from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
english flute , italian flauto traverso
Yamaha Flute YFL-482H.tif
classification Aerophon
woodwind instrument
with blowing edge
range Range flute.png
Sound sample Parts from the Concerto for Flute in D by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, KV 314
Related instruments

Piccolo flute , alto flute , bass flute , recorder

List of flutists
Category: Flutist

The transverse flute (Italian flauto traverso ) is a woodwind instrument with a vent hole on the side of the pipe , unlike the longitudinal flute . It is an important solo and orchestral instrument . The flute is also used in jazz , rock music and Latin American music .

Layout and function

There are different flutes. The modern flute, also known as the large flute , consists of the following three parts:
head joint, middle joint and foot joint.


The headjoint of the transverse flute is usually straight, but there are also curved headjoints as a learning aid for children's flutes or for lower alto, tenor and bass flutes. The instrument is easier to grip and easier to hold thanks to a shorter lever . The head piece consists of the actual tube, the tube, which can be made of different materials (see material). In the upper third there is a hole with a soldered chimney. This carries the curved lip plate with the actual blow hole. The end of the head piece is formed by the tuning cork inside the tube. In contrast to the rest of the tube, the head piece is not cylindrical, but rather (from the Viennese Classic) drilled in an inverted conical shape. H. the inner air space tapers from the flute end to the vent hole. This different cone influences the sound of the flute. The tuning cork is located in the upper narrow part of the head piece above the blow hole. The notch at the lower end of the cleaning rod should be visible exactly in the middle of the blowing hole if adjusted correctly. The curvature of the lip plate, the shape and the cut of the blow hole and the bore of the head joint have a great influence on the response, timbre and volume of the modern flute.

Middle piece

The flute has 16 tone holes in the middle, on each of which a short tube, called a chimney, is placed. The chimney ensures that the actually curved hole has a straight end, which can then be closed by a flap. In the case of the flap systems on the center piece, a distinction is made between two designs and two types of flap .

the flaps are arranged in a line
the G is drawn forward towards the left ring finger
closed flaps
The fingers operate the keys, the keys close the tone hole
Ring flaps (open flaps)
The fingers close the hole in the flaps and operate the flaps.

Ring keys have the advantage that the flutist feels the air speed in the fingertips and can thus correct it better. In addition, a system with open keys requires a more precise finger technique, which in turn benefits a more precise flute playing. The grip options are also much more flexible. The open keys allow numerous additional fingerings and effects such as glissando, multiphonics and micro-intervals (pitch less than a semitone), which is particularly helpful when playing contemporary music and is often required by the composer. Concert flutes with a complete quarter-tone mechanism have also existed for a number of years. This variant of the flute mechanics, which is located on the middle piece as well as on the foot piece, was developed by the Dutch flute maker Eva Kingma .

Modern boehm flute with closed keys


Many flutes, especially those in the beginner's segment, have an electric mechanism. This mechanism was developed independently at the beginning of the 20th century by the German flute maker Emil von Rittershausen and the French flute maker Djalma Julliot and facilitates the response and intonation of the note e in the high third octave at the expense of a slightly higher weight. Most professional flutists refrain from using an electric mechanism, as the notes can be achieved with good technique without them.

The original Böhm flute was designed with an open G sharp key. However, when the closed G sharp key became more and more popular among the flutists, the opening for the E key had to be changed because there were problems with the intonation and the response of the e 3 . The split E-mechanism only closes the lower G-key in order to achieve a clean intonation and quick response of the e 3 . Modern flutes almost all have an electric mechanism.

Two foot pieces: a C-foot on the left, an H-foot on the right

Foot piece

A distinction is made here between C-foot and B-foot: For flutes with a C-foot, the lowest possible note is c 1 . For flutes with a B foot, on the other hand, you can play a semitone lower, i.e. up to the b.

One advantage of a flute with a B-foot is the small lever for the c 4 , called a “gizmo”, which is attached to the foot, and the fact that the instrument has a longer resonance space and therefore sounds fuller, warmer and stronger. The high notes of the third octave in particular sound less bright and shrill. In addition, the flute is not so top-heavy, which means that it is more easily perceived by the musician while playing the flute. There are also flutes with a C-foot to which a separate extension piece for the small h can be attached. And there are foot pieces that go down to the small b or even the a. However, these are basically custom-made products. For the lower flutes, such as the alto flute in G, there are models with a G-foot as well as those with a F sharp-foot.


