Five-key flute

The five-key flute is a musical instrument once common in school marching bands, and composed of wood with metal keys. It is a transposing instrument, most commonly in Bb, this variant being known as the Bb flute and sounding one tone below the orchestral piccolo. The next most common variant is the Eb flute, sounding a fifth below the Bb flute and used as its bass instrument in band harmonies. It is now often found in British military corps of drums, often playing various regimental marches.

As the name suggests, the five-key flute most commonly has five keys, similar to the simple system flute that was the standard orchestral instrument before Boehm keying and bore became the standard. It uses the six-hole fingering system of the fife for its natural scale, with the metal keys adding the ability to play the full chromatic scale and therefore making it possible to play in any key.

The keys are (starting with the hole closest to the mouthpiece):

  1. The C key, a long key running along the back of the instrument (the side closest to the player) and operated by the right index finger.
  2. The A# key, a short key running along the bottom of the instrument, operated by the left thumb.
  3. The G# key, running across the top of the instrument and operated by the little finger of the left hand.
  4. The F key, running across the back of the instrument and operated by the third finger of the right hand.
  5. The Eb key, running across the top of the instrument and operated by the little finger of the right hand.

The five-key flute is conical in bore, with a cylindrical head joint and a body that tapers to become narrowest furthest from the mouthpiece.

French five-key flutes were once the preferred flute for use in charanga bands due to their distinct tone [1] and facility in their third and fourth octave[2]


  1. Pérez, David A. "The Five-Keyed Charanga Flute". Retrieved 13 June 2009.
  2. Wilson, Rick. "19th century French simple system flutes". Rick Wilson's Historical Flutes Page. Retrieved 13 June 2009.
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