Acoustics of baroque, classical and modern flutes

baroque flute


Music Acoustics UNSW

modern B modern C classical C classical D classical flared baroque B3
D4 D#4 and Eb4 E4 F4 F#4 G4 G#4 and Ab4 A4 A#4 and Bb4 B4
C5 C#5 D5 D#5 and Eb5 E5 F5 F#5 G5 G#5 and Ab5 A5 A#5 and Bb5 B5
C6 C#6 D6 D#6 and Eb6 E6 F6 F#6 G6 no G#6 on baroque flute A6


Acoustic and Fingering Schematic
a covered tone hole or key pressed
an uncovered tone hole or key not pressed
a partly covered hole

Details in fingering legend.

Non-specialist introduction to acoustic impedance
Non-specialist introduction to flute acoustics

Impedance spectrum of a baroque flute measured at the embouchure hole using fingering for F4 and F5. Z is plotted in dB, i.e. 20 log(Z/Pa.s.m-3).

This uses an explicit cross-fingering: the RH 3rd finger closes a hole downstream of the first open one (under RH 2nd). It is more strongly cross-fingered than the (implicitly cross-fingered) E4, because now two downstream holes are closed (RH 3rd and the key).

The extent of the standing wave beyond an open hole increases with the frequency, especially for small holes. This has the effect of making the effective length of the flute increase with frequency. As a result, the minima at higher frequencies are flatter than strict harmonic ratios. Only the first two minima are in harmonic ratios (f, 2f). The first of these is used for F4, but not here. As a result, there is no support for the second harmonic of F5. Thus this is a darker timbre than those of the notes on either side. For more detail on cross fingering see that section in the introduction to flute acoustics, or download a brief scientific report on cross fingerings.


Sound spectrum of a baroque flute played using fingering for F5.

Sound Clip

You can hear F5 played by Matthew Ridley.

Fingering legend
How were these results obtained?
Acoustic measurements are available for these flutes -
modern B, modern C, classical C, classical D, classical flared, baroque
Sound clips are available for modern B, classical flared and baroque
To compare flutes, it is easiest to open a separate browser window for each instrument.

Copyright © Academic Press. JSV+ Joe Wolfe, John Smith, John Tann and Neville H. Fletcher, Acoustics of baroque, classical and modern flutes
Revised to include the baroque flute 2001.