Until the new construction by the Munich flute maker and flutist Theobald Böhm in 1832 (conical Böhm flute ) or 1847 (cylindrical Böhm flute ) and in some cases for a long time afterwards, transverse flutes were made of wood. The first gold flute appeared in 1869, built by Louis Lot . In addition to silver and gold , the following materials are used today for flute construction: gold-plated silver, white gold , nickel silver (alloy of copper, zinc and nickel), platinum , palladium , nickel , titanium , carbon , brass , stainless steel and wood , especially the very hard ones and fungus-resistant African grenadilla (Dalbergia melanoxylon), but also the rare cocus wood (Brya ebenus) and cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa). The wood types boxwood and ebony are hardly used today because of the risk of cracking and breaking. Many flautists experiment with headjoints that are made from a different material than the rest of the instrument. Cheaper instruments for beginners are made of aluminum or other cheaper metals. Flutes made of grenadilla wood with the Böhm system are more popular today than they were a few years ago and are also used professionally in large symphony orchestras. They differ in sound from the historical transverse flute, which was made of wood or ivory .

In the 1990s, flute makers also began building instruments made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic . These have certain advantages in terms of durability and care, but are controversial among flautists because of the sound characteristics that deviate from the "normal" flute tone. In the last few decades a new type of system for the mechanics was developed, which is no longer based exclusively on a series of keys screwed to axes, but closes the tone holes with magnetic keys.

Although nowadays it is mostly made of metal, the flute is not a brass instrument , but a woodwind instrument . On the one hand, the vibration is not generated by the player's lips, as is the case with brass instruments, but by blowing over an edge (blowing edge); on the other hand, flutes were originally made entirely of wood.


The range of dynamics in the flute is relatively small. Up to a '' it is around 25 dB . It is limited to 10 dB for higher tones. At a distance of 9 meters, the sound level in ff (fortissimo) reaches around 75 dB in the low and around 85 dB in the high registers. The pp (pianissimo) ranges from 50 dB in the lower tone range to 75 dB in the high range. The sound in pp is very low in overtones and approaches the sine tone. The sound level of the fundamental tone remains the same in the lower register in piano and forte , the amplification of the overtones causes the louder sound impression. The peak exposure of the player to his ear is over 105 dB.

Care and Maintenance

The flute should be cleaned completely inside (normal cloth) and outside ( microfiber cloth) after every play . Silver flutes in particular, but also lower gold alloys, tarnish quickly, mainly because of possible grease residues on the skin.

So-called "cushions" are built into the flaps. These consist of elastic material (a cardboard box , a layer of felt and so-called fish skin made of wafer-thin sheep intestine ) and have the task of sealing the clay holes airtight. The pads are a very sensitive part of the flute, so you should never touch them with your fingers or the cleaning cloth. Every now and then it happens that moisture collects in the upholstery. This creates an annoying noise when playing. When this noise occurs, it is advisable to put a cigarette paper under the flap, which will then absorb the accumulated liquid. You should also avoid cleaning the flute with silver cleaning agents, as the sensitive upholstery will be seriously affected. Some of the pads in professional flutes are now made from synthetic materials with less sound dampening, better resonance and greater durability (Straubinger Pads, JS Gold Pads, etc.).

The flute has a fine mechanism that needs to be supplied with oil and readjusted. The cushions are replaced when they are worn out. Strong fluctuations in humidity and temperature should be avoided, especially with regard to the upholstery. In this respect, the body of metal flutes is naturally much less sensitive than that of wooden flutes, which can result in cracks in the wood due to insufficient relative humidity and strong temperature fluctuations.

In principle, maintenance should be left to an instrument maker who completely dismantles and cleans the instrument every few years and, if necessary, replaces the key pad.


