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The History of the Flute

Throughout history, the size of the tube along the length of the flute has been advanced with reference to the shape of its aperture. It is a simple cylindrical tube made of different materials and resources with holes and finger holes that stay directly above the embouchure hole.

Although the term “flute” refers to a large number of instruments found in many different cultures, we will explore the history of modern flutes. This special flute has many names. These names include: Fife, German Flute, transverse flute and flauto traverso.

The importance of all these names is that they define an instrument that is held horizontally during playback. The flute dates back to around 900 BC. Found in China and known as ch’ie. So far, the oldest flute has been found in the Swabian Alps, Germany, and is said to be around 43,000 to 35,000 years ago.

200 BC

The pre-Christian paintings of the early flutes appeared on Greek/Roman artifacts. Other works of art, including two Etruscan reliefs dating back to the second and third centuries BC, clearly show the flute being played.

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200 A.D.

Although the history of this era is rare, there is enough information to show that our instruments were played by Romans and Etruscans, not by the ancient Greeks.

1000 A.D.

It is worth noting that the flute seems to disappear with the fall of Rome and did not reappear in the 10th and 11th centuries. The instrument is likely to be introduced to Western Europe from Byzantium by Germany.

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In the 14th century, flutes began to appear in non-German European countries, including Spain, France and Flanders.

1400 A.D.

At the beginning of the 15th century, flutes were displayed in various places in Western Europe.

1500 A.D.

Throughout the 16th century, flute was one of the most popular instruments in the Italian music scene. This popularity has also been echoed in England, and Henry VIII’s massive flutes are obvious. These instruments are very simple in construction and consist of a cylindrical tube with a cork on one end, a blow hole and six finger holes. They are limited in scope because they are constructed in different sizes to handle the range of music that is done.

1600 A.D.

It is a medium-sized instrument in the “D” and the direct ancestor of our modern concert flute. This instrument fell out of favor in the first half of the 17th century because it could not compete with the popular new expression style of the violin. Woodwind instrument manufacturers responded to this challenge by making many improvements to the flute in the second half of the 17th century.


Among the important French players/manufacturers of this period were the Jean Hotteterre family, who were employed by the royal family. Their new developments include the following changes to the 17th century flute:

  • The body of the flute changes from one piece to three pieces: the head joints, the body and the foot joints.
  • When the head joint of the groove remains cylindrical, the hole of the body becomes conical, and the lower end of the groove is the smallest diameter.
  • The ankle joint is also conical, and the hole at the bottom becomes larger. In our modern piccolos today, the design of this instrument hole remains unchanged.
  • The sound of this new instrument is kept at 6, but they are much smaller and a key is added to make the E-flat. By using cross fingering, the instrument can play all colored notes.


By 1720, the body was divided into two parts, and extra joints of different lengths, called legion replenishment, allowed the performer to change the pitch of the instrument to be consistent with the different orchestras. However, due to cross-referencing, these flutes sound best in the D- and G-Major keys. Although many amateur performers played flutes at the time (not suitable for the tone), the professional performers at the time mastered these challenges very well.


The Quantz (1752) and Tromlitz (1786) papers include various fingerings for each note on the instrument, reflecting subtle changes in pitch.


Despite the excellent performers, flute makers are very concerned about adding keys to eliminate cross-referencing of colored notes. By 1760, the flute players in London had added G-sharp, B-flat and F-keys.


By 1780, these instruments appeared in the instrumental music of Mozart and Hayden. In addition, the flute manufacturer extends the range of the instrument down by adding low C and C-sharp keys to the ankle joint (just like today’s modern flute). By the end of the 18th century, two keys were introduced, resulting in an 8-key flute. This instrument forms the basis of most of the “simple system” flutes that are still played today in various Celtic orchestras.


Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) is considered to be the most important flute evolution throughout its history. Born in Munich, Boehm has been trained by jewelers and goldsmiths. As a young ambition, his talent for music is very obvious.

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The History of the Flute. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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