Historical Flutes

Flutes have been around for centuries. Modern flautists typically learn on the Boehm flute (first introduced in the mid-1800s), but Boehms were preceded by various types of flutes. Learn more about various historical flutes, including accurate representations that help flautists recreate the performance styles of the past.

Traverso or Baroque Flute

A Traverso flute against a white backdrop

This is the type of flute that Johannes Sebastian Bach would have written for. Many current-day flutists choose to study on wooden reproductions of the flutes that would have been available in Bach’s day.

Why Choose a Traverso Flute?

So why would you want to learn the Traverso as opposed to the modern Boehm flute? The sound quality is much different and, over the years, many techniques have been lost. Learning to recreate these historical techniques with reproduction instruments is known as “performance practice.”


Several blockflutes and a ruler for perspective

Known as the recorder to modern flute students, the blockflute was once considered as valuable as the Traverso. Some historians believe that compositions with flats in the key signature were intended for blockflutes. Compositions with sharps, on the other hand, may have been intended for Traverso flutes. Today, recorders are often used as introductory instruments. With a decent instrument, novices nad advances players alike can use recorders for Baroque, modern, and even popular music.

Irish or Classical Flute

A trio of Irish flutes, two black and one light-brown

Whichever term you use, it’s the same flute. By the mid 1700s, the Traverso evolved to have a longer, more cone-shaped body. Several new keys were added to the body to eliminate cross-fingerings. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his music for this type of flute.  The Classica flute has a wider range of sounds than the Traverso and its tone quality sounds less breathy.

With the advent of the modern Boehm flute in the mid 1800s, Classical flutes fell into disuse. Many wound up in attics and closets around the world. That’s where the Irish come in! They adopted the discarded instrument to play national tunes.

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