Flute vs. Recorder

Flute vs. Recorder

The flute and the recorder, aren’t they the same? Don’t they produce exactly the same sound? Ummm, no and no! For some strange reason the flute and the recorder very often get confused, many people simply do not know the difference. We are here today to explain their differences. The recorder is that “beginner’s instrument” that many of us were introduced to in elementary school music class. The flute (also known as the transverse flute) is the one you can only start playing (sideways!) once you’ve reached a certain level on the recorder. Are these descriptions accurate? Not quite, let us explain…

I’m confused, throw me a bone!

Headjoint for soprano recorder

What is certain is that both instruments are considerably old and have a long tradition. Way back in prehistoric times flute instruments were made of hollow bones, sometimes playable with only one hand, sometimes with both. In addition to the particularly frequently occurring pan flute, which is made of individual bamboo or bone tubes of different lengths, various recorder-like instruments were in use.

At least since the 14th century the recorder is known by its current name which comes from the Middle-French verb “recorder” (to remember, to learn by heart, repeat, relate, recite, play music) and also from its noun form “recordeur” (one who retells, a minstrel). Sounds medieval, doesn’t it? Precisely, it is related to the era’s court entertainers, called “jongleurs” who memorised poems by heart and recited them, sometimes with musical accompaniment using this type of instrument:

In the 3 centuries that followed it was by far the most popular wind instrument, also because of its tonal proximity to the human voice. During the 18th century, however, it was forgotten or replaced by other instruments and only regained its popularity in the mid-20th century. Since then, it has enjoyed constant recognition as a serious instrument especially, but not exclusively, as a first instrument for children’s musical education.  

The transverse flute makes a comeback

During the baroque period the transverse flute, which had fallen somewhat into oblivion until then, came back into the spotlight. For the first time there was an explicit distinction between the “flauto dolce” (recorder) and the “flauto traverso” (transverse flute) as their Italian names illustrate. The transverse flute proved to be the better orchestral instrument because of its more present sound and, as the orchestras grew in size in the classical and romantic periods, it developed into today’s Boehm flute. This model completely replaced the recorder due to its new characteristics: it was made of metal for the first time, which made it possible to achieve a significant increase in volume and range. In addition, a previously unattainable technical virtuosity was made possible by a completely new key system that made Romantic repertoire playable for the first time. Since then the transverse flute has enjoyed a constant popularity and is currently one of the most played instruments in Europe.

Differences? Not only the playing position!

The most obvious difference is in the playing position or orientation of the instrument: The recorder is held vertically, straight and with both hands in front of the upper body, while the transverse flute is held in an asymmetrical position from the mouth to the right shoulder. As this can lead to postural damage to the neck, shoulders and lower back, children in particular need careful instruction and accompaniment when learning the flute.

The fingering system is also different, as can be seen from the flap system of the transverse flute, which contrasts the recorder’s more simple finger holes, drilled directly into the tube. The recorder sometimes requires somewhat more unpleasant finger combinations in order to be able to play all notes of the chromatic scale. With the transverse flute, the mechanics are a bit more convenient for the player.

The sound of both instruments is based on the same principle. To put it very simply: a stream of air enters a tube and is split when certain holes in the tube are open. This causes an oscillation of the air in the instrument, and depending on which combination of holes are open the air stream’s length and speed varies, producing different notes. In the recorder, the path of the air through a gap in the mouthpiece, the labium, is predetermined and fixed. Flute players, however, must form this path themselves with their lips. This requires great control of the lips as well as of the respiratory system. In this respect it must be noted that the greatest difference in the handling of the two instruments is the airflow. 

Flute lip positions


The transverse flute and the recorder come from the same origin, but have developed in different directions over the centuries. Both, however, have their justification as serious instruments with the potential of creating breathtaking music (no pun intended). It is very worthwhile to discover what both of these instruments are capable of. Come to our shop and try them out!

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Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef Raček.


    Interesting post !
    Now a good follow up would be on “how to record the recorder” and the transverse flute 😉

    > Haha, not a bad idea Chuck. Thanks for reading!
    Share it if you like. Best, //Joe

    Dear Joe,

    Would you be so kind to share the reference for the flute lip positions please?

    Kind Regards,

    Thanks for the info 🙂 I enjoyed reading it

    El accidente de estados en accidente de la semana pasado a los últimos años en la semana que

    I had an interesting read

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