Can you play music for other instruments on the flute?

Can You Play Music for Other Instruments on the Flute?

Mar 07, 2022

Have you ever found a piece of music written for piano, violin, trumpet, saxophone etc, and wondered whether you can play it successfully on the flute? 


Playing music on the flute that is written for other instruments

I get asked this question by students quite often, so thought I'd clear it up for you too! 

Here's the short answer: 

Sometimes. Music for some instruments works better on the flute than others.   

And below is the comprehensive, educational answer! 

The Clef 

If the music is written in bass clef (for low instruments), then you 100% cannot play it on the flute. Unless of course you are able to read bass clef. In which case just play the music up an octave or two (or three!).

Also, music written for low instruments is in a totally different style to music written for flute. There will be less notes written (because fast notes down low sound muddy), and it will rarely be the melody. So in a nutshell, not very exciting to play alone on the flute!

Examples - not great on the flute

Music for Cello, Trombone, Tuba, the left hand of the Piano.

Examples - good to play on the flute!

Most music written in treble clef!

The Range 

Every instrument has a particular range that it is capable of. Plus, in reality, not all players can yet play the whole range of notes, so they will have their own "range" that they are comfortable playing.

Examples - good for you to play

If you look at the music, and you can play every note on the page, then the range is right for you! 

Examples - difficult (or impossible) for you to play

If the music goes lower than the flute can play, it will be impossible to play (or even read) those notes. Unless you play those low notes up the octave, in which case, it will work, but will just sound a bit weird.

The flute has one of the highest ranges of all instruments. So you probably won't find music that is too high for the flute. But there's a good chance you'll find music that is too high for you!

Like this example that goes up to a high C# (which is playable on the flute by experienced players):

The Key of the Instrument 

All instruments are in a "key". All instruments in the same key can all play the same note (eg A) and it will sound the same. 

If two instruments in different keys both play an A, they will sound as different notes. Crazy I know! If you've never encountered this concept, it's super weird at first to wrap your head around. (There is a reason behind this craziness. Basically it keeps fingerings similar across instruments.) 

Now, if you are playing the flute alone, it doesn't matter what key the instrument (eg trumpet music) is in.

But! And it's a BIG BUT...

If you intend on playing the music with others on different instruments (eg flute with piano), it's not going to work AT ALL if the instrument is in a different key to the flute.

So what "key" is the flute in? 

It's in the "key of C". Or also called "concert pitch". (By the way, the concept of the key of an instrument is different to the "key signature" of a piece.)

Examples - mostly good to play on the flute (if you can pick out a suitable melody line)

These instruments are also in the key of C: Recorder, Piano, Violin. (And as a bonus, they're also in treble clef).

Examples - that don't work for the flute (unless you're just playing alone)

These instruments are in a key that is different to the flute: French Horn, Clarinet, all the Saxophones, Trumpet. 

Examples - that don't really work for the flute (for various reasons)

These instruments are in the key of C, but aren't great to play because of the clef, the range, or the fact that it plays chords (more on that below!): Guitar, Piano (left hand), Trombone, Harp.

Articulation 

Ok, now we're getting into some (good) details! Articulation is basically the TONGUING and SLURRING in the piece. There are finer details too, like how delicate or smooth or robust the style of playing should be...

Examples

If the instrument is a wind instrument (like the flute is), the articulation that is written on the page will be similar to what is possible on the flute. Like Recorder, Clarinet, Trumpet, Saxophone.

If the instrument is a stringed instrument, there is often bowing marks written on the page, which a flute will just ignore, since we don't use a bow!

Also, the "articulation" that a stringed instrument will play will feel a bit weird on the flute. Eg a slur that goes for several bars. (Violins don't need to breath remember!)

More Than One Note at Once 

The flute can only play one note at a time. It's not considered a limitation. It's just like we can only sing one note at a time.

So if the instrument can play more than one note at a time, you're just going to need to think fast, choose one of the notes to play on their music, and move on.

Examples 

Guitar, Piano, Harp, sometimes Violin - they can all play chords, and a flute can't...


The WINNERS

So you want to know the best instrument's music to play?

There are 2 instruments whose music is PERFECT to play. (Apart from music written for the flute of course!) 

Piccolo music

Because it's basically flute music. It has almost the same range as the flute. It's in the same key. The articulation is identical in style. The downside is that you won't really find much piccolo music out there!

So the real winner is... 

Recorder music!

Yes, there is lots of it around. And it totally fits the bill in all the categories I talked about above. Recorder music won't have a great range of dynamics (because the recorder can't vary its volume very much), but I think most flute players can live with that! 

Mind you, flute music is more common than recorder music, so you don't need to go searching for recorder music - just use free online flute music that you find!

The RUNNERS-UP

If you have Piano music lying around, you can play the top line (the right hand) on the flute. Just take into account what I said about piano above. You can even play it with someone playing the bottom line (the left hand) on the piano at the same time. So an easy-made duet. 

If you happen to have some Clarinet, Trumpet, Saxophone music around, this will mostly work fine on the flute. Just don't try playing it with anyone else on a different instrument because it will sound very strange indeed, since those instruments are in a different key to the flute.

And Violin music will mostly work on the flute - it just looks and feels a bit awkward to play in most of the categories above.


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