The Meaning of Flute in Cambridge dictionary is ‘a tube-shaped musical instrument with a hole that you blow across at one end while holding the tube out horizontally to one side’. The word ‘flute’ comes from the Latin word ‘flare’ which means to flow. Apart from its meaning we can say it as a family of musical instrument in the woodwind group.A flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening.

Types of flutes around world

History of flutes

The oldest flute ever discovered may be a fragment of the femur of a juvenile cave bear, with two to four holes, found at Divje Babe in Slovenia and dated to about 43,000 years ago. However, this has been disputed flutes have been discovered in caves in the Swabian Alb region of Germany around 43,000 and 35,000 years ago.

Aurignacian Flute, 35,000–40,000 years old made from an animal bone
Aurignacian Flute, 35,000–40,000 years old made from an animal bone
Aurignacian Flute, 35,000–40,000 years old made from an animal bone

The flutes, made of bone and ivory, represent the earliest known musical instruments and provide unmistakable evidence of prehistoric music. In 2006, the Hohle Fel Flute was discovered in the Hohle Fels cave in Germany’s Swabian Alb. The flute is made from a giraffe leg bone perforated with five finger holes, and dates to approximately 35,000 years ago. Several years before, two flutes made of mute swan bone and one made of woolly mammoth ivory were found in the nearby Geissenklösterle cave. The team that made the Hohle Fels discovery wrote that these finds were, at the time, the earliest evidence of humans being engaged in musical culture. They suggested music may have helped to maintain bonds between larger groups of humans, and that this may have helped the species to expand both in numbers and in geographical range.

The Divje Babe “flute”

The bansuri like flute is depicted in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temple paintings and reliefs, and is common in the iconography of the Hindu god Krishna. It is intimately linked to the love story of Krishna and Radha. The bansuri is revered as Lord Krishna’s divine instrument and is often associated with Krishna’s Rasa lila dance. These legends sometimes use alternate names for this wind instrument, such as the murali.

12th- Century krishna playing flute with gathered living beings lost in music.

How the flute produces sound

Nearly all musical instruments are made up of two basic elements: a generator, which gets the vibration going, and a resonator, which amplifies the vibration and modifies it to create the sound of the instrument. On the flute, the generator is the mouth hole edge against which the player’s breath is directed. When the breath meets the edge, it does not, as might be expected, divide into two separate air streams. Instead, the air stream rapidly fluctuates between going all into the hole and going all away from the hole.
This sets up a rapid vibration at the head of the tube.

Generator

The remainder of the flute tube is the resonator — or more accurately, the container for the resonator, the actual resonator being the air within the tube.
(The mechanisms on the outside of the flute are for the sole purpose of opening and closing the holes, and they have nothing to do with creating the sound). Acoustically speaking, this tube is considered to be open at both ends, since the mouth hole acts as if it were an open end. So if we close all the note holes, the resonator-tube can be seen like this:

Resonator

Because the tube walls constrict air inside, that air acts like a stiff spring, fairly independent of the air surrounding it. When the air stream at the mouth hole begins fluctuating in and out of the tube, this air‑spring receives a rapid succession of tiny pushes and begins vibrating. Because of the constricted nature of the air‑spring, it retains a portion of the energy imparted to it and thereby grows in strength. It soon overpowers the weak fluctuations at the mouth hole and makes their timing conform to its own rhythm. When this happens, the pushes given by the mouth hole fluctuations will occur simultaneously with each contraction of the air‑spring. This is something like a person pushing a swing. It makes the vibration build to a point at which it can vibrate the air around it, and a note is heard.This note can be altered very slightly by breath and lip adjustments, but to change it completely (short of changing octaves), the length of the air‑spring itself must be changed. This is done by opening a hole in the side of the tube. The hole removes the constriction of the air at that point — it’s almost as if the tube were cut off there. Now the air‑spring only goes as far as that open hole, like so:

If another hole is opened closer to the mouth hole, the air‑spring will end there instead. The vibrating portion of the tube will always be (at least on the first octave) between the mouth hole and the first open hole beneath it. The shorter the air‑spring, the faster its natural rhythm and the higher the note it will produce. To go up the first octave of the flute, then, the flutist opens one hole at a time from the bottom, shortening the air‑spring a little with each hole opened.

