The standard range of the Western concert flute extends three octaves. In scientific pitch notation, its lowest note is C4. This pitch is also known as “middle C” and is notated on the first ledger line below the treble staff. Some flutes feature a B foot that enables them to reach down to B3, a semitone lower than other flutes. The flute’s highest note is C7 in most cases, though advanced players can push the upper limit to F7 or even higher.
Other Common Flutes
The piccolo sounds an octave higher than the concert flute, ranging from C5 to C8. The alto flute plays from G3 to G6, about half an octave lower than the concert flute. Bass flutes sound an octave lower than the concert flute and play from C3 to C6.
Rare Low Flutes
The contra-alto flute plays from G2 to G5, while the contrabass or octobass flute plays from C2 to C5. The subcontrabass flute ranges from G1 to G4, and the double contrabass flute ranges from C1 to C4. The extremely rare hyperbass flute (only one has been made) reaches down to C0 at the lower limit of human hearing.
Rare High Flutes
On the higher end of the spectrum, the soprano flute moves between E-flat4 and E-flat7, and the treble flute produces pitches between G4 and G7. The unusual flûte d’amour or flauto d’amore ranges from A-flat3 to A-flat6.
The seven-holed bansuri, used in Indian classical music, has a three-octave range of E3 to E6. Native American flutes come in a great variety of sizes and ranges. One instrument played by Clint Goss starts at F4. The Japanese shakuhachi can play about two-and-a-half octaves, from C3 to F5.
Flute Ranges in Hertz
Pitches may be precisely measured in hertz (Hz), or cycles per second. The following list indicates the ranges in hertz of the various flutes discussed here:
piccolo: 523.25 to 4186 Hz treble flute: 392 to 3520 Hz Native American flute in F: starting at 349.23 Hz soprano flute: 311.13 to 2489 Hz concert flute: 261.63 to 2093 Hz flûte d’amour: 207.65 to 1661.2 Hz alto flute: 196 to 1568 Hz shakuhachi: 196 to 783.99 Hz bansuri: 164.81 to 1318.5 Hz bass flute: 130.81 to 1046.5 Hz contra-alto flute: 97.999 to 783.99 Hz contrabass flute: 65.406 to 523.25 Hz subcontrabass flute: 48.999 to 392 Hz double contrabass flute: 32.703 to 261.63 Hz hyperbass flute: 16.352 to 130.81 Hz
Joshua Veltman began writing academic articles and giving public lectures in 2002. His publications appear in "Empirical Musicology Review," "Computing in Musicology," and "Performance Practice: Issues and Approaches." He holds a Ph.D. in musicology from The Ohio State University, and currently serves as a professor of music at a liberal arts university.