The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel-Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones.
A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, a flautist, a flutist, or less commonly a fluter.
Aside from the voice, flutes are the earliest known musical instruments. A number of flutes dating to about 43,000 to 35,000 years ago have been found in the Swabian Alb region of Germany. These flutes demonstrate that a developed musical tradition existed from the earliest period of modern human presence in Europe.
The oldest flute ever discovered may be a fragment of the femur of a juvenile cave bear, with two to four holes, found at Divje Babe in Slovenia and dated to about 43,000 years ago. However, this has been disputed. In 2008 another flute dated back to at least 35,000 years ago was discovered in Hohle Fels cave near Ulm, Germany. The five-holed flute has a V-shaped mouthpiece and is made from a vulture wing bone. The researchers involved in the discovery officially published their findings in the journal Nature, in August 2009. The discovery was also the oldest confirmed find of any musical instrument in history, until a redating of flutes found in Geißenklösterle cave revealed them to be even older with an age of 42.000 to 43.000 years. The flute, one of several found, was found in the Hohle Fels cavern next to the Venus of Hohle Fels and a short distance from the oldest known human carving. On announcing the discovery, scientists suggested that the "finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe". Scientists have also suggested that the discovery of the flute may help to explain "the probable behavioural and cognitive gulf between" Neanderthals and early modern human.
A three-holed flute, 18.7 cm long, made from a mammoth tusk (from the Geißenklösterle cave, near Ulm, in the southern German Swabian Alb and dated to 30,000 to 37,000 years ago) was discovered in 2004, and two flutes made from swan bones excavated a decade earlier (from the same cave in Germany, dated to circa 36,000 years ago) are among the oldest known musical instruments.
Panflute players. Cantigas de Santa Maria, mid-13th century, Spain
The image captures the elements of the verse and arranges them in tidy registers around the fluting Krishna, with gods riding on boatlike vessels above, ascetics seated to the right, and women in conversation at the left. Such compartmentalization is often used in early Central Indian painting to depict multiple spaces or scenes on a single flat
A playable 9000-year-old Gudi (literally, "bone flute") was excavated from a tomb in Jiahu along with 29 defunct twins, made from the wing bones of red-crowned cranes with five to eight holes each, in the Central Chinese province of Henan. The earliest extant Chinese transverse flute is a chi (篪) flute discovered in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng at the Suizhou site, Hubei province, China. It dates from 433 BC, of the later Zhou Dynasty. It is fashioned of lacquered bamboo with closed ends and has five stops that are at the flute's side instead of the top. Chi flutes are mentioned in Shi Jing, compiled and edited by Confucius, according to tradition.
The earliest written reference to a flute is from a Sumerian-language cuneiform tablet dated to c. 2600-2700 BCE. Flutes are also mentioned in a recently translated tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem whose development spanned the period of approximately 2100-600 BCE. Additionally, a set of cuneiform tablets knows as the "musical texts" provide precise tuning instructions for seven scale of a stringed instrument (assumed to be a Babylonian lyre). One of those scales is named embūbum, which is an Akkadian word for "flute".
The Bible, in Genesis 4:21, cites Jubal as being the "father of all those who play the ugab and the kinnor". The former Hebrew term refers to some wind instrument, or wind instruments in general, the latter to a stringed instrument, or stringed instruments in general. As such, Jubal is regarded in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the inventor of the flute (a word used in some translations of this biblical passage). Some early flutes were made out of tibias (shin bones). The flute has also always been an essential part of Indian culture and mythology, and the cross flute believed by several accounts to originate in India as Indian literature from 1500 BCE has made vague references to the cross flute.[