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 D5. Z is plotted in dB, i.e. 20 log(Z/Pa.s.m-3).

This fingering is comparable to that for D4 except for the open register hole. This creates a pressure node (or flow antinode) at the midpoint of the pipe, and thus allows D5 but not D4. Compared with the D4 impedance spectrum, the low frequency minima are less deep, and at considerably higher frequency. The open hole acts as a register hole. For more detail on register holes see the section in the introduction to flute acoustics. Because there is no series of open holes to cause a tone hole filter, the 2nd, 4th and 6th minima (the 2nd, 4th and 6th harmonics of D4, or the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of D5) are all deep and harmonically related (frequencies 1:2:3), so they lead to strong 1st, 2nd and 3rd harmonics in the sound spectrum, and thus to a bright timbre. (The weak 1st, 2nd and 5th minima can be considered as extreme cross fingerings in which C# is flattened a long way.)


Sound spectrum of a baroque flute played using fingering for D5.

Sound Clip

You can hear D5 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.