Alto flute

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Alto flute
Alto flute 006.jpg
Classification Woodwind (Aerophone)
Playing range
Range Alto flute.png
Related instruments

The alto flute is an instrument in the Western concert flute family, the second-highest member below the standard C flute after the uncommon flûte d'amour. It is the third most common member of its family after the standard C flute and the piccolo. It is characterized by its rich, mellow tone in the lower portion of its range. It is a transposing instrument in G (a perfect fourth below written C), and uses the same fingerings as the C flute.


The bore of the alto flute is considerably larger in diameter and longer than a C flute and requires more breath from the player. [1] This gives it a greater dynamic presence in the bottom octave and a half of its range.

It was the favourite flute variety of Theobald Boehm, who perfected its design, and is pitched in the key of G (sounding a perfect fourth lower than written). [2]

Its range is from G3 (the G below middle C) to G6 (4 ledger lines above the treble clef staff) plus an altissimo register stretching to D7. The headjoint may be straight or curved.

British music that uses this instrument often refers to it as a bass flute, which can be confusing since there is a distinct instrument known by that name. [1] This naming confusion originated in the fact that the modern flute in C is pitched in the same range as the Renaissance tenor flute; therefore, a lower pitched instrument would be called a bass. [3]

Headjoint shape

Alto flute with curved head. Yamaha Flute YFL-A421U.png
Alto flute with curved head.
Alto flute with straight head. Yamaha Flute YFL-A421S.png
Alto flute with straight head.

Alto flute headjoints are built in 'curved' and 'straight' versions. The curved headjoint is frequently preferred by smaller players because it requires less of a stretch for the arms, and makes the instrument feel lighter by moving the center of gravity nearer to the player. However, the straight version is more commonly used for better overall intonation. [4]

The embouchure for alto flute is similar to that for C flute, but in proportion to the size of the instrument. Hence the embouchure-hole sits lower on the lower lip, and the lip-aperture is wider.


The following lists are not intended to be complete, but rather to present a representative sampling of the most commonly played and well-known works in the genre. The lists also do not generally include works originally written for other instruments and subsequently transcribed, adapted, or arranged for alto flute, unless such piece is very common in the repertory, in which case it is listed with its original instrumentation noted.

Alto flute alone

Alto flute and piano

Alto flute, piano and electronics

Orchestral excerpts

In the classical literature, the alto flute is particularly associated with the scores of Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel, both of whom used the instrument's distinctive tone color in a variety of scores. It is featured in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé , Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring , Franco Alfano's opera Cyrano de Bergerac , Sergei Prokofiev's Scythian Suite and the original version of Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra. Shostakovich used it in his operas The Gamblers (left unfinished), Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (also known as Katerina Ismailova), as well as in his Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) . It also figures prominently in several movements of Gustav Holst's The Planets . [2] It also appears in Howard Shore's music for The Lord of the Rings among many other contemporary film scores. [5] Even before 1940 it had been used occasionally in Hollywood; early Broadway pit orchestrations using the instrument include Jerome Kern's Music in the Air (1932) and Very Warm for May (1939), both scored by Robert Russell Bennett (the manuscript orchestrations are in the Jerome Kern Collection, Music Division, The Library of Congress).


A number of specialist alto flute players have emerged in recent years. These include French improvisor/composer Christian Le Delezir, American Christine Potter, British Kingma System alto flute player Carla Rees, jazz players Ali Ryerson and Brian Landrus, American Peter Sheridan who currently resides in Australia, Swiss composers/performers Matthias Ziegler and Stefan Keller and Dutch composer/performer Anne La Berge. Florian Schneider-Esleben of the German Electronic Group, Kraftwerk, played an alto flute in the first few years of the band's tenure.

Related Research Articles

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oboe</span> Double-reed woodwind instrument

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The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B, but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet. Bass clarinets in other keys, notably C and A, also exist, but are very rare. Bass clarinets regularly perform in orchestras, wind ensembles and concert bands, and occasionally in marching bands, and play an occasional solo role in contemporary music and jazz in particular.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

The soprano saxophone is a higher-register variety of the saxophone, a woodwind instrument invented in the 1840s. The soprano is the third-smallest member of the saxophone family, which consists of the soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass saxophone and tubax. Soprano saxophones are the smallest and thus highest-pitched saxophone in common use.

The bass flute is a member of the flute family. It is in the key of C, pitched one octave below the concert flute. Despite its name, its playing range makes it the tenor member of the flute family. Because of the length of its tube, it is usually made with a J-shaped head joint, which brings the embouchure hole within reach of the player. It is usually only used in flute choirs, as it is easily drowned out by other instruments of comparable register, such as the clarinet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Western concert flute</span> Transverse woodwind instrument

The Western concert flute is a family of transverse (side-blown) woodwind instruments made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a flautist, flutist, or simply a flute player.

The alto clarinet is a woodwind instrument of the clarinet family. It is a transposing instrument pitched in the key of E, though instruments in F have been made. In size it lies between the soprano clarinet and the bass clarinet. It bears a greater resemblance to the bass clarinet in that it typically has a straight body, but a curved neck and bell made of metal. All-metal alto clarinets also exist. In appearance it strongly resembles the basset horn, but usually differs in three respects: it is pitched a whole step lower, it lacks an extended lower range, and it has a wider bore than many basset horns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contrabass flute</span> A flute tuned in middle C

The contrabass flute is one of the rarer members of the flute family. Typically seen in flute ensembles, it is sometimes also used in solo and chamber music situations. Its range is similar to that of the regular concert flute, except that it is pitched two octaves lower; the lowest performable note is two octaves below middle C. Many contrabass flutes in C are also equipped with a low B, Contrabass flutes are only available from select flute makers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">E-flat clarinet</span> Piccolo member of the clarinet family

The E-flat clarinet is a member of the clarinet family, smaller than the more common B clarinet and pitched a perfect fourth higher. It is typically considered the sopranino or piccolo member of the clarinet family and is a transposing instrument in E with a sounding pitch a minor third higher than written. In Italian it is sometimes referred to as a terzino and is generally listed in B-based scores as terzino in Mi♭. The E-flat clarinet has a total length of about 49 cm.

The tenor cornett or lizard was a common musical instrument in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This instrument was normally built in C and the pedal (lowest) note of the majority of tenor cornetts was the C below middle C. A number of surviving instruments feature a key to secure the lowest note. The instrument has a useful range of approximately two and a half octaves, however, an experienced player with a strong embouchure may be able to push the instrument higher.

The western concert flute family has a wide range of instruments.


  1. 1 2 "Finding Your Flute (How to Choose, Rent, Buy a New or Used Flute)". Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  2. 1 2 Toff, Nancy (2012). The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 69–72.
  3. "Renaissance flutes". Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  4. "Phyllis Louke - Article: Getting Started Playing Alto, Bass and Contrabass Flutes". Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  5. One of the best-known uses of the alto flute in 20th century music was by Pierre Boulez in his piece Le marteau sans maître for contralto and six instrumentalists. Adams, Doug (2010). The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore's Scores, Book & CD. Los Angeles, California, USA: Alfred Music.