The concert flute is a variation in design to the plain flute, which holds the title as one of the most ancient musical instruments and likely the first wind instrument that ever existed. An especially long tradition of flute playing exists in the Middle East. Among the first to add three or four finger-holes to their bamboo flutes were the Sumerians and Egyptians. This allowed them to produce several notes, as opposed to one. During the Middle Ages, the transverse flute consisted of one piece of wood and had six finger-holes. It appeared in military contexts and in the court.

Traveling minstrels made this instrument known to their audiences across Europe. They used a design that originated in Germany, commonly known as the Germanica fistula. Usually, it was accompanied by a drum.

From the middle of the 17th century, the flute underwent several sweeping changes. From 1660 onward it consisted of three separate parts: the cylindrical head joint, the body with six finger-holes, and the foot joint. The body and foot joint were conical. An additional hole was added to the foot joint and was fitted with a key, making D# playable. These innovations, which probably originated from the Hotteterres, a French flute-making family, were the first developments of the instrument resulting in the concert flute we know nowadays.

By the end of the 18th century, the concert flute had firmly established itself as an orchestra instrument. In 1847, Boehm invented an improved cylindrical tubing flute and a parabolically conical head joint, a revolution of the time in instrument-making. Nowadays, modern flutes still use the Boehm mechanism. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it underwent only minor modifications and improvements.

Playing

Blowing produces sound on the flute. Thus, the flutist blows through the mouth hole or embouchure hole. Then, the stream of air makes contact with the edge and is cyclically directed outward and inward. This cyclically vibrating air stream is the sound generator and excites cyclic vibrations of the air column inside the flute’s cylindrical tube. The flutist uses tone holes and keys to shorten the vibrating air column, therefore producing variations in pitch. The sound projects through the open lower end and the open keys. The timbre of the concert flute is homogeneous in all registers. Only the very lowest and highest notes exhibiting any different qualities.

Today, there is a very clear movement toward international standardization of flute-playing style. Since the 1940s the French school, with its ideal of a full and brilliant sound with vibrato has quite literally set the tone.

Concert flute construction

Concert flutes have three parts: the head joint, body, and foot joint. A cork or plug, made out of plastics, metals, or less common woods, seals the head joint. It’s possible to make fine adjustments to tuning by adjusting the head joint cork. However, this is usually left in the factory-recommended position, around 17.3 mm from the center of the embouchure hole. Moving the head joint in and out of its tenon allows for gross, temporary adjustments of the pitch. On the other hand, the flutist can make fine or rapid adjustments of pitch and timbre by adjusting the embouchure and position of the flute in relation to himself or herself.