Alto flute with a curved headjoint.
Alto flute with straight headjoint.
Bass flute.
Double bass flute in G

Modern flutes based on the Böhm system are built in different sizes:

  • Piccolo flute (also small flute ) in C, but transposing an octave higher (tube length about 26 cm)
  • small flute in F: one fourth higher than the big flute 1) , meanwhile there is also a small flute in G with the nickname "Flautino" (currently only from a manufacturer from Taiwan) 1)
  • large flute in C (about 67.5 cm length)
  • large flute in C flat (for marching band ) 1)
  • Flauto d'amore in Bb: whole tone under the big flute 1)
  • baroque flauto d'amore in A or A flat: minor or major third under the major flute
  • Alto flute in G (tube length about 86 cm, as a transposing instrument sounding a fourth lower than notated), earlier also in F and E-flat (for alto flute in G see also under Theobald Böhm ).
  • Tenor flute in A or B
  • Bass flute in C: an octave lower than the big flute
  • Contra alto flute in G: one octave lower than the alto flute 1)
  • Double bass flute in C: an octave lower than the bass flute 1)
  • Double bass flute in G: between double bass in C and sub double bass 1)
  • Sub-double bass flute: one octave lower than the double bass flute 1)
1) These models have been added since the turn of the millennium

Sound samples


The earliest clear picture of a transverse flute was found on an Etruscan relief in Perusna . It dates from the 2nd or 1st century BC. At that time the instrument was held to the left, only in an illustration of a poem from the 11th century was a representation of a flute played to the right discovered.

middle Ages

Fiddler and flute player in Codex Manesse , 1305 to 1315

Archaeological finds of occidental flutes are from the 12th to 14th centuries, the oldest representation contains the Hortus Deliciarum from Landsberg . With the exception of one, medieval European images and images from Asia depict flutes held on the left. Ancient European depictions, on the other hand, show flutes held on the right. It is therefore assumed that the transverse flute was temporarily out of use in Europe and was then reintroduced from Asia via Byzantium .

The word flûte has been handed down in the French language from the 12th century , possibly derived from the Latin flatus . This name was adopted in other European languages, but still referred to the recorder and transverse flute until the 13th century.

There are hardly any records of medieval instrumental music . In any case, the flute was used in the so-called " low ensembles ".


“The five Landsknechte”, iron etching by Daniel Hopfer from the early 16th century, the second from the left with a flute

The Renaissance flutes (called Traversa, Fiffara, Schweizerpfeiff, Fleuste d'Allemand ) were mostly built in one piece with a cylindrical bore. They had a total of 6 holes for the index, middle and ring fingers of both hands (none for the thumb). These were relatively small (approx. 6 mm); the mouth hole was drilled circular. The apparently simple instruments were artfully made by the finest flute makers of the time (Rafi, Schnitzer, Bassano and others). Characteristic is the range of over two and a half octaves and more (one octave more than most recorders of the time), whereby the middle octave sounds best. The most famous surviving original Renaissance flutes are in the Castel Vecchio Museum in Verona .

In the 16th century, the flutes were mainly used as ensemble instruments: the standard instrumentation consisted of four flutes (early days in Germany: a 1 or g 1 , d 1 d 1 g 1 ; later mainly d 1 d 1 d 1 g 1 ), high voice + Flute (in four-foot position) + lute, and in England the Broken Consort (where the flute plays the second voice in four-foot position). Soloricercare by Aurelio Virgiliano; obligatory traverso parts for this type in the early 17th century in the works of Monteverdi , Prätorius , Schein and others. a.


Jacques-Martin Hotteterre plays a three-part flute

The baroque , single-key transverse flute emerged at the end of the 17th century as a French further development of the keyless Renaissance flute. The reason was a changed sound ideal. The new three-part, slightly conically drilled flutes sound much stronger in the root octave, are in "French tuning" (a approx. 390–400 Hz) and, not least because of the D-flat key, can be played in all keys. This was bought at the cost of significantly reduced mobility and a significantly smaller range (just under 2 octaves d 1 to around c 3 or d 3 ). Literature: Solo sonatas, duets, solo sonatas with continuo, trio sonatas, occasional use in larger ensembles. Exclusively French music by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre and contemporaries. It is possible that the trio sonata ( BWV 1039) for two flutes by Johann Sebastian Bach was originally written for three-part transverse flutes.

