Western Classical Flute Family Guide

Do you want to learn more about the western classical flute? You should consider the common and less common members of the family.

Western Classical Flute Guide | Hannah B Flute

That’s right, there’s more to flutes than THE flute. Read on for a bit of info on the western classical flutes.

But first, this post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy to learn more.

Popular Western Classical Flute Family Members

When looking at the western classical flute family, you’ll come across a few flutes that are more popular than the rest. Even some non-musicians will know what a few of the flutes are, though not all.

Here are some of the most common western flutes from small to large.


Western Classical Flute - Piccolo

The smallest member of the flute family is the piccolo. It plays an octave higher than the regular flute. You can choose from various materials, from plastic to metal to wood.

Aside from the C flute, the piccolo is probably the most common. It’s a standard member of the orchestra, wind ensemble, and flute choir. There are also plenty of solos for the instrument that you can learn.

These instruments come at a variety of price points and from many brands. Some players even specialize in the piccolo.

C Flute

Western Classical Flute

Of course, the titular member of the western classical flute family is the flute, or C flute. Beginner players will start on this type of flute. I learned on the Trevor James 10x and sounded great on it.

This flute is in concert pitch, so the note you see on paper is the note you’ll hear when you play it. Most modern flutes use metal, either silver or gold. However, there are some wood flutes that use the modern Boehm system.

As you advance, you can upgrade to get more features or more precious metals. Some flutes cost $80,000 or more, but most are much more affordable.

Alto Flute

Western Classical Flute - Alto

The alto flute is the only common member of the western classical flute family that isn’t in the key of C. Instead, it’s in G, so it sounds a perfect fourth lower than written, but it uses the same written range as other flutes.

Like a lot of people, I first played an alto flute in a flute choir. I’ve since purchased my own, but I started on one my school owned. The alto flute can have either a straight or curved headjoint, depending on the player’s preference.

Alto flutes are a bit heavy, but they can be very fun to play. Aside from a flute choir, they appear in a few more recent orchestral works and have a growing solo repertoire.

Bass Flute

Western Classical Flute - Bass

Next up, there’s the bass flute, which sounds an octave lower than the C flute. It always has a curved headjoint due to the length of the tubing. Many models have the same J shape as some altos.

However, you can find a bass flute with an upright shape. That can be nice if the instrument is too heavy for you to hold comfortably. Bass flutes are most common in flute choirs but have some solo music as well.

I enjoyed playing the bass flute for a while. But I had to stop after it put too much pressure on my right thumb. Maybe I’ll get an upright bass flute one day.

Contrabass Flute

The contrabass flute isn’t as common as the others. However, it’s gaining popularity, especially in flute choirs and ensembles. It plays two octaves below the standard flute.

Because of that, the tubing is in the shape of a 4, and you have to stand to play. Also, these flutes start in the five figure range, so not many people can afford them.

I have yet to try one, but they sound really cool. They probably require a lot of air and support to get a good sound on.

Other Western Classical Flute Family Members

Some western classical flutes are more common than others. There are a slew of other flutes that many people don’t play for various reasons.

Consider the following instruments if you want to collect the whole family of flutes.

Db Piccolo

The Db piccolo is very similar to the standard piccolo, which is in C. However, this piccolo plays a semi-tone higher than C piccolos.

That means you need to read a half step lower to sound in tune. These piccolos used to be popular around the early 20th century. But they fell out of favor as the C piccolo became more common.

G Treble Flute

Between the piccolo and C flute, you’ll find the G treble flute. This instrument plays an octave higher than the alto flute.

It’s not used in a lot of settings, but it could be fun to try. I have seen someone recreate a flute ensemble up an octave, so replacing the flute with piccolo, bass with flute, and alto with G treble.

Eb Soprano Flute

The Eb soprano flute is between the G treble and the C flute. It has a slightly higher timbre than the regular flute in C.

But it’s so close in range that many composers don’t use it. However, I did play a flute ensemble piece in grad school that had an Eb part. The score came with an alternate C part that we used since no one had an Eb flute.

Flute D’Amore

Just below the C flute, you’ll find the flute d’amore. These flutes can be in Bb or A, so it depends on the manufacturer.

Since they’re right between the C flute and alto, there isn’t a huge need for them. But they can be nice if you want to easily play a clarinet part without having to transpose.

Contralto Flute

An octave below the alto flute, you’ll find the contralto flute. This instrument is in G and sounds between the bass and contrabass flutes.

It’s most common in a flute choir, but many ensembles don’t have one. Of course, that’s probably because of the price.

Double Contrabass Flute

The double contrabass flute plays an octave below the contrabass and three octaves below the C flute. It looks like a much bigger contrabass.

There are a few of these in the world but not many. Only the largest, most serious flute ensembles seem to have one.

Hyperbass Flute

A hyperbass flute is the lowest member of the western classical flute family. These flutes are so large that they’re usually made of plastic instead of metal.

Also, they aren’t super common, even in flute ensembles. It’s more of a novelty, just to show how low the flute family can go.

Why Are Some Flutes More Popular Than Others?

Some flutes are more popular because of how affordable they are and how easy they are to find. As you may have noticed, a lot of the flutes that are less common are between two popular types.

The large overlap in their ranges makes the flute in the middle unnecessary. You can easily cover a part on the flute higher or lower than it.

Can You Play Music for One Flute on Another?

You can play flute music on any member of the western classical flute family. However, you might have to make certain adjustments.

For example, you have to drop any low Cs or C#s on the piccolo.

Which Western Classical Flute Will You Play?

The western classical flute family is more diverse than you think. You have the C flute, piccolo, and alto flute as some of the more common flutes.

But don’t forget about the flute d’amore or the double contrabass. If you ever get a chance to try a rarer flute, don’t pass it up.

And if you’re looking for an upgrade, give yourself the gift of a new flute!

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