Flutes are considered to be the oldest musical instruments. Our current definition of "flute" is limited, though, since the word can mean a variety of different woodwind instruments, beginning with early man blowing through a bone.
What Is a Flute?
What most people generally think of as a flute today is actually a transverse flute, meaning “to the side” as opposed to an end-blown instrument. The wider definition of flute covers any aerophone that creates sound by air being blown across an opening. This can refer to panpipes, tin whistles, fifes and countless other instruments–even a Coke bottle.
Flutes in Many Cultures
Varying versions of flute-like instruments can be found in almost all cultures’ histories. Whether made from wood or bone, variants of wind instruments were used centuries ago by the Chinese, Irish, Native Americans, Incans and many others.
Pieces of flutes have been found in Germany which date back approximately 40,000 years ago. The oldest playable flute discovered was found in China, and is 9,000 years old. The modern flute that we recognize didn’t appear until the 1800s. A German goldsmith created standardized hole placement and a new fingering system. That flute became the standard, and is what we now know as the concert flute.
Ted Hann has been writing since 1980. He is a television casting director based in Southern California. His work has appeared on eHow, and he specializes in entertainment- and arts-related topics. Hann holds bachelor's degrees in English and music, summa cum laude, from Arizona State University.