The flute is a family of musical instrument of the woodwind group. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel–Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones.
A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, flautist, flutist or, less commonly, fluter or flutenist.
Aside from the voice, flutes are the earliest known musical instruments. A number of flutes dating to about 43,000 to 35,000 years ago have been found in the Swabian Alb region of Germany. These flutes demonstrate that a developed musical tradition existed from the earliest period of modern human presence in Europe. Flutes including the famous Bansuri, have been an integral part of Indian classical music since 1500 BC. A major deity of Hinduism, Krishna, has been associated with the flute.
The word flute first entered the English language during the Middle English period, as floute, or else flowte, flo(y)te, possibly from Old French flaute and from Old Provençal flaüt, or else from Old French fleüte, flaüte, flahute via Middle High German floite or Dutch fluit. The English verb flout has the same linguistic root, and the modern Dutch verb fluiten still shares the two meanings. Attempts to trace the word back to the Latin flare (to blow, inflate) have been pronounced "phonologically impossible" or "inadmissable". The first known use of the word flute was in the 14th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this was in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Hous of Fame, c.1380.
Today, a musician who plays any instrument in the flute family can be called a flutist (pronounced "FLEW-tist", most common in the US), or flautist (pronounced "FLAW-tist", most common in the UK), or simply a flute player (more neutrally). Flutist dates back to at least 1603, the earliest quote cited by the Oxford English Dictionary. Flautist was used in 1860 by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Marble Faun, after being adopted during the 18th century from Italy (flautista, itself from flauto), like many musical terms in England since the Italian Renaissance. Other English terms, now virtually obsolete, are fluter (15th–19th centuries) and flutenist (17th–18th centuries).
The oldest flute ever discovered may be a fragment of the femur of a juvenile cave bear, with two to four holes, found at Divje Babe in Slovenia and dated to about 43,000 years ago. However, this has been disputed. In 2008 another flute dated back to at least 35,000 years ago was discovered in Hohle Fels cave near Ulm, Germany. The five-holed flute has a V-shaped mouthpiece and is made from a vulture wing bone. The researchers involved in the discovery officially published their findings in the journal Nature, in August 2009. The discovery was also the oldest confirmed find of any musical instrument in history, until a redating of flutes found in Geißenklösterle cave revealed them to be even older with an age of 42,000 to 43,000 years.
The flute, one of several found, was found in the Hohle Fels cavern next to the Venus of Hohle Fels and a short distance from the oldest known human carving.[not in citation given] On announcing the discovery, scientists suggested that the "finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe". Scientists have also suggested that the discovery of the flute may help to explain "the probable behavioural and cognitive gulf between" Neanderthals and early modern human.
A three-holed flute, 18.7 cm long, made from a mammoth tusk (from the Geißenklösterle cave, near Ulm, in the southern German Swabian Alb and dated to 30,000 to 37,000 years ago) was discovered in 2004, and two flutes made from swan bones excavated a decade earlier (from the same cave in Germany, dated to circa 36,000 years ago) are among the oldest known musical instruments.
A playable 9,000-year-old Gudi (literally, "bone flute") was excavated from a tomb in Jiahu along with 29 defunct twins, made from the wing bones of red-crowned cranes with five to eight holes each, in the Central Chinese province of Henan. The earliest extant Chinese transverse flute is a chi (篪) flute discovered in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng at the Suizhou site, Hubei province, China. It dates from 433 BC, of the later Zhou Dynasty. It is fashioned of lacquered bamboo with closed ends and has five stops that are at the flute's side instead of the top. Chi flutes are mentioned in Shi Jing, compiled and edited by Confucius, according to tradition.
The earliest written reference to a flute is from a Sumerian-language cuneiform tablet dated to c. 2600–2700 BCE. Flutes are also mentioned in a recently translated tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem whose development spanned the period of approximately 2100–600 BCE. Additionally, a set of cuneiform tablets knows as the "musical texts" provide precise tuning instructions for seven scale of a stringed instrument (assumed to be a Babylonian lyre). One of those scales is named embūbum, which is an Akkadian word for "flute".
