A World of Music: Flutes

Nov 4, 2020

We’ve been exploring the world of music! From drums, to brass, with keyboard instruments and the Spanish guitar along the way, we’ve cover a lot of different kinds of instruments from around the globe.

But this week we’re setting our sights on one of the most ancient and diverse instruments of all – the flute!

For those of you who think of the flute as a fairly modern instrument, think again! The flute is likely the oldest instrument of melody humankind has. In fact, a bone flute discovered in Germany had been dated to 35,000 years! In all that time, it’s no surprise there are so many variations and unique flutes.

Let’s look at just a few of the incredible varieties of flutes the world has to offer!


Panpipes, also called pan flutes, are simple instruments, made up of five or more pipes, each longer than the last. Each pipe produces a different note, so the performer must blow into different pipes to create different notes.

Panpipes are popular folk instruments found in cultures throughout the world, from Central American to India. But the earliest examples seem to come from the ancient Greek culture. In fact, these flutes were originally linked to the Greek god Pan, from which they get their name.


The ocarina is a unique and simple instrument, but don’t let that fool you! It sounds amazing!

Although the ocarina has been around for thousands of years, and many cultures have flutes of similar simplicity and design, nowhere has it been as popular or widely used as Japan. If you’re familiar with the Legend of Zelda video game franchise, you’ll understand why. Since the release of “The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time,” in 1998, the instrument has enjoyed widespread popularity on the island of Japan.

The ocarina’s main charm comes from its simplicity. With a limited number of finger holes, and pitch controlled with airflow, the ocarina is the definition of music that can be played anywhere!


Yup, that plastic thing they made us all learn how to play when we were little is an actual flute! The recorder is one of the oldest flutes that is still in use today. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons the ocarina fell out of fashion!

The recorder reached the height of its popularity during the Italian Renaissance, where it was developed alongside the modern flute we know and use today. The only reason the modern flute eventually won out was the rise in popularity of orchestras, where the modern flute’s richer tones and better sound quality prevailed.

That said, the recorder is still widely used today, and remains one of the easiest of the woodwinds to learn.


The suling, which literally translates to “flute” from Balinese, is a bamboo flute that can range from 20cm to more than a meter in length. The size depends on the celebration! Like all concert flutes, the larger ones produce deeper, bass tones, while the smaller ones are for higher pitched notes. But despite their size, all suling have six, evenly spaced finger holes.

The suling is meant as a humming flute, and as such, it has become well known for its ease of producing a vibrato. This gives the suling two of its popular effects. The first is the slur, where notes are played in rapid succession with a single breath. The second is the “puruluk,” which sort of resembles the flutter on an electric guitar, and is performed by alternating between two notes in a scale with on breath.


The shakuhachi is an end-blown flute made from bamboo. Although bamboo flutes came to Japan through China, the Japanese people developed them on their own and gave it the name “shakuhachi,” meaning “one-eight (‘-hachi’) of 30.3 centimeters (‘Shaku-‘).” Originally a traditional instrument, the shakuhachi was heavily featured in the traditional Japanese musical genre “honkyoku.” However, over time the shakuhachi has made the transition to both Japanese pop music and Hollywood soundtracks.

The first shakuhachi date back to the Komusō, or “traveling monks,” of Japan’s Edo period. The monks played the shakuhachi because they believed its sounds were a path to enlightenment.

In fact, the characteristic sound of the shakuhachi is created by accepting what most flutes try to avoid. They use the empty notes that resemble the sound of wind, or the tapping of fingers on the holes to create an entire scenery of music.


An Indian version of the bamboo flute, the bansuri ranges from 12 to 40 inches, but most are about 20 inches long. Most bansuri have six holes and require both hands to play. Although this may seem simple at first, the bansuri is a deceptively complicated instrument, especially once you hear it in the hands of a professional. In fact, Indian flutists consider playing the bansuri more of a way of life than a simple instrument.

The bansuri is one of the most popular flutes played in India. Much of this popularity comes from the Hindu god Krishna, who is said to have enthralled women and animals when he played his bansuri.


Don’t underestimate the power of this little flute! Have you ever wondered why the fife is used during military drills and in marching bands? It’s all thanks to the fife’s high-pitched sound and sheer power to be heard even over the roar of a crowd. In fact, early warfare records claim the fife and drums could be heard over three miles away, over the sound of the cannons!

Orchestra fifes tend to be tuned to A flat, while marching band fifes are in B flat, meaning that is the lowest note they can play. But what is most unique about the fife is possibly its simplicity: it’s built to fit in your pocket while also make a sound louder than any other instrument. But the drawback of all that tightly compacted power is a small range, with only a few pitches of chromatics.

Want to play the flute, clarinet, or saxophone? Sign up for The Music Studio’s woodwind lessons, now available in person, or online with live and interactive lessons from our professional teachers!