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I was listening to a song played on the Dizi (Chinese diatonic bamboo flute). Dizi like other diatonic flutes comes in different keys. When listening to music played by someone else, how can I find out the key of the flute?

Now I'm not asking for someone to identify the key of the flute in the video for me. I'm just curious about how to find the key. I would think the first step would be to find out the scale of the song, that would narrow down the options of the keys.

-Edit-

What I know of eastern flutes is that the key of the flute is the note that gets played with three fingers down.

For example, if I hold three fingers down and it gives a C, then the flute is in the key of C.

I believe with western flute it's all fingers down.

So the C key eastern flute would be considered G key in the west. Because if you were to hold down all fingers (6 fingers) on C key eastern flute, it would play the G note.

On a C key diatonic flute, we can play comfortably the scales, C major, G major, A minor, E minor. Playing anything else would require half-covering of holes, making it hard to play. If someone is playing a song in E minor scale, for example, we can know that the flute they playing has to be in the key of C or G.

  • I think you are asking how to identify the key the flute in which the dizi is built in. (You say they come in different keys.) The two answers so far are telling you what key the song is in. Yes: that would be the first step towards identifying the key the fizi was made in. Will you always be able to see the flute, or do you want to be able to identify it just by listening? – Old Brixtonian Sep 22 at 16:31
  • @OldBrixtonian I'm indeed looking at finding out the key of the flute itself. In most situations, I will be able to see the flute. And I know based on the length of the flute I can presume it's key. But there will, of course, be situations when I cannot look at the flute, even if I can it could still be hard to make out the key. But based on what I see in the video, it looks like a C key flute, I could be wrong of course. – O S Sep 22 at 20:18
  • Generally only Indian flutes are regarded as being in the key of the three-finger note ('Sa'). Most others are named after the six-finger note. – PiedPiper Sep 23 at 8:15
  • @PiedPiper I'm pretty the key of the three-finger note applies to Dizi flutes as well. – O S Sep 23 at 9:29
  • @OS Most dizis have both markings, but if there's only one it's the six finger note. – PiedPiper Sep 23 at 9:56
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You will need a reference instrument: a piano perhaps, or one of those pitch-pipes guitarists use when tuning their instrument.

If you listen for a while you may be able to decide "Ah! that's the very bottom note: that quiet one!", and then find it on your reference instrument.

Am I right in thinking there is a 'break' between the lowest octave and the octave above: where they meet? Perhaps the top note in the lowest octave is all fingers up and the lowest note in the top octave is all fingers down. Maybe it's awkward for the player to 'glissando' (slide) across that break. Or when he/she does, it sounds different from the glissando between, say, 2 fingers down and three fingers down. When you have heard where that break happens you can refer to your piano or pitch-pipe and find its pitch. Then you can work out what instrument is being played.

Sorry. I can't think of another way.

By the way, I think the dizi 'family' is similar to our recorder family. Recorders come in different sizes. Three fingers down can be C or G or a higher C or a higher G. All fingers down can be F or C or higher F or higher C. We don't call them recorder in C and recorder in F though, because each one has its own name: soprano, alto, tenor etc.

What a lovely sound it is. I'd like to try playing one, but I've never even been able to play one note on a flute.

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  • Pitch pipes? I threw mine away about 60 yrs ago - they were out of tune! Pitch pipes - that's just what I did... – Tim Sep 23 at 6:20
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Listen for cadences, where the music is at a rest point. Particularly the ones at the end of a verse, or chorus. They will generally provide a triad chord - here a minor triad. One of those notes - often the one played - will be the root of that triad, and thus be the tonic.

The notes here seem to be from a natural minor scale, which could also translate to its relative major. Which would be the key of the instrument.

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  • That's how to identify the key of the piece, which is not necessarily the key of the flute. – PiedPiper Sep 23 at 8:09
  • @PiedPiper - the flute is diatonic That means it plays all the notes from one key only.So how can the two not be the same? – Tim Sep 23 at 17:55
  • Even on a diatonic flute there are some other notes available, and if not all of the notes from a particular scale are used in a piece that increases the number of different possibilities further. In the example from the question the piece is in A minor but played on a flute in G. Since neither F nor F# are used it would be just as easily playable on a C flute. – PiedPiper Sep 23 at 18:15
  • @PiedPiper - I understood that an instrument called diatonic was just that, Otherwise it's chromatic. Maybe there's something in between, but if a flute can play all the white keys and F#, that puts it into two diatonic keys - so it couldn't really then be specifically in C or in G. Maybe the question contains misinformation? – Tim Sep 24 at 7:25
  • These flutes are diatonic only in the sense that the 'easy' notes are a diatonic scale. In the hands of a competent player they are chromatic. But even though a G flute has an easy cross-fingering for the minor seventh (F) it's still a G flute and not a C-G hybrid. – PiedPiper Sep 24 at 9:55
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Try to sing the melody, phrase by phrase. Usually a phrase ends on the first degree or if it is a half cadence on the fifth. In major this is do or so, in minor this is la or mi.

I would think the first step would be to find out the scale of the song, that would narrow down the options of the keys.

(If you don’t know the names of movable do re mi you can sing to find out the root note of the tune as intonation - instead of doremifasofamiredo or la ti do re mi mi mi mi - 123454321 or 1234555.

Like Tim says the tune is in minor, you can here easily the end of the first phrase: mi re do mi...

Most songs have this tendency to turn around the 5th in the middle and ending on the prime.

If you have identified the root tone you can find out the interval with a tuning fork to A 440 or with keyboard the interval to C.

The easy way is to play all the triads on the piano and compare by listening which chord fits with the last tone. If will be harder if its diatonic but tuned in on e of the black keys!)

If you sing the last tone in a tuning app of your mobile, you just play the minor or major triad and you will know the key.

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  • That's how to identify the key of the piece, which is not necessarily the key of the flute. – PiedPiper Sep 23 at 8:09
  • If it’s a diatonic flute and you have the key of the piece ... how would you play another key/mode that isn’t identical with the flute’s key? – Albrecht Hügli Sep 23 at 15:12
  • Even on a diatonic flute there are some other notes available, and if not all of the notes from a particular scale are used in a piece that increases the number of different possibilities further. In the example from the question the piece is in A minor but played on a flute in G. Since neither F nor F# are used it would be just as easily playable on a C flute. – PiedPiper Sep 23 at 18:13
  • OP says: Now I'm not asking for someone to identify the key of the flute in the video for me. I'm just curious about how to find the key. I would think the first step would be to find out the scale of the song, that would narrow down the options of the keys.. ....and the original question has been edited 8 hours ago. – Albrecht Hügli Sep 23 at 18:16

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