If you’ve ever had the chance to hear a contrabass flute live in person, I’m sure you’ll recall the oddity it is to hear in person.
In this post, we’ll take you through the basics of what a contrabass flute is, where it comes from, and some repertoire for the instrument.
What is the contrabass flute?
The contrabass flute is the lowest member of the standard flute arsenal.
While the bass flute extends one octave lower than the standard flute, the contrabass flute extends a whole 2 octaves lower.
Here is the sounding range of the contrabass flute compared to the standard C flute:
It’s worth noting that although the sounding range of the contrabass flute is 2 octaves lower than the standard flute, it is still written in the same range.
This said, the contrabass flute reads in treble clef, with the lowest note being written on middle C.
Regarding sound quality, the contrabass flute maintains the maneuverability of the standard C flute, just importing it to a windier, heavier low register. This makes writing for the instrument very similar to writing for the flute, much like the relationship between the oboe and the bassoon.
While it boasts an incredible range for an instrument of its type, it tends to struggle with sound projection. This makes it an ideal instrument for flute ensembles, and less ideal for orchestral settings.
With a transposition of 2 octaves down, you can imagine the instrument would be much larger.
The contrabass flute has roughly 9 feet of tubing, compared to the 26 inches of tubing on the standard flute. This means that you basically have to be standing in order to play the instrument.
History of the contrabass flute
The contrabass flute is a very recent invention, which is credited to the Japanese flute manufacturer Kotato & Fukushima in the 1980s.
Due to its recent invention, it has only appeared in college flute ensembles for the most part, and its hefty price tag combined with its scarcity makes it difficult to break into other classical music applications that the other auxiliary flutes participate in.
Contrabass flute repertoire
The youth of the contrabass flute also means a lack of substantial repertoire for the instrument.
Here are a few examples of pieces for the contrabass flute that I was able to find after some research:
Sleeping Lions, by David Bennet Thomas
Essence, from Catherine McMichael’s low flute concerto Three Philosophies:
Bantammer Swing, by Ned McGowan (click here to visit the page on this piece on his website)
If you’re a contrabass flutist and would like to see more repertoire for this instrument, consider commissioning a composer!
Instruments only gain popularity over the years as new pieces for the instrument are composed, so if you’d like to contribute to the promotion of the contrabass flute, and know a composer who you think would do a fantastic job, consider shooting them an email to get something rolling.
While there isn’t much of a long history of the contrabass flute and repertoire is pretty hard to come by, the contrabass flute is still an incredible instrument worth learning about.
Speaking of learning, if you’re a flutist looking to advance your playing level, I’ve got something for you.
In July of 2023, we launched tonebase Flute, a platform featuring tons of masterclasses and lessons with the biggest names in flute, from Jasmine Choi to Mark Sparks and more.
Members are also invited to weekly live events, and they gain access to a forum of passionate flutists, custom annotated workbooks and scores, and much more.
If you’d like to be a part of the largest online community of passionate flutists, and advance your flute technique all at the same time, click here to sign up for a free 14-day trial.