Flute is also a character in Midsummer Night's Dream which I had the honour of playing (ugh). Because Flute was the young dude of the performing group in Midsummer and his voice had not yet been developed, he had to take the role of Thisbe (who is Pyramus' love), a chick. Yes, I had to wear a dress and stuff boobs into my shirt.

The good thing about taking the role of Flute (if you ever have the chance to do so) is that you may be over-dramatic, prance around the stage and not need to memorize many lines.

The flute family comprises a group of instruments in which the flute itself is actually pitched in the middle. The flute has always been a non-transposing instrument even though some claim it is actually constructed in the key of D.

The flute is always notated in treble clef. The acceptable range in which the flute may be written spans from Bb3 to C6. Some flutes are built only to handle C4 as their lowest note and some composers mercilessly write just above and below these ranges, causing all sorts of problems for the unassuming flautist.

These problems are solved by either adding or subtracting joints to the flute; loosening or tightening the structure making the note possible but throwing the rest of the flute out of tune; or sending the note to another instrument, i.e. the piccolo or the clarinet. All of these solutions are unfavorable and should be avoided if possible.
A flute is any musical instrument in which the sound is produced by the musician blowing air which is split by a notch or an edge in the mouthpiece, causing the column of air inside the (usually cylindrical) body of the instrument to vibrate. It's just about the oldest instrument of which examples have been found by archaeologists. Recently a flute constructed from a bear bone was found in a cave dig near Cerkno in Slovenia dating back to between 40,000 to 80,000 years ago, thought to have been made by Neanderthals! Other than this, examples have been found which are about 22-35,000 years old, both in Asia and Europe. An 8,000 year old flute recently found in China was tuned so close to current Chinese musical scales that recognisable folk-tunes could be played on it.

What exactly happens inside the flute is quite a complicated bit of physics, and heavily dependent on the shape of the tube and whether the ends are closed. The frequency of the vibrating column of air, which is related to its effective length in a similar way to the relation between the length of a vibrating guitar string (say) and its frequency, gives the pitch of the note produced. The vibrations of the material of the flute itself are relatively unimportant for the pitch (though they affect the timbre.)

A flute with both ends open will have a still point (a node) at the center of the tube and the air will move most (an anti-node) at the ends. A flute with one closed end will have its node at the closed end, and its anti-node at the open end, giving a sound just less than an octave deeper in pitch.

Making holes in the tube is like creating an open end, and serves to effectively make the tube shorter - that is, the column of vibrating air will be shorter - causing an increase of pitch. And covering the holes back up with fingers or keys will lower the pitch.

Blowing with greater strength (or with a narrower embouchure) into the instrument can cause harmonics to be generated - which means that more nodes (still points) inside the vibrating air column will occur, and the frequency will increase, usually by a low integer multiple of the original (or 'base') frequency. This is the same principle as when playing harmonics on a guitar.

The width of the tube (or bore) also plays a role in determining the behaviour of the air-column - narrower bores are more easy to overblow (producing harmonics to get higher notes), but have less volume and sonority than wider bores. Tapering bores can subtly alter the effect of the position of the holes on the pitch, and so on. The size of the holes may also be a factor - if the size of the hole is below a certain ratio with the bore, it may just induce a harmonic rather than shortening the column. Things can get tremendously complicated within that column of air, and the calculations involved in an optimally engineered orchestral flute took inventor Jacob Boehm practically his whole life to complete.

The key to successful sound production on the instrument (apart from the diaphragmatic control of breath, which is required for any wind instrument) is the efficient direction of the player's breath onto the part of the flute which splits the air, causing the vibrations inside the flute. For a clean sound, the shape of the lips is used to exactly direct a tight 'beam' of air straight onto the edge at a proper angle (around 45 degrees). The particular way of pursing the lips, the shape of the mouth that this requires, is called the player's embouchure, and it's the mastery of the embouchure which distinguishes an expert player from a novice. An expert can control the flow of air so well that the sound can be tightened or loosened and given a cold clear or a warm breathy timbre at will, whereas the novice will struggle to produce anything other than a noisy, inefficient hoot.

Flutes may be divided into three main families, according to how the vibrating column of air is produced at the mouthpiece:

  • The transverse flute or "cross-flute" is one in which the musician blows across a hole in the side of the instrument, usually closed at the end nearest the mouthpiece, in order to produce a note, and is held horizontally by the player. Examples are the fife, piccolo, and orchestral, or Boehm flute. The instrument may be tuned by altering the position of the stopper which closes off one end. In modern orchestral instruments, the different notes are produced by closing keys which in turn close the holes in the body of the instrument, but some fifes (and some Indian transverse flutes) have no keys, and the musician closes the holes with his fingers. The latter arrangement allows one to 'bend' the pitch produced by sliding the finger on and off the hole, and so some modern orchestral flutes have holes in their keys to allow this (which is usually more use in jazz or folk music than in the classical repertoire.)

