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 G6. Z is plotted in dB, i.e. 20 log(Z/Pa.s.m-3).

This fingering is comparable to that for G4 except for the use of the LH 2nd finger as a register hole. This creates a pressure node (or flow antinode) about three quarters of the way along the pipe, and thus allows G6 but not G4, G5, or D6. Comparing this with the G4 impedance spectrum, we see that the fourth minimum is little changed. The third is shallower and unplayable. The first minimum plays ~B4 and the second ~Bhalf flat5 but, because it is a cross fingering for these notes, their timbres are darker.

This fingering is out of tune - classical flutes intended to play in the third octave usually had extra keys, which allowed the designer more parameters to vary to maintain intonation over a wider range. The player was asked to play the fingerings 'where they were', rather than to tune them by varying the coverage of the embouchure hole. (The dimensions of the instrument are based on those of a large-hole Rudall and Rose flute: R & R #655 from the Bate Collection in Oxford.)


Sound spectrum of a classical flute with a flared foot played using fingering for G6.

Sound Clip

You can hear G6 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.