In the high baroque style , the flutes were later divided into four parts due to the division of the middle section. The bore was conical, i.e. H. the head piece had a larger inside diameter than the foot. Important flute makers were Hotteterre , Naust , Rippert , Bressan , Denner , Oberlender , Palanca , Quantz , Lot as well as the Rottenburgh and Stanesby families .

To accommodate the mood, which varied from place to place, many of the flutes had several interchangeable centerpieces. The new hole and a key (for D-flat / E-flat) enabled a technically problem-free chromatic game and a further spectrum of well-functioning keys (most favorable keys: D major and B minor). The pitch range ranged from d 1 to a 3 , whereby Quantz in his attempt at an instruction to play the flute traversed described the e 3 as the highest usable note.

Repertoire: French suites & sonatas, duos (including Hotteterre, de La Barre , Blavet ), Italian sonatas , concertos ( Vivaldi , Locatelli , ...), German music ( Bach , Handel , Telemann - including 12 solo fantasies - Quantz), chamber music , orchestral roles .

Classic and Romantic

British flautist Charles Nicholson with flute (1834)
Modern copy of a typical British flute from around 1860, model "Pratten's Perfected"

In the course of time the orchestras got bigger and louder, which led to the desire among flautists, especially in the British Isles, for a louder, more assertive and more flexible and easier to play instrument. In Mozart's time, the single-flute flute, with finger holes that were only slightly larger than the transverse flute and sometimes a slightly oval mouth hole, was still the standard instrument that was expected when a composition required a flute. At the beginning of the 19th century, more and more flaps were fitted as standard. There were all conceivable flap variations. The five-keyed flute (Eb, short F key, G sharp, B flat, C) had more or less prevailed in France and the seven or eight key flute (as in France, additional keys for low C sharp and C and sometimes a long one) F-key). In Germany, Austria and Italy there was probably the greatest variety, here there were flutes with 14 or more keys as well as many different systems, most of which were named after their inventor ("after Meyer", "Schwedlerflöte", "System Ziegler" etc.) , No rarity. In most cases, apart from the eight "standard keys" known from England, they were trill keys or redundant keys to facilitate certain passages.

In England in particular, the demand for louder and more assertive instruments increased in the first third of the 19th century. In order to achieve this, the still conical inner bore of the flute as well as the blow hole and finger holes were enlarged in some cases radically. As a result, the ability to play many notes through forked handles instead of keys was lost, making a large number of keys mandatory. Furthermore, the instrument and its tuning became much more difficult to control and required a completely new approach and a lot more air. On the other hand, this created a completely new sound of the flute, which was partially compared to the sound of the oboe. The main pioneers of this movement were the English flautists Charles Nicholson and, a few years later, Robert Sidney Pratten , who promoted and cultivated the development of the wide-bored flute with large finger holes and a vent hole. Many historical instruments with the inscription "Nicholson's Improved" or "Pratten's Perfected" still exist today. Theobald Böhm heard a concert by Nicholson while he was in England. This led him to develop a cylindrical transverse flute, as Nicholson's dynamic tone was previously unattainable with continental European instruments. This form is played in almost every orchestra today.

Due to the continuing development in the Romantic period, many great composers (including Beethoven ) refrained from writing works for the flute solo, as these still seemed “too limited and imperfect”.

The flute of the Classical and Romantic periods with its wide bores and large finger holes is experiencing a renaissance in folk music today. It is particularly widespread in Irish folk , and there are numerous instrument makers who have specialized in the construction of these "old" instruments and who, due to the great demand, have waiting lists of up to ten years for their instruments.

Boehm flute

The flutist and instrument maker Theobald Böhm gave the flute its current shape (cylindrical again). In 1832 he developed a chromatic key system that made it possible to attach the tone holes purely from an acoustic point of view, regardless of their tangibility. In France this system quickly became very popular, in Germany the “old” system lasted for a long time. Today almost all modern flutes are so-called Boehm flutes . This system was also carried over to other woodwind instruments (for example the clarinet ).

Use of different types of instruments

Baroque as well as Renaissance flutes are enjoying growing popularity again in the form of replicas of historical instruments. The transverse flute is valued as a second instrument by flutists and recorder players and is primarily used in early music .

Until well into the 19th century, the traditional construction, now mostly equipped with several keys, was in use at the same time as the Böhm flute. The material used was usually wood, mainly grenadilla , later also bakelite or ebonite .

