The Flute is without doubt the most popular woodwind band instrument in western culture. At the beginning of every school year thousands of young children start their adventure into music by learning how to play the flute.
Here is a bit of history about the flute that will give you some insight into this ancient instrument.
The flute is the most basic instrument among the woodwind family of instruments. It is truly an ancient instrument dating back several thousand years in its most primitive form.
The flute does not have a reed to create sound like a clarinet, oboe, bassoon or saxophone. It is an aerophone which means you produce sound by blowing air across an opening in the instrument (a hole).
Flutes are made of wood or different types and combinations of metal. Silver is the most common construction material used for making modern-day flutes.
Theobald Boehm is credited for inventing the modern fingering system for the flute in the 19th century. The Boehm fingering system is the default setting for modern-day flutes.
Modern flutes are approximately twenty-six inches long with a bore width of approximately 0.75 inch. It is what we call a concert pitch instrument.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about this but it basically means when you play a C on the flute it is the identical pitch of a C when played on the piano. Not so for some of the other woodwinds instruments.
Types of Flutes
The most popular flutes are called transverse Flutes. This simply means that it is held horizontally when played.The other type of flute is called a Vertical flute. It is played with the end of the tube pointed toward the ground. Recorders and many Indian flutes are played this way.
- Closed hole flute
This refers to the type of keys that are on the instrument. All the keys that cover the tone holes (holes) on the closed hole flute are one solid piece-thus the name closed hole flute.
Saxophone keys are an other example of a closed hole key system.
- Open Hole Flute
On the open hole flute the keys that cover the tone holes look like a donut. They have a hole in the center of the key. However, not all the keys on open hole flutes are open. There are 7 – 9 closed hole keys on an open hole flute.
Now that can be confusing- closed holes on an open hole flute? Only the 2nd and 3rd finger of the left hand and four fingers of the right hand have the hole in the middle of the key on an open hole flute. The rest are closed.
Most professionals play on open hole flutes because they have the capacity to produce a larger more resonant sound then the closed hole flute.
- Western Culture
In Western Culture the closed hole and open holed transverse flutes are king. In American public school band programs they are typically the only options available for playing the flute in the school band.
Things that you should know if your going to learn to play the flute:
- The Good
For the most part there is very little maintenance required to keep your flute in great shape. It is suggested that you have the flute cleaned and the keys and rods cleaned and removed once a year to prevent rust from forming on the rods.
There are no reeds to buy for the flute which is necessary for all the other woodwinds. This alone can save you several hundred dollars a year in expense.
- The Bad
Flutes are very fragile. They can go out of adjustment easily if they are not treated with loving care. This can become quite expensive.
How much can you expect to pay for a new flute?
New flutes range in price from $1,200 for beginning models to $20,000 US for some professional model flutes.