The Bible, in Genesis 4:21, cites Jubal as being the "father of all those who play the ugab and the kinnor". The former Hebrew term is believed by some to refer to some wind instrument, or wind instruments in general, the latter to a stringed instrument, or stringed instruments in general. As such, Jubal is regarded in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the inventor of the flute (a word used in some translations of this biblical passage). Elsewhere in the Bible, the flute is referred to as "chalil" (from the root word for "hollow"), in particular in 1 Samuel 10:5, 1 Kings 1:40, Isaiah 5:12 and 30:29, and Jeremiah 48:36. Archeological digs in the Holy Land have discovered flutes from both the Bronze Age (c. 4000-1200 BCE) and the Iron Age (1200-586 BCE), the latter era "witness[ing] the creation of the Israelite kingdom and its separation into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judea."
Some early flutes were made out of tibias (shin bones). The flute has also always been an essential part of Indian culture and mythology, and the cross flute believed by several accounts to originate in India as Indian literature from 1500 BCE has made vague references to the cross flute.
A flute produces sound when a stream of air directed across a hole in the instrument creates a vibration of air at the hole. The air stream across this hole creates a Bernoulli, or siphon. This excites the air contained in the usually cylindrical resonant cavity within the flute. The player changes the pitch of the sound produced by opening and closing holes in the body of the instrument, thus changing the effective length of the resonator and its corresponding resonant frequency. By varying the air pressure, a flute player can also change the pitch of a note by causing the air in the flute to resonate at a harmonic rather than the fundamental frequency without opening or closing any holes.
To be louder, a flute must use a larger resonator, a larger air stream, or increased air stream velocity. A flute's volume can generally be increased by making its resonator and tone holes larger. This is why a police whistle, a form of flute, is very wide for its pitch, and why a pipe organ can be far louder than a concert flute: a large organ pipe can contain several cubic feet of air, and its tone hole may be several inches wide, while a concert flute's tone hole measures about half an inch across.
The air stream must be directed at the correct angle and velocity, or else the air in the flute will not vibrate. In fippled or ducted flutes, a precisely formed and placed windway will compress and channel the air to the labium ramp edge across the open window. In the pipe organ, this air is supplied by a regulated blower. In non-fipple flutes, the air stream is shaped and directed by the player's lips, called the embouchure. This allows the player a wide range of expression in pitch, volume, and timbre, especially in comparison to fipple/ducted flutes. However, it also makes an end-blown flute or transverse flute considerably more difficult for a beginner to produce a full sound on than a ducted flute, such as the recorder. Transverse and end-blown flutes also take more air to play, which requires deeper breathing and makes circular breathing a considerably trickier proposition.
Generally, the quality called timbre or "tone colour" varies because the flute can produce harmonics in different proportions or intensities. The tone color can be modified by changing the internal shape of the bore, such as the conical taper, or the diameter-to-length ratio. A harmonic is a frequency that is a whole number multiple of a lower register, or "fundamental" note of the flute. Generally the air stream is thinner (vibrating in more modes), faster (providing more energy to excite the air's resonance), and aimed across the hole less deeply (permitting a more shallow deflection of the air stream) in the production of higher harmonics or upper partials.
Head joint geometry appears particularly critical to acoustic performance and tone, but there is no clear consensus on a particular shape amongst manufacturers. Acoustic impedance of the embouchure hole appears the most critical parameter. Critical variables affecting this acoustic impedance include: chimney length (hole between lip-plate and head tube), chimney diameter, and radii or curvature of the ends of the chimney and any designed restriction in the "throat" of the instrument, such as that in the Japanese Nohkan Flute.
A study in which professional players were blindfolded could find no significant differences between instruments made from a variety of different metals. In two different sets of blind listening, no instrument was correctly identified in a first listening, and in a second, only the silver instrument was identified. The study concluded that there was "no evidence that the wall material has any appreciable effect on the sound color or dynamic range of the instrument".
In its most basic form, a flute can be an open tube which is blown like a bottle. There are several broad classes of flutes. With most flutes, the musician blows directly across the edge of the mouthpiece, with 1/4 of their bottom lip covering the embouchure hole. However, some flutes, such as the whistle, gemshorn, flageolet, recorder, tin whistle, tonette, fujara, and ocarina have a duct that directs the air onto the edge (an arrangement that is termed a "fipple"). These are known as fipple flutes. The fipple gives the instrument a distinct timbre which is different from non-fipple flutes and makes the instrument easier to play, but takes a degree of control away from the musician.