  • The end-blown flute, such as the Japanese shakuhachi, the Chinese jade flute, the Middle-Eastern ney, or the East European kaval. The flute is held roughly vertically, the flautist blowing into the end at the top. In the Japanese and Chinese examples, a notch is provided in the blown end to facilitate the splitting of the air. In the ney, there is no notch, just a sharp edge on the round mouthpiece, and this can make the production of a sound incredibly hard compared to the notched kind. To my knowledge, these kinds of flutes rarely have keys, and the different notes are produced by covering the holes in the body directly with the fingers.

  • The duct flute (or "fipple flute") is (usually) an end-blown flute which makes things easier for the musician by providing a tube to blow into which directs the breath exactly onto the edge which splits the air and sets it vibrating. examples are the tin whistle (penny whistle or flageolet), the recorder and the taborpipe.


Information from:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dcmhtml/dmpref3.html
http://realindy.com/anthronews.htm
and riverdale.k12.or.us/~audreyc/physics.htm which is gone, so had to be pulled out of the google cache.

There are many types of flutes commonly used in western music today. All of them are based on the Jacob Boehm key system. They are listed in descending order of range. All of them follow the basic Boehm design. The head joints are roughly parabolic cones. all of the flutes, except the rare piccolo are made of silver, or a similar metal. The key pads were felt at one point, but they are now usually a plastic cloth compound that seals better.

  • Piccolo- There are two types, a D flat and C piccolo. The C is commonly used, although D flat is easier to tune and play. The D flat was a common marching band flute through the 1970's, until it got dropped for the common C piccolo. The C piccolo is most common in indoor performance groups.
  • E flat Soprano Flute-This flute is pitched a minor third above the C flute. It has relation to Concert notes the same as an alto Saxophone.
  • C flute-These are the most common flutes. There are several minute variations. Some play to B3, others play to C3 as their lowest note. This with a B capable footjoint have the advantage of a Gizmo key, which aids greatly in the playing of C6. The highest common note is C6, though in Jazz playing, F6 is deemed possible. I wish I was that talented. Also, some of the keys are offset in relation to the rest. This is called an offset G flute. The keys are offset to allow those with shorter fingers to reach the pads.
  • Alto (G-flute)- This flute is a fourth lower then a C flute. An option in this flute is a J shaped head joint. This allows smaller people to play without stretching their arms further then comfortable. This flute is larger then a C flute and has a beautiful, lower tone. It takes more air and a more controlled style of playing to sound good.
  • Bass Flute-This is pitched an octave below the C flute, and is twice as large in both length and diameter. It also features a J shaped head joint. Bass flutes are usually found only in flute choirs, as they have a tendancy to sound like a french horn in ensemble situations.
  • Contrabass and lower flutes-Sometimes called OctoBass or Double-Contrabass flutes, these are mainly novelty, custom built items.

Some manufacturers of flutes are Selmer, Yamaha, Sankyo, Armstrong, Gemeinhardt, and a host of specialty craftsmen.

Flute (?), n. [OE. floute, floite, fr. OF. flaute, flahute, flahuste, F. flte; cf. LL. flauta, D. fluit. See Flute, v. i.]

1.

A musical wind instrument, consisting of a hollow cylinder or pipe, with holes along its length, stopped by the fingers or by keys which are opened by the fingers. The modern flute is closed at the upper end, and blown with the mouth at a lateral hole.

The breathing flute's soft notes are heard around. Pope.

2. Arch.

A channel of curved section; -- usually applied to one of a vertical series of such channels used to decorate columns and pilasters in classical architecture. See Illust. under Base, n.

3.

A similar channel or groove made in wood or other material, esp. in plaited cloth, as in a lady's ruffle.

4.

A long French breakfast roll.

Simonds.

5.

A stop in an organ, having a flutelike sound.

Flute bit, a boring tool for piercing ebony, rosewood, and other hard woods. -- Flute pipe, an organ pipe having a sharp lip or wind-cutter which imparts vibrations to column of air in the pipe.

Knight.

 

© Webster 1913.


Flute (?), n. [Cf. F. flte a transport, D. fluit.]

A kindof flyboat; a storeship.

Armed en flute () Nav., partially armed.

 

© Webster 1913.


Flute (?), v. i. [OE. flouten, floiten, OF. flauter, fleuter, flouster, F. fluter, cf. D. fluiten; ascribed to an assumed LL. flautare, flatuare, fr. L. flatus a blowing, fr. flare to blow. Cf. Flout, Flageolet, Flatulent.]

To play on, or as on, a flute; to make a flutelike sound.

 

© Webster 1913.


Flute, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Fluted (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Fluting (?).]

1.

To play, whistle, or sing with a clear, soft note, like that of a flute.

Knaves are men, That lute and flute fantastic tenderness. Tennyson.

The redwing flutes his o-ka-lee. Emerson.

2.

To form flutes or channels in, as in a column, a ruffle, etc.

 

© Webster 1913.

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