concert flute

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Title: Solo Flute: An Anthology of Unaccompanied Flute Music—Image, by Eugene Bozza; John Wion, flute. Label: Musical Heritage Society. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 513074K. Track: 7.

Contextual Associations

The modern concert flute made of metal is an edge aerophone (flute) developed from earlier European side-blown/transverse wooden flutes (see Baroque flute and Renaissance flute), and is today found distributed throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is played both by professionals and amateurs, males and females. Its contexts of use are numerous: it is a standard instrument in the symphony orchestra, in military, marching, and concert bands and wind ensembles, and in various chamber ensemble configurations such as the woodwind quintet and, more recently, in various flute ensemble combinations; it can be used as either a solo or section instrument in jazz bands and combos; and it has been incorporated in various folk and popular music idioms both in Europe and the Americas, and beyond. Flute players have available to them a vast and ever-growing published repertoire of solo concert works, both unaccompanied and accompanied (by a keyboard instrument or an orchestra, i.e., concertos), written expressly for the flute and dating from the Baroque era to the present. The performance of this solo repertoire is today most concentrated in tertiary educational institutions around the world, which typically include in their faculty a professor of flute and offer degrees in flute performance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A few professional flautists in any generation attain international recognition and perform recitals and concerto engagements with symphony orchestras throughout the cosmopolitan world.


The concert flute pictured here is basically a cylindrical tube made of nickel silver (other alloys, sterling silver, gold, gold-plated silver, and platinum are also used) and constructed in three interlocking sections (head joint, body, and foot joint) connected with tenon-and-socket joints. The head joint has a hole (blowhole or embouchure hole) drilled into its side that is surrounded by a raised plate. The far left end of this joint is closed by a cap that, when turned, operates a screw-mounted internal cork stopper used for fine-tuning. The body joint has fifteen of the tube’s eighteen tone holes drilled into its wall, the other three are located on the foot joint. These holes are variously sized and located at acoustically optimal positions, but do not take into consideration the physiology of the human hands that operate them. An elaborate system of spring activated ring keys with pads, horizontal rod-axles, and levers compensates for this.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player, whether sitting or standing, holds the flute roughly horizontally to their right with the embouchure plate positioned on the chin just below the lower lip. The thumb and all four fingers of the left hand along with the four fingers of the right hand are used to operate the keys and pads located on the body and foot joints of the instrument; the right hand thumb touches the bottom side of the body joint and is used to support the instrument. By exhaling and shaping and directing an airstream with their embouchure (tensed lips) against the edge at the far side of the blowhole, the performer sets the air column of the flute into modes of vibration. By controlling the force of the airstream and changing the acoustical length of the tube with the fingerholes, the player produces different pitches. The fundamental pitch of this flute (with all vent holes covered) is C4, and by successively opening these holes from the bottom to the top produces a one-octave chromatic scale. The flute overblows at the first five harmonic partial overtones (the octave, 12th, 15th, 17th, and 19th). It has an effective range of a little over three octaves from C4 - D7 and is fully chromatic. During the latter half of the twentieth century, some composers and performers experimented with alternate playing techniques that allowed for the production of microtonal intervals and multiphonics; these new sounds have, however, remained peripheral and exceptional to the more standard tone production on the instrument. For a video illustrating the player-instrument interface for this instrument, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapter on the flute.


The modern flute in C with its cylindrical bore, metal body, large vent holes located in acoustically optimal positions, and elaborate key-and-pad system to facilitate covering and uncovering those holes, came into existence in 1847. This design was the work of the German flautist and scientist Theobald Boehm (1794-1881), who drew upon numerous innovations and experiments by other flute makers of the prior fifty-or-so years as well as his own studies of acoustics to produce a design that has endured to the present day with only minor modifications. Though the Boehm-system flute reigns supreme now, for many decades after its introduction wood flutes of older designs continued to be manufactured and used by many flutists well into the 20th century. For example, the seven-key flute pictured in the second gallery image, manufactured in Freiburg, Germany, in the 1850s, is made of wood, has open holes, and does not incorporate the Boehm or any other 'modern' key system of the day. It is in many ways closer to a Baroque flute than it is to the modern flute.

Bibliographic Citations

Brown, Howard Mayer. 2004. “Flute [cross flute, German flute, transverse flute].” NGDMI v.1: 769-788.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

“Instruments.”  Philharmonia Orchestra website, accessed September 14, 2015:

Powell, Ardel. 2002. The Flute. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Toff, Nancy. 1996. The Flute Book. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Western Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.121.12 aerophone--side-blown flute: the player blows against the sharp rim of a hole in the side of the tube; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, directly blown against

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


26 in. length 0.79 in. diameter of tube

Primary Materials

spring - flat and/or needle





Entry Author

Roger Vetter