The Origin Of The Flute: From Prehistory to Modern Days


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The flute is one of the earliest musical instruments known to mankind. Its origins can be traced 43,000 to 30,000 years ago to Europe where it is believed to have first been discovered.

This instrument then traveled across the world and became modified into the different varieties that we know of today.


Let’s dig a little into its history to understand how the instrument came about to be played on such a wide scale in today’s world.


Oldest Flutes

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The oldest flutes were made of animal bones unlike the metal or wooden ones that we are so familiar with today.


The oldest flute discovered to date is from Slovenia (A country in the Balkans) and is made from the femur of a young cave bear. It has two to four holes and studies have dated its origins to around 43,000 years ago although this is still disputed.



Another discovery of a flute was made in 2008 in Germany. It is made from vulture bone and has 5 holes. This is considered as the oldest confirmed find of any musical instrument in history.


The early flutes were played in two different positions-either vertically like a recorder or horizontally/transverse position. Initially, the term ‘flute’ was used to refer to the instrument played in both ways and it was not up until the 18th century that the recorder came to be recognized as a flute and the transverse instrument as a flauto traverso.


The Renaissance period in Europe made 'flute' known to a larger scale of audience. This period took place from the 14th to 17th century and is known for the various developments made in the field of art, language, and politics.

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During this time, ‘consort music’ was highly popular wherein families would play musical instruments together. This occurred in public spaces too. Amateur flutists (people who play the flute) came to be a part of these ensembles and this drove the instrument into a higher level of recognition.


Another important mark in the history of this instrument was the transformations that it went through in its design. The earlier flutes did not have keys. The flutes used in the renaissance period were made from a simple construction they had a cylindrical shape with one mouthpiece and seven holes.


This simple design only allowed it to produce specific semitones (the interval between two adjacent notes in a 12-tone scale). It was only towards the late 17th century that flutes began to be developed in a conical shape with one key attached to them. Today, this instrument is widely recognized as the ‘baroque flute’.


The Indian Flute- Bansuri

Let’s dive a little into the history of the flute or the ‘bansuri’ as it is widely known in the Indian subcontinent. In India, the flute enjoys a distinguished place in music as well as in mythology.


The Hindu deity, Lord Krishna is often pictured playing the flute which emanates magical or seductive powers. It is an instrument that used to be extremely popular back in the olden days as it was used for musical and dance performances.


Following the Mughal invasion in the 15th century, there was a development of Gharanas or music schools across North India and this led to the popularization of the Hindustani music-a form of Indian classical music.


Flute In Indian Classical Music

Pannalal Ghosh

The flute was not frequently used in this form of classical music as its high pitch was considered unsuitable for the full range of expression. It was around the early 1900s that the instrument regained a status for itself.


The credit for this change can be given to Pannalal Ghosh, an Indian Flute Player and composer who is regarded as a Pioneer for Indian Classical Flute.


He had been interested in creating a flute with a more refined structure and this was how he constructed one using bamboo. This 32-inch instrument became the standard bansuri for North Indian Classical Music.


One of his major disciples, Devendra Murdeshwar along with other artists such as Vijay Raghav Rao and Hariprasad Chaurasia are also credited for their contributions for bringing the instrument to a wider audience in the Indian context. They also worked towards incorporating the flute well with other instruments such as the sitar and Sarod.


Flute In Carnatic Music

T.R Mahalingam

Around the same period, the flute was gaining recognition in the southern part of the subcontinent too. It is known as the pulangoli in Tamil or the Venu in Sanskrit.


It was also constructed from Bamboo and had 8 tone holes. Carnatic music (The second form of Indian classical music, the other being Hindustani Music) employed the flute prominently as part of its ensemble. One of the greatest figures of the Carnatic tradition is T.R Mahalingam, affectionately known as Mali.


Types of flutes around the world


Now that we have covered the history behind this instrument, let’s take a look at its different types of around the world in the current times:


BANSURI

As already discussed above, this kind is popular in India as well as other countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. It can vary in length, inner diameter of the instrument and placement of holes.


IRISH FLUTE

This is a simple transverse wooden flute used in Irish and Scottish traditional music. Though this kind was originally keyless, its modern variants have keys.



DIZI

Dizi is a transverse, keyless flute used in Chinese opera, folk music, and orchestra. These are mostly made of bamboo so they are commonly referred to as the Chinese Bamboo flute too. It is played horizontally. The instrument has 6 finger holes with an extra membrane between the finger holes and the blowhole which is covered by a membrane or reed.


FUE


Japan has 8 traditional flutes known as 'fue' which is a combination of transverse and front instruments. One of the names, Shakuhachi, is commonly used for Zen meditation too.


PAN FLUTE

This kind of flute does not belong to any one specific culture as several countries have a history with it. (Greece, South and North America, Thailand, etc.) It is typically made from bamboo or cane reed. The instrument can either be straight or curved and sound is produced by blowing across the pipes.


Flute Classes at Art Gharana


At Art Gharana, our in-house professionals are highly trained in their art and they seek to deliver quality education in their student’s musical journey. Our classes are conducted on an online platform so this makes it easier for you to take up our classes from literally anywhere around the world.


If you wish to test the waters first and experience our teaching methods before you commit yourself to full-time classes, we are more than happy to provide you with a demo class absolutely free of charge. So head on over to book your session and get started on your musical journey!


We look forward to having you as a part of our family.

Happy learning!


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