The Italian word for small - because it is the smallest instrument in the orchestra

G Treble

Usually for the main melody e.g. the first violin of the orchestra


The most common of all flutes, and an octave below the piccolo


An octave below the G Treble. Once the bass flute and tends to be so for the marching band

C Bass

An octave below the concert flute, and until about 20 years ago was the bass flute

G Bass

An octave below the Alto

Contra Bass

An octave below the C Bass

Most concert flute bands (probably a better name would be flute orchestras) would have some or all of the following flutes:

Woodwind instruments are usually named by the pitch of the note sounded when all six "holes" are covered i.e. the note " Low D" on the instrument.
The Piccolo, Concert, C Bass and Contra Bass are keyed in "C", and the G Treble, Alto and G Bass are keyed in "G”
The G Bass appeared on the scene in the late 80s or very early 90s, and the Contra Bass followed very soon after. Most championship bands now have one or two contra basses (not necessarily silver as they are expensive flutes.)

The flute has a charted history. By all reports, Mozart did not like composing for it - which seems strange because he composed two wonderful flute concertos!

The first flute bands in Ireland would almost certainly have started as melody bands, and the move towards playing parts probably came from the Army bands – the instrumentation would have been restricted in the early days to piccolo, Bb flute for 1st, 2nd, 3rd parts, an Eb flute and an F flute. A Bb bass (alto) flute was subsequently added, and later still what was known as a double Eb or double F (only contesting bands would have seen the need for the double bass flutes.)

The early flutes tended to have only one key, so the music needed to be in the key of D-major. The Bb and Eb and F flutes had five or usually six keys.

A close look at the 1880 photo on our History page will show that Ballygowan started up as a part-music outfit - even if some of the parts were played on clarinet!

Early flute making was restricted by the need to have the holes where they could easily be reached by the flautist's fingers. Between 1831 and 1847, German born Theobald Boehm, who was a flautist himself, developed his idea of the system of keys/levers, which we take for granted today. Effectively this meant that the holes could be the optimum size (with valuable input by English flute player & flute maker, Charles Nicholson) and in the optimum place for tonal quality. His design was further developed in other countries, and indeed he did return many times to the drawing board over a period of years. This key system is known to this day as the Boehm system.

During the mid-1930s the great Argyle Flute band had purchased a complete set of new Boehm flutes, and fortunately Ballygowan was in the position financially to buy their old instruments*. The band had tasted contesting success at Junior and Intermediate level before the outbreak of the 2nd World war, when all banding had to cease - partly because of men joining the war effort, but also because of the real danger of air raids. When contesting resumed after the war, Ballygowan decided to move into the Senior Grade.

* In turn, Ballygowan's old instruments went to the Castlegore Flute Band (minus the two F-double basses which made their way to the Cahard Flute Band). When Castlegore changed to silver in the 1980s, the "Argyle" flutes were sold on to the Stewartstown Flute Band.

The change to silver flutes in flute banding started in 1965 with the Motherwell Flute Band when they shocked the Belfast audience by appearing with a full set of silver flutes – well, the real shock came when they were declared winners (one of only three times the Flute Band Championship left these shores - the first went to the Welsh outfit Llwynypia & District Flute Band in the 1930s and the third, in 1997, also went to Scotland.)

By the end of the 70s most championship bands had made the change; by the end of the 80s most Intermediate (Grade 2) bands and several Junior (Grade 3) bands had changed. Ballygowan changed to silver flutes in 1971 (first appearing in public in Crossgar).


The marching band percussion is a bass drum, up to six side drums, sometimes cymbals and/or triangle.
The concert band uses many percussion instruments as the piece of music dictates; bass drum, snare drums, timpani, drum kit, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, xylophone, tambourine, bells - the list goes on... 

Marches apart, almost all music for flute bands is transcribed by talented enthusiasts. This has been the case since the early 20th century, and it is the choice of the arranger how each orchestral instrument is represented on which flute.

You can read more about flute and percussion instruments on the website of the Fife and Drum Museum of Northern Ireland, and you can find them via our Links page.