The flute is one of the oldest instruments in human history and has been found in cultures around the world. The earliest flutes date from 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, discovered by archaeologists at Ice Age sites in Germany and Switzerland. Ancient flutes were often constructed from bone, usually the wing bones of large birds such as vultures or cranes. Neolithic artisans also learned to make flutes from antlers and the ivory of mammoth tusks. Later flutes found in North America were carved from wood, notably pine and cedar. Examples of traditional wooden flutes are still being created by Native American artists today.
The modern metal flute has its origins in the 17th century when French flute makers developed the conical flute, assembled from three pieces. Modifications to the length of the flute and number of keys occurred throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with the eight-keyed flute becoming common by the era of Mozart. In 1847, German flute maker Theobald Boehm abandoned the conical style in favor of a cylindrical design that has remained largely the same ever since.
The modern flute seen in virtually every orchestra concert, classical theater production, and marching band today is typically made of silver, nickel, gold, or a combination of the three. It is played horizontally, as opposed to recorders and other flute-like instruments that are placed vertically. A modern flute is sometimes referred to as a transverse flute in order to distinguish it from similar instruments played vertically. Unlike other woodwinds, a transverse flute is played by blowing air across a hole rather than directly into the instrument. The fingerholes and keys are used to modulate the pitch, and flutists can articulate notes and patterns in the music by using their tongue and advanced breathing techniques.
In this video, flutist Samuel Coles of the Philharmonia Orchestra introduces his instrument and some of its history and development.
Read about the development of the modern flute from prehistoric times to the 20th century.
This chart, prepared by the National Flute Association, details key developments in the production of flutes in the 19th century. It highlights the accomplishments of Theobald Boehm, Louis Dorus, and other European flutemakers.
This helpful article from the Library of Congress clarifies several common misnomers in flute terminology and draws crucial distinctions between flutes, fifes, and recorders.
The Brookhaven National Laboratory details the discovery of one of the world’s oldest musical instruments found in a playable condition: a crane-bone flute. The article features two audio files of the flute being played.
Read about the discovery of Ice Age flutes found in the mountains of Europe.
This article describes an exhibition by Native American flute maker Troy De Roche, who hand-crafts authentic Blackfeet flutes in historical styles. Several photographs of De Roche’s traditional flutes are included.
A playlist curated by the Smithsonian Institution features 14 pieces of Native American music prominently featuring traditional flutes.
An article from the Vienna Symphonic Library explains some of the historical ideas and symbols associated with the flute, from Egyptian and Greek myths to Renaissance and Baroque concepts.
Find helpful tips in this eight-step guide to purchasing a flute.
Basic Flute Technique (PDF)
Finnish composer Herbert Lindholm provides a guide to basic flute techniques, including sheet music, exercises, and fingering charts to help the beginning flute student master basic skills.
Professional flutist Leonard Garrison shares his philosophy on practicing, tackling four major questions: what to practice, how, why, and how often.
In this video, master flutist Sir James Galway teaches a theater of students how to master the difficult vibrato technique.
Begin your flute practice with a sheet of scales and other warm-up exercises.
Can’t remember the fingerings for certain notes? Print this helpful fingering chart to help guide you through your next set of scales.
Flutist John Bell outlines the proper way to assemble a flute and offers advice to avoid damaging your instrument.
This page provides free, printable sheet music for solo flute. Included are works of classical composers such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven, traditional songs like classic Christmas carols, and works by more contemporary artists like Irving Berlin and Jethro Tull.
A guide written by professor Joanna Cowan White of Central Michigan University provides descriptions of advanced breathing, lip, and tongue techniques for flute.
Professional flutist Trevor Wye recommends a list of basic flute pieces an aspiring player should have in their repertoire.
Performed in virtually any major theater or concert hall across the world, Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute draws inspiration from the majestic tones of the flute to weave a tale of spirits, magic, and fate.
This article discusses one of the most popular musical theater productions in recent years, Disney’s The Lion King, and the key role of the flute in bringing the show’s score to life.
Beatboxing and the Flute (PDF)
A dissertation from Florida State University explores flute beatboxing, a new musical style that has emerged within the past decade.
Improving Articulation on the Flute
Flute professor Leone Buyse discusses articulation techniques and demonstrates single- and double-tonguing exercises.