The flute is a member of a family of musical instruments that are played either by blowing down or across a hole at one end of a pipe. You use the fingers of both hands to cover and uncover holes along the length of the pipe to change notes.
The flute, in various forms, has been around for many centuries. It is one of the world's ancient instruments. The oldest known flute was found in a cave in Slovenia. It dates back about 50,000 years. The flute is made from the hollow bone of a young bear and has jut two tone holes.
A 9,000 year old instrument found in China is the oldest playable flute, it is made from bird bones and has seven tone holes. There is evidence of its existence even as long ago as ancient Egyptian times, when it was a basic clay pipe with holes in it. The present day flute is known as the transverse flute. Unlike its predecessor, which was held upright, it is held at right angles to the body.
Generally speaking, the recorder was for many years, a more popular instrument than the flute. By the time of Haydn (1732-1809) however, the flute was an established member of the orchestra. The most important period for the flute was the early 19th century, when Theobald Boehm developed the key system that was later used for the clarinet, oboe and bassoon.
Older flutes were made of hard wood or ebonite, a hard substance produced by treating rubber with large amounts of sulphur. The modern flute is usually made of silver and other metals and it has a compass of around three octaves.
There are usually two flutes in the orchestra. They generally play two different parts but sometimes double each other and play the same part.
Occasionally the second flautist plays a piccolo, a tiny flute which sounds an octave higher. This is used when a bright, piercing tone is required.
The flute can hold its own against a whole string section and because of this and its variety of tone qualities, it is a favourite solo instrument. In its upper register the flute is bright and clear. But in its lower octave it has a hollow, woody, haunting sound. Many composers have written concertos and solo pieces for this instrument.
What types of music can you play on a flute?
The flute has a gentle pure sound and it is an important member of the orchestra. The flute is also played in marching bands, wind bands and flute ensembles. Some flautists play jass folk and pop music. In this kind of music, players use microphones and amplifiers to make the soft sound of the flute louder.
You can play the flute on your own or with other flautists. You can join different groups like school orchestra or wind band. Playing the flute in choir is a great way to get to know other flautists
It takes a bit of practice to learn how to blow correctly across the blow hole to make a beautiful sound.
How the flute works
The modern flute is unique in the woodwind family. It is no longer made of wood but of silver and other metals and it is the only woodwind that has no reed.
- In common with other wind instruments it has a key system which opens and closes the length of the instrument, thus changing the pitch of the note by giving the air inside the instrument less or more space in which to resonate.
- The flute is the only woodwind instrument that is held sideways and has a unique mouthpiece in an unusual place which is at the side of instrument.
- Most people have at some point produced a note by blowing across the top of a bottle. This is how the sound of the flute is made. The flautist places the outside of his bottom lip on the mouthpiece and almost smiles at the instrument as he blows across the hole.
Putting the Flute Together
The flute comes in a three parts. Hold each part carefully where there are no keys as you put the flute together.
Twist gently to connect the middle joint and footjoint . The rod to which the footjoint keys are attached should line up with the middle of the keys on the middle joint.
Twist gently to put the headjoint on. Line up the blow hole with the keys.
How to Play the Flute: Tips and Techniques
Do You Play the Flute?
Amazing Flute Player
- Originally the flute had one thumb-hole and from four to eight finger -holes but no keys. The first key was added in 1677.
- The flute entered the orchestra in the mid to late 18th century.
- Glass flutes- Flute makers have experimented with some very unusual materials. In the 1700s, some German flutes were made from porcelain.
- In 1806, a French flute-maker called Claude Laurent made a flute from green glass. It had metal keys. Today you can still buy glass flutes. They are made from specially though Pyrex glass to prevent breakages!