6 Hole Hindustani flute finger chart

Flutes Category

Western concert flute -The Western concert flute has been derived from the medieval German flute, with circular tone holes that are larger than the finger holes of earlier flutes. These were evolved by Boehm and had a more dynamic intonation and range owing to certain refinements. They had wooden bodies with gold or silver key-work. The piccolo, soprano, G alto and C bass are variants of the Western concert flutes.

Western concert flute

Carnatic eight-holed bamboo flute -The Venu/Pullanguzhal that is used in Southern Indian Carnatic Music.

Indian classical flutes with Six holes -The Bansuri which is used in Northern Indian Hindustani Music.

Japanese flutes -In Japan, the flute is called Fue and there are various flutes such as the Hotchiku, Shakuhachi, Komabue, Shinobue, Minteki, Ryuteki and Kagurabue.

Japanese Flute

Chinese Flutes -In China, the Dizi flute has many variants that differ in structure, size, intonations and number of holes. They are usually made out of bamboo but can also be crafted out of iron, bone, jade and wood.

Chinese Hulusi Flute

Sodina and Suling -In Madagascar, the Sodina is a flute which is also one of the oldest instruments found in that country. It bears a striking similarity to the Suling Flute of Indonesia.

Sring - The Sring is another flute that has been found in the Caucasus region of Eastern Armenia and is made of wood or cane.

Sring

Construction and Materials used for making Hindustani classical Bansuri

Bansuri is traditionally made from bamboo.

A bansuri is traditionally produced from a special type of bamboo, that naturally grows to long lengths between its nodes. These grow abundantly in Himalayan foothills up to about 11,000 feet with high rainfall. These are particularly found in the northeastern (near Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura) and Western Ghats (near Kerala) states of India where numerous bamboo species grow with internodal lengths greater than 40 centimetres (16 in). The harvested bamboo with a desired diameter is cut, dried and treated with natural oils and resins to strengthen it. Once ready, the artisans examine the smoothness and straightness and measure the dried hollow tube. They mark the exact positions for the holes, then use hot metal rod skewers of different diameters to burn in the holes. Drilling and other methods of hole making are avoided as it is believed they damage the fiber orientation and the splits affects the music quality. The burnt-in holes are then finished by sanding, one end plugged, the flute ringed at various positions to stabilize its form and shape over time and the unit tested for its musical performance. The distance of a finger-hole from the mouth-hole, and the diameter of the finger-hole controls the note it plays. Adjustments to the diameters of various holes is made by the artisans to achieve purity of the musical notes produced. The wall thickness of the bansuri determines the tone, range and octave tuning. Once all the holes have reached their performance range, the bansuri is steeped in natural oils, cleaned, dried and decorated or bound with silk or nylon threads. There are two varieties of bansuri: transerve and fipple. The fipple flute is usually played in folk music and is held at the lips like a tin whistle. Because the transverse variety enables superior control, variations and embellishments, it is preferred in Indian classical music.

Flute maker

Notable Flutist in world as well in India

  1. Hariprasad Chaurasia
  2. Ronu Majumdar
  3. N. Ramani
  4. Pannalal Gosh
  5. pravin Godkhindi
  6. James Galway
  7. Jean pierre Rampal
  8. Theobald boehm
  9. Emmanuel pahud
  10. Jeane Baxtresser.

Important Flute Events and Festivals in India

  • SwaraZankar Music Festival: Held in Pune.
  • Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav: Held in Pune, Maharashtra since 1953 during the month of December. It is a one day event.
  • Teen Prahar: Held in Mumbai which is organised by the Banyan Tree since 2007. It is a one day event.
  • Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan: Held in Mumbai since 1952.
  • Qutub Festival: Held in Delhi

Life is like FLUTES. It may have many holes and emptiness. But if you work on it carefully. It can play magical melodies.

References:

  1. https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/fluteacoustics.html
  2. http://www.markshep.com/flute/Acoustics.html
  3. https://music.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/flute
  4. https://www.theflutecoach.com/blog/

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