Another division is between side-blown (or transverse) flutes, such as the Western concert flute, piccolo, fife, dizi and bansuri; and end-blown flutes, such as the ney, xiao, kaval, danso, shakuhachi, Anasazi flute and quena. The player of a side-blown flute uses a hole on the side of the tube to produce a tone, instead of blowing on an end of the tube. End-blown flutes should not be confused with fipple flutes such as the recorder, which are also played vertically but have an internal duct to direct the air flow across the edge of the tone hole.
Flutes may be open at one or both ends. The ocarina, xun, pan pipes, police whistle, and bosun's whistle are closed-ended. Open-ended flutes such as the concert flute and the recorder have more harmonics, and thus more flexibility for the player, and brighter timbres. An organ pipe may be either open or closed, depending on the sound desired.
Flutes may have any number of pipes or tubes, though one is the most common number. Flutes with multiple resonators may be played one resonator at a time (as is typical with pan pipes) or more than one at a time (as is typical with double flutes).
Flutes can be played with several different air sources. Conventional flutes are blown with the mouth, although some cultures use nose flutes. The flue pipes of organs, which are acoustically similar to duct flutes, are blown by bellows or fans.
Western concert flute
The Western concert flute, a descendant of the medieval German flute, is a transverse treble flute that is closed at the top. An embouchure hole is positioned near the top, across and into which the player blows. The flute has circular tone holes, larger than the finger holes of its baroque predecessors. The size and placement of tone holes, the key mechanism, and the fingering system used to produce the notes in the flute's range were evolved from 1832 to 1847 by Theobald Boehm, and greatly improved the instrument's dynamic range and intonation over those of its predecessors. With some refinements (and the rare exception of the Kingma system and other custom adapted fingering systems), Western concert flutes typically conform to Boehm's design, known as the Boehm system. Beginner's flutes are normally made of nickel, silver or brass that is silver plated, while professionals use solid silver, gold, and sometimes platinum instruments. There are also modern wooden bodies instruments usually with silver or gold keywork. The wood is usually African Blackwood.
The standard concert flute is pitched in the key of C and has a range of three octaves starting from middle C (or one half-step lower, when a B foot is attached to the instrument). This means that the concert flute is one of the highest common orchestra and concert band instruments.
Other sizes of modern flutes
The piccolo plays an octave higher than the regular treble flute. Lower members of the flute family include the G alto and C bass flutes that are used occasionally, and are pitched a perfect fourth and an octave below the concert flute, respectively. Parts are written for alto flute more frequently than for bass. The contrabass, double contrabass, and hyperbass are other rare forms of the flute pitched two, three, and four octaves below middle C respectively.
Other sizes of flutes and piccolos are used from time to time. A rarer instrument of the modern pitching system is the treble G flute. Instruments made according to an older pitch standard, used principally in wind-band music, include D♭ piccolo, soprano flute (the primary instrument, equivalent to today's concert C flute), F alto flute, and B♭ bass flute.
The bamboo flute is an important instrument in Indian classical music, and developed independently of the Western flute. The Hindu God Lord Krishna is traditionally considered a master of the bamboo flute. The Indian flutes are very simple compared to the Western counterparts; they are made of bamboo and are keyless.
Two main varieties of Indian flutes are currently used. The first, the Bansuri, has six finger holes and one embouchure hole, and is used predominantly in the Hindustani music of Northern India. The second, the Venu or Pullanguzhal, has eight finger holes, and is played predominantly in the Carnatic music of Southern India. Presently, the eight-holed flute with cross-fingering technique is common among many Carnatic flutists. Prior to this, the South Indian flute had only seven finger holes, with the fingering standard developed by Sharaba Shastri, of the Palladam school, at the beginning of the 20th century.
In China there are many varieties of dizi (笛子), or Chinese flute, with different sizes, structures (with or without a resonance membrane) and number of holes (from 6 to 11) and intonations (different keys). Most are made of bamboo, but can come in wood, jade, bone, and iron. One peculiar feature of the Chinese flute is the use of a resonance membrane mounted on one of the holes that vibrates with the air column inside the tube. It gives the flute a bright sound.