Regionally, however, a type of construction similar to the Renaissance flute has remained in use up to the present day, the Schwegelpfeife .

There are also the so-called minstrel flutes, also known as drum whistles . This is also based on the principle of transverse whistles without keys. They have the same hole structure as the Renaissance flutes, with the difference that the musician's flutes also have a hole for the right little finger. That is, the flute has seven holes. The fingering is still similar to that of the Renaissance flutes or the recorders. The range from d 1 is about three octaves. Today you will z. B. used by marching bands and in military music.

Flutes from other cultures

Indian bansuri

Flutes as a group of side-blown flutes are known in many cultures, such as the ryūteki in Japan , the dizi , xindi and koudi in China . In northern India the bansuri is widespread in classical Indian music and in folk music, its southern Indian counterpart is the venu . An extremely rare Indian transverse flute that is blown in the middle and produces a drone tone to the melody is the surpava . In Islamic North Africa, the names gasba in the Maghreb and nay in Egypt mostly refer to open flutes and only exceptionally to transverse flutes, in West Africa transverse flutes are extremely rare. In Kenya, older men play the ibirongwe among the Kuria . Other rare flutes in East Africa are the ludaya and the chivoti . There are some other flutes in Central, East and South Africa with two to six finger holes. Almost all of the bamboo flutes used in New Guinea's secret ritual music are transverse flutes.

The modern Irish flute in Ireland is usually a flapless instrument. It is mainly made of wood and is a further development of the transverse flute before Böhm and has been optimized in terms of intonation and playability without keys. With the advent of the Böhm flute, a larger number of instruments of conventional construction were made available at low prices and thus accessible to a broad section of the population, so that the flute became a popular instrument in Ireland. On this basis, the Irish flute began to develop independently. In addition to wood, instruments made of metal and plastic and even a tin whistle with an interchangeable flute head are now available. Like the Tin Whistle, the Irish Flute is traditionally tuned in D, but it also occurs in other tunings.


  • Johann Joachim Quantz : Attempting an instruction to play the flute traverse (1753). Reprint 1983, Bärenreiter facsimile, ISBN 3-7618-0711-2 .
  • Raymond Meylan: The Flute (Our Musical Instruments) . Schott's Sons, 1974, ISBN 3-7957-2347-7 .
  • Gustav Scheck : The flute and its music . Schott's Sons, 1983, ISBN 3-7957-2765-0 .
  • James Galway : The Flute . Ed. Bergh, Frankfurt a. M. 1988, ISBN 3-550-00220-3 . (Yehudi Menuhin's music guide)
  • Gabriele Busch-Salmen, Adelheid Krause-Pichler: Handbuch Querflöte . Bärenreiter, 1999, ISBN 3-7618-1344-9 .
  • Jochen Gärtner: The vibrato with special consideration of the conditions in flutists . Bosse, Regensburg 1974. 168 pp.
  • Hanns Wurz: flute studies . Piepenstock, Baden-Baden 1988, ISBN 3-921633-00-1 .
  • Ursula Pešek, Zeljko Pešek: Flute music from three centuries . Bärenreiter 1990, ISBN 3-7618-0985-9 .
  • Herbert Kölbel : From the flute , Bärenreiter, 1966, ISBN 3-7618-0061-4 .
  • Martin Gümbel : Learning and play book for [transverse] flute . Bärenreiter, Kassel / Basel / London / New York 1958; 2nd edition 1974.
  • Martin Gümbel: New playing techniques in flute music after 1950 . Bärenreiter, Kassel / Basel / London / New York 1974.
  • Robert Dick : New sound through new technology. Explanations and exercises for new ways of playing the flute . Zimmermann, Frankfurt 1993, ISBN 3-921729-58-0 .
  • Carin Levine , Christina Mitropouos-Bott: The playing technique of the flute Vol. 1 and 2. Kassel, Bärenreiter 2002/2004.
  • Gefion Landgraf: The flute . Schott Music, 2007, ISBN 978-3-7957-2366-8 .

See also

Web links

Commons : Flute  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Flute  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 172.
  2. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. 1979, p. 173.
  3. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. 1979, p. 172.
  4. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. 1979, pp. 173 and 181.