Musical Instruments

Flute & Piccolo

The Woodwind Family

Armstrong flute (UMI) Today, flutes are played in bands, orchestras, woodwind quintets, chamber ensembles, and jazz bands. Flute are usually made of silver or silver alloy, but can also be made of gold or even platinum. Some flutes are still made of wood, which produces a softer sound. Other types of flutes include the piccolo, alto flute, bass flute, and contrabass flute.

Alto Flute (Selmer USA)The piccolo is a small flute that plays an octave (eight notes) higher than the flute. Most piccolo players start on the flute and continue to double on the flute. The alto flute is a larger flute that plays five notes lower, in F.

Sound is produced by blowing across the tone hole of the flute, like blowing across the top of a bottle. The keys on the flute allow you to change pitch. Almost anyone can make a sound on the flute.


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Armstrong Piccolo (UMI) The early history of the flute is largely unknown, but most historians agree that it is one of othe oldest musical instruments and that it orginiated somewhere in Central Asia. Members of the early flute family were held either forward or to the side. The first evidenced of a transverse (held to the side) is found in artwork dating back to 200 BC. The flute eventually found its way to Germany, where its use became common by the 12th century. Its most popular usage during taht time was for military music.

Flutes had only tone holes, without keys, until the late 1600's, when the Baroque flute was invented. It was made of wood, and had seven tone holes and one key for the little finger. It was built in three sections instead of one piece. This helped intonation because the space between the sections could be adjusted. With these improvements, the flute became a regular member of the orchestra and rapidly increased in popularity.

Open Hole Flute (Selmer USA)In 1847, Theobald Boehm, a German flautist and goldsmith, completely redesigned the flute. The redesign consisted of two main steps. First, each hole was placed so that each note would have the same tone quality. Second, a key system was added. The Boehm system improved intonation, made the tone of the flute louder, and made notes easier to play. The flute has remained basically unchanged to the present day.


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Buffet Crampon Flute (Boosey & Hawkes)

Before you play

: To put the flute together, hold the body of the flute where there are no keys and gently twist the head joint into place. Line up the tone hole in the head joint with the keys on the body. Gently twist the foot joint into place. THe keys on the body should line up with the rod on the foot joint.

Tuning & Playing

: To tune the flute, adjust the length of the flute by moving the head joint in or out. If you need to lower thepitch, pull the head joint out, making the flute longer and the pitch lower. If you need to rais your pitch, push the head joint in. Don't touch the head ojint cork because moving it changes the pitch of the entire instrument.


: Everytime you finish playing your flute, swab it out before you put it away. Thread a small piece of lint-free cloth through the slot in the cleaning rod, and twist the cloth over the end of the rod and around it. Cover as much of the rod as possible so it won't scratch the inside of the flute.

Wooden Piccolo (Selmer USA)About once a month wash the head joint with lukewarm soapy water. Never use silver polish or any other cleaner on your flute. This can scratch the finish and ruin the pads. Under each key is a pad that seals the tone hole when the key closes. If pads stick, they are dirty. To clean the pads, place a clean cloth (or dollar bill) under the pad, close the key, and pull the cloth through.

Note: This information is meant as a guide and provides only a short summary of the steps required to keep your instrument in good shape. Please ask your teacher for more information.

Related Links:

Flute sites at Yahoo!
Flute sites at Looksmart
Piccolo sites at Looksmart

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