A Brief History of the Flute

The flute is a family of musical instruments in the woodwind group. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening.  A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, flautist, or flutist. The flute may be the most ancient of musical instruments with evidence of its existence going back as far as 40,000 years.  Remnants of these prehistoric flutes were typically made of bone or tusk and had from three to eight holes.  Players featured here play versions of the Western concert flute, although many other versions exist including Indian, Chinese, Japanese, sodina, and sring.

Famous Flute Players

When thinking of famous flute players, a name that almost always comes to mind is James Galway, the brilliant Irish musician.  Galway’s popularity stems mostly from his undeniable talent, his clarity of sound, faultless intonation and breath-taking technique. Nicknamed “The Man with the Golden Flute”, Galway has played for presidents and royalty and was knighted in 2001.  He has made nearly one hundred recordings and devotes much of his time to education with the help of his wife, Jeanne, who also plays the flute.  He performs on Nagahara flutes, as well as some Muramatsu flutes. The Gemeinhardt Galway Crusader 33 Series flutes are hand assembled and feature the same head joint style used by James Galway.

Emmanuel Pahud shows up on virtually every list of best flute players. This Swiss-French player grew up in a non-musical family, but was encouraged from an early age to pursue his interest in the flute.  He was named principal flutist at the age of 22 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Pahud’s consistent technical ability enables him to easily adapt to any musical style.  His first professional flute was a silver plated Yamaha.  He subsequently played hand-made Muramatsu flutes. The top rated Yamaha Professional 677H Series flute offers tremendous sound and quality construction at an affordable price.

Bobbi Humphrey is sometimes known as the ‘First Lady of Flute” as a result of being the first female flute player signed by Blue Note Records in 1971.  Ms. Humphrey began playing flute in the ninth grade and was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie who encouraged her to pursue a professional career in New York City.  She is best known for her jazz and soul jazz fusion styles. Her 1973 album “Blacks and Blues” increased her visibility by introducing her to pop and R & B audiences.

No list is complete without the incomparable Jean-Pierre Rampal. His father was a flute teacher, but Jean-Pierre was encouraged to study medicine. World War II upended his studies and he eventually enrolled in the Paris Conservatory.  Rampal favored music of the eighteenth century and was passionate about chamber music.  He is credited with returning the flute to prominence as a solo orchestral instrument.  A fourteen carat gold flute made by Louis Lot was Rampal’s signature instrument.

Buying a Flute from Woodwind & Brasswind

If you are in the market for a professional flute, browse our collection of flutes. If you would like advice and assistance shopping for instruments and equipment, our music experts are available to understand your needs and your budget. Call us at 800.348.5003.

You can also check out our flute buying guide for more information.