Flute makers have come from all walks of life, I remember using the drinking straws which came with the free milk when I was at school to make simple instruments which, while they were not strictly flutes but reed instruments, gave me an insight into what was to come, - if only I had known then what I know now but we can all say that about our past, can't we ? In those days (late 50s / early 60s ) drinking straws were made of waxed paper but I think the modern plastic ones will do as well. The technique is to flatten about 8 mm. at one end and cut this to a point like a spear. Juggle the amount of flattening by squeezing between your fingers till when you blow down it the sides of the spear point vibrate and make a pleasant humming sound, the straw needs to be far enough inside your mouth such that your lips do not interfere with the vibrations. Now make some finger holes along the length of your instrument with a sharp knife and you will be able to play a scale of sorts, by experimentation you will eventually design an instrument on which you can play a tune. This is both a good party trick and also something which if taught to your children may help to mould their futures, think about it. In the same way shepherds would amuse themselves with hollow bones or hollowed out sticks cut from the elder bush and thus was developed mans first databank of woodwind design.
Any instrument that produces sound by having air pushed through it (usually by blowing) is a wind instrument. This covers some considerable variety including flute-type instruments, reed-type instruments, brass-type instruments and organs. Each different type of instrument requires different techniques, different lip positions, fingerings, embouchure (lip and mouth position), stamina, breath control and articulation.
There are many images of medieval flutes, which were presumably the natural development of the techniques described above, one in particular which I have tried to view but in vain is in the cathedral in Chartres, France. I was asked to make some instruments for a collection which is based on those instruments depicted in the carvings and stained glass work within Chartres cathedral and the owners of the collection sent me a very good photograph of a circular stained glass panel from one of the cathedral windows. In 2003 after the St. Chartier reunion Cathie and I set out to find the stained glass panel in question. We entered the Cathedral and were temporarily confused to see the back row of pews turned round the wrong way. We quickly realised that the circular panel we sought is only 100 mm. in diameter and one among several thousands which could be viewed with binoculars from the backward facing pews, we borrowed a pair of binoculars for a few minutes but were unsuccessful.
Later came the flute makers of renaissance Italy whose work is just unbelievable. The instruments they made were quite simple in construction being of parallel bore and having only six tone holes like a penny whistle. However, with much collaboration with players they achieved a system of tuning which meant that the player; using techniques such as partially covering holes, shading holes and fingering the most unusual patterns; could produce a chromatic scale with a range going into the third octave. It is notable that it has been written that, although detailed engineering drawing such as we have today had not been developed for the transmission of information between makers, it is more likely that you will notice a difference between the flutes of the same maker than to find such a difference between the flutes of different makers. That is really quite an achievement.