The flute is perhaps the best known member of the woodwind family and flute solos are among the most magical moments in orchestral music. The flute's pocket-sized relative, the piccolo, may be small but it's brilliant tone can carry above the full might of the symphony orchestra. As well as being capable of extreme virtuosity the flute can create beautiful sustained melodies. It also blends perfectly with all instruments and spends much of its time providing background colour to foreground activity elsewhere in the orchestra.
The flute is the highest pitched instrument of the woodwind section. In Bach's time, back in the 18th century, recorders were used in the orchestra but gradually the brighter tone and increased power of the 'transverse flutes' replaced the recorder. In the 19th century flute technique really took off with the invention of the Bohem System, which is the set of metal keys and pads that cover the surface of the flute and enable far more complicated music to be played than was previouslt possible.
The Flute Family
There are several flutes in common use in the orchestra: the C flute, the piccolo, the alto flute (in G) and sometimes the bass flute. Old flutes were made of wood, but most modern flutes are metal. Piccolos, on the other hand, are mostly made of wood to this day.
How these pages are organised
In these pages, the various types of flute and their associated techniques are demonstrated by Philharmonia players, Ken Smith and Keith Bragg.
All aspects of the instrument have been covered: construction, range and many different playing techniques. You can watch clips from video interviews with Ken and Keith in which they explain their instruments and play examples. There are also written explanations, photos, notation examples and audio clips to listen to.