially what makes the instruments sound quite different. So there is an interaction between the sound, the air and the metal and maybe that's why you pay an extra £500 for an ultra good flute.

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