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 D4. Z is plotted in dB, i.e. 20 log(Z/Pa.s.m-3).

This is the lowest note on this flute. All tone holes are closed, so the bore most closely resembles a truncated cone on the end of a cylinder, and there is no filtering at high frequencies by an open tone-hole lattice. As a result, the regular series of minima (and maxima) in Z(f) extends to high frequencies. The gradual rise at high frequencies is due to the overall geometry: the chimney is in series with the parallel combination of the main part of the bore and the short section between the closed end and the embouchure. The first several minima can be played, but usually flute players only play the first on this particular note, for which the higher minima aid the production of harmonics. Details on the all-closed fingering at lowest note.

When we compare this with D4 on the classical flute and with B3 on the modern flute, we see that on the baroque instrument, both the maxima and minima become weaker at high frequencies. The effect is less pronounced on the classical instrument and least of all on the modern. Deeper minima and more nearly exact alignment with harmonics of the fundamental at high frequencies allow the higher harmonics to sound more strongly, so the shallow minima of the curve for the baroque flute contribute to its mellow or dark tone.

Sound f

Sound spectrum of a baroque flute played using fingering for D4 f.

Sound Clip f

You can hear D4 f played by Matthew Ridley.


Sound spectrum of a baroque flute played using fingering for D4 p.

Sound Clip

You can hear D4 p 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.