Commonly seen flutes in the modern Chinese orchestra are the bangdi (梆笛), qudi (曲笛), xindi (新笛), and dadi (大笛). The bamboo flute played vertically is called the xiao (簫), which is a different category of wind instrument in China.
Sodina and suling
The sodina is an end-blown flute found throughout the island state of Madagascar, located in the Indian Ocean off southeastern Africa. One of the oldest instruments on the island, it bears close resemblance to end-blown flutes found in Southeast Asia and particularly Indonesia, where it is known as the suling, suggesting the predecessor to the sodina was carried to Madagascar in outrigger canoes by the island's original settlers emigrating from Borneo. An image of the most celebrated contemporary sodina flutist, Rakoto Frah (d. 2001), was featured on the local currency.
The sring (also called blul) is a relatively small, end-blown flute with a nasal tone quality found in the Caucasus region of Eastern Armenia. It is made of wood or cane, usually with seven finger holes and one thumb hole, producing a diatonic scale. One Armenian musicologist believes the sring to be the most characteristic of national Armenian instruments.
- Flute method
- Hand flute
- Irish flute
- Jazz flute
- Native American flute
- Pipe and tabor
- Tin whistle
- Wilford, John N. (June 24, 2009). "Flutes Offer Clues to Stone-Age Music". The New York Times 459 (7244): 248–52. Bibcode:2009Natur.459..248C. doi:10.1038/nature07995. PMID 19444215.. Citation on p. 248.
- Higham, Thomas; Basell, Laura; Jacobi, Roger; Wood, Rachel; Ramsey, Christopher Bronk; Conard, Nicholas J. (2012). "Τesting models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geißenklösterle". Journal of Human Evolution 62 (6): 664–76. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.03.003. PMID 22575323.
- "Flute". The Free Dictionary By Farlex. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- Simpson, J. A. and Weiner, E. S. C. (eds.), "flute, n.1", Oxford English Dictionary, second edition. 20 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0198611862.
- Smith, Fenwick. "Is it flutist or flautist?". Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Flute". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- "Flutist". Oxford English Dictionary (American English). Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Flautist". Oxford English Dictionary (British & World English). Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Fluter (c.1400)". Oxford English Dictionary.
- "Fluter". Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Fluter". Random House Dictionary and Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Flutenist". The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- Tenenbaum, David (June 2000). "Neanderthal jam". The Why Files. University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents. Retrieved 14 March 2006.
- Flute History, UCLA. Retrieved June 2007.
- Ghosh, Pallab. (2009-06-25) BBC: 'Oldest musical instrument' found. BBC News. Retrieved on 2013-08-10.
- Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina, and Susanne C. Münzel (August 2009). "New Flutes Document the Earliest Musical Tradition in Southwestern Germany". Nature 460 (7256): 737–40. Bibcode:2009Natur.460..737C. doi:10.1038/nature08169. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19553935.
- "'Oldest musical instrument' found". BBC news. 2009-06-25. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
- "Music for cavemen". MSNBC. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
- "Flutes Offer Clues to Stone-Age Music". The New York Times. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
- "Archeologists discover ice age dwellers' flute". CBC Arts (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). 2004-12-30. Archived from the original on 2009-05-28. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- The bone age flute. BBC. September 23, 1999.
- Zhang, Juzhong; Xiao, Xinghua; Lee, Yun Kuen (December 2004). "The early development of music. Analysis of the Jiahu bone flutes". Antiquity 78 (302): 769–778.
- Goodman, Howard L. (2010). Xun Xu and the politics of precision in third-century AD China. Brill Publishers. p. 226. ISBN 90-04-18337-X.
- Goss, Clint (2012). "The Development of Flutes in Europe and Asia". Flutopedia. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
- Goss, Clint (2012). "Flutes of Gilgamesh and Ancient Mesopotamia". Flutopedia. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
- Judith Cohen, "Review of 'Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine: Archaeological, Written, and Comparative Sources', by Joachim Braun". Min-Ad: Israel Studies in Musicology Online. Vol. 3. (2004). http://www.biu.ac.il/hu/mu/min-ad04/BraunRev-2.pdf
- Strong's Hebrew Concordance, "chalil". http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/2485.htm
- Hoiberg, Dale; Ramchandani, Indu (2000). Students' Britannica India. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 125. ISBN 0-85229-760-2.
