The flute is a woodwind instrument that dates from ancient times. Sound is produced from a flute by blowing onto a sharp edge, causing air enclosed in a tube to vibrate. In tropical regions and in the Orient flutes are commonly made from bamboo tubes. End blown flutes may be simple tube with a sharp edge or notch, or they may have an inserted block, as in Recorders and whisties. The widespread side blown or transverse flute is now common in the West.
About 1670 the transverse flute began to be made in three sections, the cylindrical head joint, the middle joint, and the foot joint with inverse conical bore, and had six finger holes plus one closed key. It was usually constructed of boxwood. The joints and ends strengthened by decorative ivory rings. The instrument's lovely, mellow tone inspire a large solo literature. Chromatic notes (sharped and flatted tones) were nevertheless difficult to play in tune in tonalities other than D Major and those closely related. The addition of more keys solved some of these problems.
Theobald Bohm experimented with the flute from 1832 to 1847, desiring to give it a bigger tone. He finally produced a modern flute with a parabolic (bowl-shaped) head joint attached to a cylindrical body with open standing keys and finger pads to cover large finger holes. The modern flute has a range from middle B upward for about three and one-half octaves. The basic instrument (without B key) is approximately 66 cm (26 in) long. In Europe flutes are often constructed of wood, silver is commonly used in the United States.
Other orchestral flutes are the Piccolo, a brilliant instrument pitches an octave higher than the standard flute, and the alto flute, pitched a fourth lower than the standard instrument. The rare bass flute, pitched an octave below the standard instrument, is not a regular member of the orchestra.