eli5: If a guitar and a flute player wanted to jam, why is the flute players note different than the guitarist?


eli5: If a guitar and a flute player wanted to jam, why is the flute players note different than the guitarist?

In: Other

Not all instruments are tuned to or play in the same range as each other. A lot of woodwind and brass instruments for example are higher so their starting notes would be different.

The notes have different harmonics. A flute have a very pure tone with almost just the base frequency being played. However a guitar string will not only just vibrate in its base frequency but also at the double, tripple, quadruple, half tripple, etc. frequencies. The sound of a guitar string is closer to an entire ensemble of flute players playing harmonics on top of each other. To put it in another way the waveform from the flute is almost a pure smooth sine wave while the waveform coming from a guitar string is more square and have a lot more edges to it.

While what the other commenters are saying is probably very factual, I’m 99% sure that they could stumble upon something that sounds good as long as they are skilled enough players

Woodwind and brass instruments often play in different ranges. They’re designed so that if you can play one of a specific instrument, you can play each variation. So the fingering to play a major scale is the same whether or not your instrument is in C, G, or any scale. So to prevent confusion, music written for those instruments are written as if they were playing a C instrument. It’s similar to how when you put a capo on a guitar, you still use the positions for the E, C, D, A, and G chords, and would write the chords that way, even though the chords are different. A flautists playing with a guitarist would probably have the easiest time playing on an E instrument since that’s the closest to what the guitar is in. Or you could use a capo to match the flute.

It doesn’t have to be, they can both be layered together to play the same phrase if that’s what the composer wants. The reason why often times they play different notes when paired together is because they both have different qualities that allow them to shine in different places. A guitar is extremely versatile and can function more as a rhythmic base to simply create movement (e.g. a guitarist simply strums chords in a specific, constant rhythmic swing) or it can function more melodically by playing one note at a time (this is what the lead guitarist often does). The flute, on the other hand, though it can play chords as well, functions best when used melodically, taking on the same role as a lead guitarist would. The roles can be reversed tho, w/ the flute offering a more harmonic role. For instance, in the intro to stairway to heaven, the guitar is playing the main melody while the recorders (which are very similar to the flute, and in fact in the live versions they would use the Melotron synthesized flute instead of live recorders) plays sustained notes, almost like a baseline, to harmonize the acoustic guitar.

Around 2018-2020, instrumentals w/ this paring (guitar + flute) was HUGE in the hip hop scene. It felt almost like every other song you would hear on a hiphop radio/playlist would have this pairing. In such instrumentals, the guitar would provide that rhythmic base while the flute would function almost like a lead guitar.