Range Of The Flute: Every Type Explained!

range of the flute

Yes, most people know the flute is a high instrument, but exactly how high does it play?

Do all the types of flutes have similar ranges? 

The standard concert flute has a range of C4-C7 with the ability to play a little lower and higher using advanced techniques. All types of flutes have the same three-octave range, with each flute starting on a different pitch. Flutes typically begin on a concert C or G, depending on their type. 

Let’s look at each of these woodwind instruments and their practical ranges in more detail.

Flute Range By Type

In the modern flute family, there are 4 major instruments and 3 rarer ones to consider. 

Take a look at this table for information on their ranges. 

Type Of FluteRanges
PiccoloD5-C8
Concert/Soprano/CC4-C7
AltoG3-G6
BassC3-C6
ContraltoG2-G5
ContrabassC2-C5
SubcontrabassC1-C4*

Note: For comparison, C4 is the middle C on the piano and the middle of the Grand Staff. It’s often considered the middle note for all music. 

You may also want to check out our detailed article on the types of flutes

What Is The Range Of The Piccolo?

The range of the piccolo is from D5-C8. This is the highest of the transverse flutes and usually serves as an accent to the melody in marching bands, advanced wind ensembles, or orchestras. 

This is the second most common type of flute out there, and, unlike the others, it’s often made of wood. 

Like the others, it’s made of three parts: head joint, a middle joint, and a foot joint. 

The piccolo is often the highest instrument in any group. It plays so high; most piccolo players will wear earplugs to protect their ears from the force of the sound. 

Soprano Flute Range

The typical soprano flute goes by many names: 

  • Concert flute
  • Western concert flute
  • German flute
  • Transverse flute
  • Standard flute

Whatever you call it, its practical range is considered to be from C4-C7. This places it higher than most of the other instruments in the band. 

This is the most common type of this woodwind instrument family by far. It’s among the most common, and it is the oldest type of woodwind instrument. 

What Is The Range Of The Alto Flute?

The alto flute has a range of G3-G6, or a fourth lower than the soprano flute. 

The alto is rarely used outside of flute ensembles, but you will see them occasionally in advanced wind ensembles and orchestras. 

What Is The Range Of The Bass Flute?

The bass comes with a range of C3-C6, the lowest note an octave below the soprano. This type is rarely seen outside of the flute choir, much less than even the alto. 

While this is a “bass flute,” it’s closer in line of the range of the French horn and the alto saxophone than a true bass instrument like the tuba or baritone saxophone. 

Range Of Other Flutes

The above four make up the common members of the flute family, but these three are also there as a specialty one you’ll rarely see. 

Contralto Flute

The contralto is an octave below the alto with a range of G2-G5, similar to a trombone or tenor saxophone. 

Contrabass Flute

The contrabass is fun to listen to and see. It’s more common than the contralto (or contra’alto), but it’s still only used by a professional-level flutist. 

The range is an octave below the bass or two octaves below the soprano at C2-C5. This is closer to the bass trombone but still not as low as the tuba. 

Subcontrabass Flute (Double Contrabass Flute)

The double contrabass is an octave lower than the one above from C1-C4. It functions in a similar range to the tuba with a much softer and airy tone.

Is There A Way To Extend The Flute Range?

Flute players can extend their range using advanced techniques.

All flutes can change their lowest note by a half step by changing how they blow into the embouchure hole and have a longer foot joint. 

It takes a special way of blowing across the embouchure hole and fingering to access the higher partials for high notes. 

This isn’t practical to the highest notes of the flute and is only used in advanced and professional solo work. 

Range Of The Flute Compared With Other Band Instruments

The range of each instrument is critical to making a good sound with other members of a larger group. 

There’s a reason we don’t always have a large band or orchestra of one instrument: it offers no variety to the sound! 

To give you an idea of the range, let’s look at the lowest pitch each major instrument in the band plays with this image. 

lowest note on alto sax compared

Note: This image first appeared in our article on the range of the alto sax. Check it out if you want to learn more. 

FAQ

What is a flute solo?

The flute is perhaps the best-known member of the woodwind family, and flute solos are among the most magical moments in orchestral music.

A solo happens when an instrument features a single flute player while the rest of the ensemble backs them up. 

What are the benefits of playing the flute?

As well as being capable of extreme virtuosity the flute can create beautiful sustained melodies.

Playing musical instruments has proven mental health benefits due to making music and the fine motor control needed to play. 

What is the difference between a flute and a piccolo?

Flute and piccolo are designed in much the same way, but the piccolo has a much higher range.

The piccolo often serves a “flourishing” role in the ensemble as well. Rarely does it get the melody, and it accents the other instruments carrying the melodies. 

Is the flute difficult to play? 

The flute is at the medium difficulty to learn. Once you get past the initial sound production, it gets easier. 

Aiming the air at the back of the lip plate is tough for many people at first. It takes practice to get it at the right spot. 

Then, as you play in higher and lower registers, the air’s focus and direction need to change. 

But once you get this down, the fingerings are pretty easy to master in the long run. 

Flute does tend to play faster and trickier lines, especially in faster tempo songs.

Does playing the flute help my health?

Oddly enough, playing the flute has several major health benefits, including: 

  • Reinforcing good posture
  • Building breath control
  • Developing air capacity
  • Fine motor and hand strength
  • Finger dexterity
  • Mental acumen

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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