o the inexperienced a bamboo flute may not seem like much. Well I may tend to agree. Most of the flutes you see around for sale in typical shops and markets etc. are just that. Not much. They're mass produced items usually made from poor quality bamboo. The result is not really what you would call an instrument. More like a cheap toy. Play with it for a few days and then throw it away. Or if you actually keep them then the bamboo will probably split in a short time.
So from the outset when I talk about a bamboo flute I'm referring to a quality instrument, musically tuned that will last a very long time. Now anybody can cut a piece of bamboo somewhere, put a few holes in it, blow across the end and get some sounds. Not much talent is needed for that. But to make the type of quality flute I've mentioned is actually an incredible science and art that can take years to perfect.
Over the many years I've been flute making I've found that to be a good flute maker you need to have three very important qualities.
Expert with Tools
Yes how can you make a flute if you don't know how to use tools? This is a fundamental skill you must have. And to achieve the precision needed to make a good flute I'd go so far as to say you really need to be an expert in using tools. I use a combination of hand and power tools. Some of the tools I use are very specialised that I have invented myself. You will find a complete description of the tools in the appropriate chapter.
You also have to be a musician to make a flute. This is because you need to be able to tune the flute so that it is in key and plays an actual musical scale. You need to be able to hear when the flute is out of tune and then with the tools correct it so that it is in tune. You may have the best tool skills around but if you are tone deaf you won't go very far with flute making.
And thirdly you need to have lots of intuition to make a bamboo flute. You see bamboo is a natural material and does not happen to come in standard sizes such as a metal tube that you can buy in hardware shop. Every single piece is different in size, shape and density. Therefore every piece will have different musical properties.
Say that you've made one good bamboo flute that plays well and you want to make another one. You have another piece of bamboo that appears as if it has exactly the same dimensions as your good flute. You might think that you can just copy the good flute. Well if you were dealing with a metal tube this would be true indeed. You could experiment a lot till you got one right. Then you could just mass produce the item to produce clones of the good flute. Every copy would be the same as the original.
But with bamboo it is another story altogether. If you just try to use the first flute as a direct model for the next one you will most likely end up with a flute that is out of tune.
Intuition plays a very big part in making a bamboo flute. You need to be able to "feel" the bamboo to know how it is likely to behave. This intuition usually only comes with lots of experience. Lots of practice making many flutes. Lots of flutes in the rubbish bin.
And every now and then, despite all your efforts you will come across a piece of bamboo that will just refuse to behave as you want. No matter what you do you cannot get it to play in tune. In cases like this it is your choice what to do with it. I usually give these flutes away or hang them on the wall as ornaments.
I don't mean to frighten you off by this. Just to make you aware of the skills needed to make a good bamboo flute. Like most things in life if you have the desire and love to learn flute making and you are willing to put in the time you will succeed.
After these words of introduction let us move on.
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