- Chaturvedi, Mamta (2001). How to Play Flute & Shehnai. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd. p. 7. ISBN 81-288-1476-1.
- Morse, Constance (1968). Music and Music-makers. New Hampshire: Ayer Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 0-8369-0724-8.
- Arvey, Verna (2007). Choreographic Music for the Dance. London: Read Country Books. p. 36. ISBN 1-4067-5847-7.
- Flute acoustics, UNSW. Retrieved June 2007.
- Wolfe, Joe. "Introduction to flute acoustics". UNSW Music Acoustics. Retrieved 18 January 2006.
- Spell, Eldred (1983). "Anatomy of a Headjoint". The Flute Worker. ISSN 0737-8459.
- Wolfe, Joe. "Acoustic impedance of the flute". Flute acoustics: an introduction.
- Widholm, G.; Linortner, R.; Kausel, W.; Bertsch, M. (2001). "Silver, gold, platinum—and the sound of the flute". Proc. International Symposium on Musical Acoustics: 277–280. Archived from the original on 2008-03-13.
- Boehm, Theobald. (1964). The Flute and Flute-Playing in Acoustical, Technical, and Artistic Aspects, translated by Dayton C. Miller, with a new introduction by Samuel Baron. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-21259-9, pp. 8–12.
- Arnold, Alison (2000). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. London: Taylor & Francis. p. 354. ISBN 0-8240-4946-2.
- Caudhurī, Vimalakānta Rôya; Roychaudhuri, Bimalakanta (2000). The Dictionary of Hindustani Classical Music. Kolkata: Motilal Banarsidass Publication. ISBN 81-208-1708-7.
- Abram, David; Guides, Rough; Edwards, Nick; Ford, Mike; Sen, Devdan; Wooldridge, Beth (2004). The Rough Guide to South India 3. London: Rough Guides. pp. 670, 671. ISBN 1-84353-103-8.
- Shaw, Geo (November 8, 1879). "Music among the Malagasy". The Musical Standard 17 (797): 297. Retrieved November 15, 2010.
- Maminirina, Rado (15 July 2011). "Le billet Rakoto Frah vaut de l'or". Express de Madagascar (in French). Archived from the original on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
- Pahlevanian, Alina. (2001). "Armenia §I: Folk Music, 3: Epics", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Komitas, Vardapet. (1994). Grakan nshkhark' Komitas Vardapeti beghun grch'ēn: npast mē Komitas Vardapeti srbadasman harts'in, edited by Abel Oghlukian. Montreal: Ganatahayots' Aṛajnordarani "K'ristonēakan Usman ew Astuatsabanut'ean Kedron".
- Buchanan, Donna A. 2001. "Bulgaria §II: Traditional Music, 2: Characteristics of Pre-Socialist Musical Culture, 1800–1944, (iii): Instruments". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Crane, Frederick. 1972. Extant Medieval Musical Instruments: A Provisional Catalogue by Types. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0-87745-022-6
- Galway, James. 1982. Flute. Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides. London: Macdonald. ISBN 0-356-04711-3 (cloth); ISBN 0-356-04712-1 (pbk.) New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-871380-X Reprinted 1990, London: Kahn & Averill London: Khan & Averill ISBN 1-871082-13-7
- Phelan, James, The Complete Guide to the [Flute and Piccolo] (Burkart-Phelan, Inc., 2004)
- Putnik, Edwin. 1970. The Art of Flute Playing. Evanston, Illinois: Summy-Birchard Inc. Revised edition 1973, Princeton, New Jersey and Evanston, Illinois. ISBN 0-87487-077-1
- Toff, Nancy. 1985. The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers. New York: Charles's Scribners Sons. ISBN 0-684-18241-6 Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-8771-5 Second Edition 1996, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510502-8
- Wye, Trevor. 1988. Proper Flute Playing: A Companion to the Practice Books. London: Novello. ISBN 0-7119-8465-4
- Maclagan,Susan J. "A Dictionary for the Modern Flutist", 2009, Lanham, Maryland, USA: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6711-6
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Flutes.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Flute.|
|Look up flute in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Essay on the Jiahu flutes from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- A selection of historic flutes from around the world at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- nature.com New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany
- Flute at DMOZ
- Flute acoustics Resources on flute acoustics from the University of New South Wales.