What Types of Music Does the Flute Play?

By Arlen Hershey ; Updated September 15, 2017
Flutes produce a high-pitched sound.

Like most musical instruments, the flute can be used to perform nearly any style of music. However, there are a few genres in which the flute is more commonly played. This tube-shaped device is a part of the woodwind family and is known as the oldest musical instrument in human history.

Western Classical

One of the quietest instruments in a symphony orchestra, but one of the most essential, is the flute. The highest notes are played on the flute or its cousin the piccolo. One of Mozart's most famous operas was called The Magic Flute, in which the instrument has a prominent role. Western flutes are held to the side, with musicians blowing across a small hole just above where the instrument rests on their chin. It is actually closed at the top of the tube. Most classical flutes are made of metal.

Eastern Music

Flutes are common instruments in Eastern countries such as India, China and Japan. But these types of flutes differ from Western flutes in that they are oftentimes played from one end of the open tube, blowing air through to the bottom opening of the instrument. These flutes usually aren't made out of metal, but a more natural substance like wood or bamboo. Unlike the tabbed buttons on the Western flute, Eastern flutes generally have small holes that alter the instrument's note when covered by the fingers in various patterns.

Jazz and Other Styles

All types of music may incorporate the flute, be they Western or Eastern styles. Jazz musicians may play the flute to achieve higher notes than what is possible with any other instrument. Even rock bands have been known to use flutes, notably Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. In modern music, many indie artists have used the flute to achieve softer melodies for their quieter songs, such as Sufjan Steven's use of flute in The BQE and Come On Feel the Illinoise. And even before the colonization of America, Native American flutes were played. Today, New Age artists still make music on Native American flutes.

About the Author

Arlen Hershey has been writing science curriculum for informal science education organizations since 2006. She has written for Experiencia and Sea World. She has a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Illinois.