A musical instrument transcending generations, cultures, and traditions, the flute has proven a staple of auditory artistry for centuries. While the anatomy of the instrument varies from setting to setting, all flutes are essentially an open tube that creates sound when the musician blows air into it. Of course, the material used to make the flute along with the instrument’s design plays a critical role in a flute’s tone color or timbre.
Flutes have existed since the dawn of civilization. The book of Genesis credits a man named Jubal with the invention and initial mastery of the flute. Some of the first flutes were carved from crude materials like animal bones. Eventually, craftsmen began utilizing other materials such as gold, jade, wood, and brass to create innovative instruments.
Most cultures have incorporated some version of the flute in their traditional music. Native Americans carved flutes from wood to use in a variety of contexts. From courtship to healing rituals, Native American flutes served as a sacred facet of social and spiritual life. In China, an ample supply of bamboo plants primarily lended itself to virtuosity. However, the Gudi, another prominent Asian flute, was traditionally fashioned from the hollow bones of birds. Societies located near the ocean discovered how to convert sea shells into musical instruments, and Indian versions of the flute carried great religious significance.
The majority of flutes seen in today’s concert bands, orchestras, and symphonies are of European descent. Jacques Hotteterre sparked the evolution of the modern flute in the seventeenth century when he created a flute with detachable sections by dividing the flute into a head joint, body, and foot joint. Roughly two hundred years later, German craftsman Theobald Bohm added his own modifications to Hotteterre’s design by manipulating the outlay of the flute’s keys.
Today, flutes continue to serve as a flagship of Western music. Although mastery of the flute requires endless hours of dedicated rehearsal, this instrument proves simple enough for children to learn. If in search of a creative hobby, try a fling with the flute!