What is the flute
As you might know, a flute is a cylindrical tube of wood, or of some metal (in fact, most flutes, today, are made of precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, just to make them stand out in the hands of the flautist), that produces sound when the flautist (that is you) makes the stationary air inside it vibrate by blowing straight across the hole at its mouth (the headjoint, it is called), forcing the blown air to strike the opposite side of the hole and making the direct force of the air stream divert into two parts.
The sound range of every flute is 3½ octaves, although you would usually not touch the extreme limits in most cases (trust me).
The flute belongs to a category of instruments termed as the “woodwind instruments”, a family that includes a kind of piccolo, three oboes, an English horn, three clarinets, a bass clarinet, three bassoons, and a contrabassoon. But, since it is the highest pitched of all the listed instruments, it is usually the king of all of them wherever you look for it (although it’s younger brother piccolo produces even higher notes, it has not become as popular: which makes me call it younger). The reason for this is that the flute is capable of producing almost every kind of music, from classical, to jazz, to rock, to even traditional Indian music.
Although a flute seems exceedingly complex with the knobs and tubes and bells and whistles, it is basically a pretty simple one. At the time of conception of the flute, it was made of hollow bones with air holes through its length. Then it began to be refined and tuned. It evolved as a wooden tube (your old recorder) with carved holes. Today, it is moulded with metals, with precision and delicateness not seen in most things in the world.
The modern flute is made of three parts. The most common flute, the C flute, is basically a cylindrical tube, composed of three marked parts:
- The Headjoint:
Being at the head of the flute, this is the part where you blow in using your mouth (apparently).
- The Body:
This is the middle part of the flute, with all the bells and whistles (the keys, knobs and holes). It is the largest part of the flute, and is the most important part if you are willing to produce proper notes (unless you simply want to blow!).
- The Footjoint:
It similar to the body, with holes and keys, and fits at the bottom of the body via a socket. There are flutes without a footjoint (open ended). Such flutes produce a lowest note of D, which does not make it of much “note” (pun). With a footjoint, the flute produces a lowest note of C or even B. The footjoints come in various varieties, and it is upon the flautist to choose one.
The keys of a flute are of two kinds, again. Closed (called “Plateau style”) and open (called “French style”). The closed holed ones actually have knobs to make it easy on your fingers while you are playing the flute. The open holed ones are more professional and will become more prominent once you have undertaken the journey to play a flute well. At the moment, the closed hole flutes are the most ideal for you as a beginner (presuming you are one). But again, open hole flutes are more versatile, since they do not need to be replaced at the professional level, since you can use key plugs to close the holes at the beginner level and make it resemble a closed hole flute.
Therefore, it comes down to a matter of personal preference, to choose the kind of flute you are about to begin your journey with.
In today’s time, there can be no doubt that you may even find an artificial, carbon fiber flute. But the flute experts have their own tastes. No one but they can mark the difference between the sound produced by a silver flute, and a nickel plated steel flute. Flautists have a sort of faithfulness to the material of their choice for a flute. The following materials are commonly used today, for moulding, carving, and sculpting a high quality flute:
Being made of a highly resonant material, a solid silver flute strikes your imagination. Most flautists are of the opinion that a silver flute has to be at the top of the line in the list of the best possible flutes in the world. Silver is used to make common, as well as professional flutes, today. As is evident, pure silver cannot be used to make a flute (it’s very soft). Therefore, alloys of silver (with more than 90% silver) are used to make flutes. Maybe a psychological perception, but most professional flute enthusiasts are of the opinion that a flute with higher percentage of silver produces a more melodious tune. Be aware that the “Nickel Silver” flute in the shop, although is highly prized for its quality of sound, is not made of real silver, but an alloy of various metals with Nickel holding a large percentage (it might be plated with real silver, but it is not a silver flute; nonetheless, it is of high quality).
Possibly mainly due to its highly renowned sheen and precious value, people are of the opinion that gold flutes are highly melodious. But that actually happens to be true. Similar to silver, gold is soft. Therefore, using it in pure form for making a flute is not practiced. But a silver flute is sometimes considered better than gold in sound quality and its perceptibility.
Traditionally, flutes were made of plain wood (the reason why the flute family is called “woodwinds”), which was considered to be the most “natural” sound. Wooden flutes are usually made in simplistic form, and produce a notably “wooden” sound, which is sonorously, a refreshing feast to some. Recently, wooden flutes have regained their old sheen, and are gaining prevalence, due to their lower costs (as opposed to silver and gold flutes), texture and feel, as well as the change in perceptibility.
- Carbon fiber:
A carbon fiber flute is carved and sculpted to perfection according to the manufacturer’s will, which gives it a huge flexibility in the range of its sound quality. Carbon fiber flutes use highest technology available today, for the most precise notes, and require least effort due to their low weight and sturdiness.
Apart from the above metals, various combinations of metals are used as alloys, to produce flutes, including brass, bronze, and multiple copper containing alloys, which are lightweight and sturdy.