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The Glissando Flute: How to play it, and why you should by Melissa Keeling

The glissando flute is a C flute played with a Glissando Headjoint. This headjoint greatly expands the expressivity, flexibility, and timbral possibilities of the Boehm flute. The culmination of many decades of work by Robert Dick, it has been commercially available for over a decade. Beyond playing glissandi, there are many potential benefits for your overall flute playing: increased aural awareness, greater flexibility of intonation, and a slew of new timbres and harmonies, which dramatically increases the expressive potential available to flutists and composers.

In addition to playing bends and glissandi, the headjoint:

  • Extends the low range of the flute to A1 (when using a B footjoint)
  • Creates new multiphonic possibilities
  • Allows for simple transposition of many multiphonics
  • Makes microtones and quartertones much easier to play, by eliminating the need for many alternate fingerings
  • Greatly expands the timbral palette

I have personally been using the Glissando Headjoint for three years and consider it to be my primary headjoint for composing and improvising. My newest composition, Tilt, is for solo glissando flute. In this article, I’d like to share how this headjoint works, and how to use it to sculpt the sound in new ways.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Glissando Headjoint works by using two telescoping tubes to lengthen the instrument. The headjoint is in “home position” when the tube is slid in completely (where it functions as a regular headjoint); when slid all the way out, it is at “full extension.”
Attached near the lip plate are two metal wings, which rest on the player’s cheeks to allow the headjoint to change length. Players should gently bend the wings to fit comfortably (slightly touching the

Home position (I)
Full extension (o)

The range of the glissando varies between a major second to a major third, depending on the pitch. Alternate fingerings are sometimes required to produce a smooth glissando from home position to full extension. Some pitches, particularly in the third octave, will “flip” to another harmonic before the headjoint reaches full extension.

BENEFITS FOR TRADITIONAL FLUTE PLAYING
Like many other contemporary flute techniques (such as singing, harmonics, and whistle tones), playing the Glissando Headjoint has benefits for traditional playing. The Glissando Headjoint’s flexible intonation forces the player to develop a higher sensitivity to pitch, a sensitivity that carries over even when playing on a regular headjoint. To improve intonation, a few weeks of mindful work with the headjoint and a tuner should improve the player’s ability to discern small differences in pitch.

NOTATION
The letters “I” (in) and “o” (out) indicate home position and full extension in musical notation, respectively. A fraction indicates how far to extend the headjoint for partial extensions (“-½” represents halfway out). A straight line between two notes, coupled with an arrow between I or o to show the direction the headjoint is moving, indicates a glissando between those notes.
For clarity, two staves are shown below: the top shows the sounding pitches, while the bottom shows the fingered note (using a diamond notehead) and headjoint position (I, o, -½).

Glissando Headjoint notation

GLISSANDO HEADJOINT TECHNIQUES

Upwards glissando (or bend)
Finger the note you would like the glissando to end on. As you play the note, slide the headjoint to home position. The farther you extend the headjoint, the wider the range of the glissando. The player controls the speed of the glissando by how fast the headjoint slides.

Notation for an upwards glissando

Downwards glissando
Reverse the motion above. Finger the note you would like the glissando to start on, place the headjoint in home position, then extend it.

Notation for a downwards glissando

Upper- or lower-neighbor bend
To bend to the upper-neighbor, such as a whole-step bend from A-B-A, finger the upper neighbor tone (in this example, B) and extend the headjoint halfway (to produce the sounding A). Then, retract the headjoint to home position (for the upper note). Because the top note is played in home position, its intonation is stable. You will need to experiment with the length of the headjoint so the lower note is in tune.

Notation for an upper-neighbor bend

Low Range
The Glissando Headjoint extends the low range of the instrument to include A1 and B-flat1 (by fingering B1 at full or half extension). This could be especially useful when playing transcriptions, since violin and oboe music frequently descend to that range.

EXERCISE

“One note, many positions” – Glissando Headjoint exercise (excerpt) by Melissa Keeling

I highly recommend the glissando flute to composers and performers wanting to explore new sonic possibilities, and anyone curious about new music. Every flutist should try one, if you have the chance!

Photo Credit: Levi Civjan

Acclaimed for performing repertoire ranging from orchestral literature to experimental electronic music, flutist and composer Dr. Melissa Keeling is based in the New York City area. Melissa is a Trevor James International Flute Artist and an Endorsed Artist by K&K Sound. As a performer and composer, Dr. Keeling regularly presents chamber and solo music across the New York City area. She has appeared at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and the Firehouse Space, and at festivals such as the National Flute Association convention. As an orchestral musician, Dr. Keeling has served as principal flutist, piccoloist, and soloist with orchestras such as the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra and the New York Harmonic Band. Internationally, she has performed solo in Italy with Grammy-award winning artist Rhonda Larson. Dr. Keeling’s compositions have been premiered at the National Flute Association conventions and the Make Music New York Festival. As a teacher, Dr. Keeling has led masterclasses on Baroque performance practice, music technology, performance health, and improvisation. She has experience teaching undergraduate flute lessons, woodwind methods courses, and coaching chamber ensembles. Dr. Keeling has adjudicated a range of music competitions, including the Flute Society of Kentucky High School and Collegiate Soloist competitions. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Flute Society of Kentucky. She is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda (National Music Honor Society) and the National Flute Association. Dr. Keeling holds degrees from The Graduate Center, CUNY (D.M.A., Music Performance), Middle Tennessee State University (M.A., Music Performance), and Western Kentucky University (B.S., Music Education). She has performed in masterclasses with Michel Debost, Keith Underwood, Alexa Still, Brad Garner, and abroad with Rhonda Larson in Italy. Dr. Keeling has studied with Robert Dick, Deanna Hahn Little, and Heidi Pintner Álvarez.Melissa Keeling is best-known for her works for electric flute and Glissando Headjoint.

Acclaimed for performing repertoire ranging from orchestral literature to experimental electronic music, flutist and composer Dr. Melissa Keeling is based in the New York City area. Melissa is a Trevor James International Flute Artist and an Endorsed Artist by K&K Sound. As a performer and composer, Dr. Keeling regularly presents chamber and solo music across the New York City area. She has appeared at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and the Firehouse Space, and at festivals such as the National Flute Association convention. As an orchestral musician, Dr. Keeling has served as principal flutist, piccoloist, and soloist with orchestras such as the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra and the New York Harmonic Band. Internationally, she has performed solo in Italy with Grammy-award winning artist Rhonda Larson. Dr. Keeling’s compositions have been premiered at the National Flute Association conventions and the Make Music New York Festival. As a teacher, Dr. Keeling has led masterclasses on Baroque performance practice, music technology, performance health, and improvisation. She has experience teaching undergraduate flute lessons, woodwind methods courses, and coaching chamber ensembles. Dr. Keeling has adjudicated a range of music competitions, including the Flute Society of Kentucky High School and Collegiate Soloist competitions. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Flute Society of Kentucky. She is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda (National Music Honor Society) and the National Flute Association. Dr. Keeling holds degrees from The Graduate Center, CUNY (D.M.A., Music Performance), Middle Tennessee State University (M.A., Music Performance), and Western Kentucky University (B.S., Music Education). She has performed in masterclasses with Michel Debost, Keith Underwood, Alexa Still, Brad Garner, and abroad with Rhonda Larson in Italy. Dr. Keeling has studied with Robert Dick, Deanna Hahn Little, and Heidi Pintner Álvarez.Melissa Keeling is best-known for her works for electric flute and Glissando Headjoint.