The flute is one of the oldest musical instruments, having a history that dates back to prehistoric times where mammoth tusks were being used to create this reedless aerophone. The modern concert flute is a traverse (side-blown) instrument, and adopts the Boehm fingering system, which was developed in the early 1800s. It is typically made out of three parts, namely the headjoint (where the embouchure hole in which the player blows into and across is located), the body (which houses the bulk of the flute’s circular toneholes and key mechanism), as well as the footjoint. It is also pitched in the key of C, making it a non-transposing instrument, and has a range spanning over 3 octaves starting from middle C (C4), or a semi-tone lower (B3), depending on the footjoint being used. In addition, the modern flute can be made from a variety of materials, ranging from nickel-silver, silver, gold, wood, platinum, or even from a combination of two or more metals.
In the following sections, we will explore the acoustical properties of the flute and how sound is produced on it, analyse its sound spectrum, compare it with another woodwind instrument, and also investigate the impact of material on sound production. Through this study, it is hoped that we will be able to develop a more in-depth understanding of this simple, yet beautiful instrument characterized by a pure, clean tone.
2. The resonant modes of the flute
The flute is an open tube. Even though a player's lower lip covers part of the embouchure hole, much of the hole remains open to the atmosphere. Similarly, the end of the flute is also open to the air outside it. Simplifying the flute somewhat to be simple cylindrical pipe with all its toneholes covered, we have the following diagram as shown below.
The acoustic pressure, or the variation in pressure due to sound waves, is zero at the ends of the pipe due to the pressure here being approximately atmospheric pressure. These points of zero...