I'm beginning to learn flute, and having now looked at several fingering charts, I've noticed that none of the show a possible upper register C and C# as being the same as they are in the low register. Why is that?

I've learned some of the physics behind flutes, and while I can understand those possibly having very, very slight differences between their upper register due to how a flute is shaped (with a gap between the mouthpiece and the left end), I don't think they'd make enough of a difference to be noticeable (unless holding the note at the same time as another flute).

1 Answer 1


I think your expectation of "very, very slight differences" between the registers breaks down in the extreme situation where almost all the finger holes are covered, as when playing the lowest three notes (B C and C#). Opening the top hole to suppress the fundamental tone relies on that hole being at the correct acoustical position along the pipe. That position is inevitably a compromise, and it is chosen to work well for higher notes. In effect, the standard fingerings for the "upper register" C and C# are really creating a very short length of pipe sounding its lower register.

There is no logical reason why a wind instrument must necessarily switch to overblowing at the octave "just because you can," though of course human anatomy imposes practical limitations on the number and position of the holes which limits the useful compass of the instrument without overblowing.

"Capped reed" instruments (crummhorns, bagpipes, etc) which can't be overblown at all, often have a compass of a 9th or a 10th rather than an octave, using the same basic idea to get the highest notes.

The recorder family follows a similar fingering system to the flute - the "obvious" pattern for fingering the second octave doesn't begin until a few semitones above the octave of the lowest note.

You might like to explore the "virtual flute" at https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/virtual.html - which gives no fewer than 666 alternative fingerings for notes "close to" the upper register C, for example.

  • Not sure what you mean by "overblowing" -- I thought that referred to going to higher fundamentals without opening an octave (or octave+a half, for clarinets) hole. I had teachers who suggested learning to hit overtones sans octave keys as a way of fine-tuning one's embouchure & breath control. Jul 1, 2016 at 11:44
  • 3
    @CarlWitthoft I meant the general concept of "sounding a higher harmonic of a pipe without changing its effective length". Depending on the instrument that may involve some combination of blowing harder, blowing with a different embouchure, or opening a hole (either a special-purpose small hole, or a normal finger hole) at a position along the pipe that prevents the fundamental tone being produced. Reed instruments are a bit more complicated, because the vibration of the reed itself can (to some extent) control which harmonic(s) are produced by the pipe.
    – user19146
    Jul 1, 2016 at 21:13

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