Acoustics of baroque, classical and modern flutes

classical flute
flared foot


Music Acoustics UNSW

modern B modern C classical C classical D classical flared baroque B3
D4 E4 F4 F#4 G4 A4 B4
C5 C#5 D5 E5 F5 F#5 G5 A5 B5
C6 C#6 D6 E6 F#6 G6 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 classical flute with a flared foot measured at the embouchure hole using fingering for E4 and E5. Z is plotted in dB, i.e. 20 log(Z/Pa.s.m-3).

From E4 to B4 and E5 to B5, each standard fingering serves for two notes. The flutist uses the same fingering for E4 and E5, but changes the speed, length and shape of the jet. The hole of the RH 3rd finger is placed higher than acoustic arguments would recommend, in order to bring it within easy reach of the finger. Consequently, it must be smaller than expected (the smallest on the instrument).

The filtering effect of the downstream holes disrupts the regular array of minima at frequencies above about 1.5 kHz - significantly lower than on the Boehm flute. The difference between the lowest note and a note with several holes open is greater on the conical flutes than on the Boehm flute. One might informally say that, because the Boehm flute has more and bigger tone holes, opening up the holes on Boehm flute is closer to 'sawing the end off', whereas the smaller and more widely spaced holes on the conical flutes have a greater effect when they are open downstream.


Sound spectrum of a classical flute with a flared foot played using fingering for E4.

Sound Clip

You can hear E4 played by Geoffrey Collins.

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.