C Flute

C Flute

C Flute range

The C Flute is THE Flute of common use.  You may forgive me for not expounding upon its general technique, but I can hardly add much more than has been said in other books on orchestration.  In general, flutists are the technicians of the wind world.  Pretty much anything technique wise is possible to a competent flutist.

In the band, there are generally two parts for the C Flute, but this is by no means a hard limit.  Outside of strict wind ensembles (groups with only one player per part), there are usually many flute players.  Dividing the section up into three or four groups is completely feasible, and at times encouraged.  Many bands have section of four to eight players.  Why not take advantage of this?

As I will more fully address in the section on the flute family as a whole, the flute is really the odd man out in the whole of the band.  No other instrument really stands alone like the flute does.  What I mean by this is that there are no like tone colors to complement the C Flute in all ranges soprano to bass.  The C Flute is king (or perhaps, more aptly queen) of the soprano.  Nearly 100 percent of the time, there is no alto, tenor, or bass.  A good bandestrator needs to realize this – the flute is alone.  It is a solo voice.  This fact alone is why I have included the entirety of the modern flute family in this section.

The C Flute will blend with nearly every other instrument in the band.  Blends with the Oboe, often considered its closest neighbor, can be a bit awkward.  Flute and Oboe are almost exact opposites as far as soprano voices go.  Flutes weaken towards the bottom of their register, while oboes strengthen.  This can lead to unbalanced combinations between the two families.  Keep both instruments out of their bottom registers and your blend should be smooth.

An often forgotten blend is that of C Flute and Bassoon at the unison or the octave.  These two timbres nearly always produce a beautiful sound.

Flute and any species of clarinet will work very well.  One of the most unusual combinations, that while a struggle for the players to maintain still produces a beautiful effect, is that of C Flute and Soprano Saxophone.  The sweetness of the flute is countered by the bite of the saxophone, and the overall effect is of something wholly new.

Flute plus brass tends to have problems of balance.  Brass instruments, by their very nature can overpower the flute.  The best caution here is one of range.  If you want the flute to stand out, keep it separated range-wise from the heavy brass and both voices will be heard.

Mozart’s Concerto in G

Varèse’s Density 21.5

Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Flutes Part 4 – Flute Technique



            The technique of the flute family is probably the highest and most refined of all the woodwinds.  The bandestrator is thereby free to write nearly anything within the standard range of the instrument.

The only limitations are the bottom third of the instrument.  With the exception of the combination of the low C to low D, all combinations of notes E-flat and lower require the sliding of the little finger.  The D-flat to E-flat trill is the only impossible trill on the entire instrument.

For the entire flute family, the written low C is the standard bottom note.  There are a few exceptions to this rule:

1. First, all Piccolos only descend to the low D.  There are no exceptions.

2. The G Treble may or may not stop at the D, but this depends on the maker.

3. The C Flute itself is often equipped with a B-foot that allows the production of the lowest B natural.  You should be fairly safe in the writing of this note as all professionals and most amateurs possess this extension.

4. The low B may or may not be present in the larger flutes.  It is never present on the Alto and very rare on the Tenor.  Consult with your players before using this note.

The upper written range for all flutes is given as the C three octaves above middle C, but again there are some exceptions.  The top B and C on the Piccolo are extremely difficult to produce (owing surprisingly in part to the lack of the Low C) and can only be produced in forte.  Advanced technique on the C Flute has pushed the range upwards to around an F, but in practicality, only the D above the high C should be used.  The larger flutes are best kept out of their upper register (though the Alto has full use of all three octaves) and these notes are suspect and uncharacteristic of the instruments.

All flutes, from Piccolo to Contrabass, have the same sound signature.  That is, their sound is soft in the bottom of the register and gradually gets louder as the pitch ascends.  The softest sound in the flute family is a Contrabass on its lowest C (or B), while the absolute loudest sound is a Piccolo on its highest C.

By the way, the modern flute family, with all its new members, is the only family of winds that can cover virtually the entire range of the Piano (minus the low B-flat and A of the Piano).

One curious aspect of flute technique is that, as flutists are able to master the technique of their instrument fairly quickly (compared to most of the other woodwinds), many flutists venture out into performing works with extended techniques.  These include quarter-tones, multiphonics, beat-boxing, glissandi, breathy sub-tones, and many more.  Most of these techniques are used primarily in flute solos, and only rarely do they make their way into ensemble music.

When in doubt, ask a competent flutist.