The western concert flute belongs to the family of transverse, or side-blown, woodwind instruments made of metal or wood. It’s the most common variant of the flute. Ensembles such as concert bands, military bands, marching bands, orchestras, and sometimes jazz and big bands include it often.

Even though the flute appears commonly to this day, it’s one of the oldest wind instruments. The keyless wooden transverse flute, which can still be found, preceded the modern concert version. It eventually evolved to become the traverso after a redesign during the Baroque period.

Transverse flutes rarely appeared in Europe during the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, with the recorder being more popular. Later on, the transverse flute would arrive to Europe from Asia via the Byzantine Empire. From here it spread to Germany and France.

This instrument resurged in Europe in the 1470s, a consequence of a military renaissance. As an example, the Swiss army used flutes to transmit signals, which helped disperse it around Europe. It began to appear in court and theater music in the late 16th century. By then we can find the first solo pieces for the instrument.

During the Baroque period, this instrument became common in opera, ballet, and chamber music pieces. Famous composers of flute music include Praetorius, Schütz, Rebillé, Descoteaux, Quantz, Bach, Telemann, Blavet, Vivaldi, Handel, and Frederick the Great.

Theobald Boehm started making flutes in the nineteenth century. Keys were added to the instrument, and the taper was modified to emphasize the lower register. In the 1950s, Albert Cooper further adapted the Boehm construction design. He intended to make performing popular music easier. Thus, the flute was tuned to A440, and the timbre was modified by cutting the embouchure hole in a new way. These flutes became the most commonly used by professionals and amateurs.

Construction, range, and execution

Blowing a stream of air over the embouchure makes the flute play. Then, the pitch can be adjusted by opening or closing keys that cover circular tone holes. Typically, the flute houses sixteen of them. As the holes open and close, the instrument produces higher or lower pitches. Higher pitches can also be reached by over-blowing, like in other woodwind instruments.  Lastly, the airstream’s direction and speed can also affect the pitch, timbre, and dynamics.

The regular concert flute, also called C flute, Boehm, silver flute, or simply flute, tunes to C and has a range of about three and a half to four octaves. They begin from the note C4 or middle C. The instrument’s highest pitch is usually defined either as C7 or D7. However, more experienced flutists can reach up to F#7. Even more so, with extreme effort, some notes beyond this and up to C8 are possible, but fail greatly in tone, and are not usually considered part of the range of the instrument. Modern flutes can house a longer B-foot-joint, with an additional key to reach B3 in the lower register.

Concert flutes have three parts: a head joint, a body, and a foot joint. A cork or plug which can be made of different types of metal or wood covers the head joint. Adjusting this cork results in fine adjustments to the tuning. However, it’s typically left in the factory-recommended position –  around 17.3 mm (0.68 in) from the center of the embouchure.

Additionally, flutists can make fine and rapid adjustments of pitch and timbre by adjusting the embouchure or position of the whole flute in relation to themselves. Moving the head-joint in and out of the head joint tenon also results in temporary adjustments of the pitch.