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The flute: origins and materials

Parts of a flute

Flutes can be made from gold, silver or even tin. Anna Pyne discusses the different options

The flute

THE FLUTE is the brother of the recorder, both instruments coming from the same roots. In the 18th century their names helped to differentiate them. The modern flute, which is played with the instrument at 90° to the body, is called in Italy the flauto traverso (transverse flute), which is a reference to the position in which it is held. The recorder, on the other hand, is called in France the flute-à-bec, in Germany the blockflöte and in Italy the flauto diritto. Between the 16th and 18th centuries the recorder was much more commonly used than the flauto traverso.

The flute dropped the name 'transverse' when it became the universally used instrument of its family in orchestras, chamber ensembles and for solo works.

Unlike other woodwind instruments currently used in Western classical music, the flute does not have a reed. Players shape their lips to blow over an open hole situated at the end closest to the face.

Until the 19th century, and in some cases beyond, flutes were made of wood. Nowadays most modern flute-players (often known as flautists) play instruments made of some kind of metal: an alloy is the most common, but gold and silver are also used.

The flute is divided into three sections which can be taken apart.

In this audio clip, flautist Anna Pyne demonstrates the basic features of the flute and discusses the metals from which flutes can be made.

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