Learn the Types of Flutes and Get Descriptions

Girl playing the flute
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The flute is considered one of the oldest man-made musical instruments. In 1995, archaeologists found in Eastern Europe a flute made of bone that dates back some 43,000 to 80,000 years old.

Flutes generally fit into two basic categories:

Side-Blown Flute

Also known as a transverse flute, a side-blown flute is held horizontally or sideways to play.

End-blown Flute

An end-blown flute is played by blowing the end of a tube or pipe.

End-blown flutes have two sub-categories:

  • Rim-blown Flutes - Also known as notched flutes, a rim-blown flute is played by blowing across the top of a tube. The air is split because the tube has a notch or a sharp edge.
  • Duct Flutes - Also known as a fipple flute, a duct flute played by blowing air into a channel. The air travels across a sharp edge.

Most flutes fit into those two basic categories. When we speak of modern flutes, however, there are six main types, all of which are side-blown:

Bass Flute in C: This flute evolved during the 1920s as a substitute for the saxophone in jazz music. It is pitched one octave lower than the ordinary flute.

Alto Flute in G: This type of flute has a history over 100 years old. The alto flute is a transposing instrument, meaning that music written for it is in a different pitch than it's actual sound. The alto flute is notated a 4th above its actual sound.

Tenor Flute: Also called the flute d'amore in B flat. This type of flute is believed to have been in existence since Medieval times. It is pitched one step lower than the C flute.

Concert Flute in C: This type of flute's pitch is in C and its range is over three octaves, starting from middle C.

Soprano Flute in E Flat: It has a range of three octaves, and is equivalent to a concert C flute.

Treble Flute in G: It has a three-octave range starting from g1. The G treble flute is usually responsible for the melody. It is also a transposing instrument, its pitch is a 4th lower than its actual sound.