Traditional flutes are those instruments seen by people as preceding the new and revolutionary flutes developed by Theodore Boehm in the second quarter of the 19th. Century. Prior to Boehm's work flutes had developed from the parallel bored medieval instruments of which we only have iconographical evidence and through the renaissance period they remained parallel inside. Only with the introduction of flutes made in three or more pieces by the Hotteterre family do we start to see tapered bores appearing. Then came the introduction of keys, only one at first, as was commonly seen on the highly decorated flutes of the baroque period but soon evolving into the eight keyed instrument of the classical period. Traditional music is played using any combination of the above types usually dictated to the musician by the thickness of his wallet. The music of these musicians can be heard played in pubs or for traditional dance sides today but would have been one of the only sources of entertainment for families at home before recording technology became available. Iconographical evidence points to the fact that such entertainment was also common among families who were wealthy enough to commission those paintings of "boy with flute".
In such areas as Northern Ireland young people have been encouraged to join groups like the famous Armagh Pipers who teach playing of traditional flutes for use in concerts or marching bands.
Like many modern folk flutes and whistles, the instruments were six holed and did not have any keys.
Today there is a revival in traditional flute music brought about by those members of re-enactment societies who want to portray domestic and military life from many historical periods with a background of music "of the people". Traditional flutes are often used today for mood music which might be used for meditation or to set the subject at ease prior to massage. The mellow, haunting tones of these instruments have made them popular for background music for spiritual occasions and they can be heard more and more setting the scene in movies. Many session musicians are finding work today providing music for television and cinema with these traditional instruments which have been recognised by directors as being more appropriate than taking the instruments from a modern orchestra. Traditional instruments and their makers can be found by attending exhibitions such as the folk festivals around the U.K. and other countries, there is also the possibility of finding them at the early music festivals which take place all over the world. I find it heartening to know that, even today, makers and players are making their livings from traditional flutes as has been the case for hundreds of years. From the giant Fujara flute of the Slovak shepherds which stands almost two metres high and plays harmonics and overtones to the often found clay instruments some no more than 40 cm. long, there is a huge variety of flutes with no tone holes at all, the notes being produced by over blowing the harmonics and stopping the ends to produce a different behaviour of the air column like a stopped organ pipe. Some traditional flutes play a pentatonic scale like those of north America and yet others produce a full diatonic scale using only three holes and the 5th. over blow. There is endless fascination in traditional flutes and their making to the point that there are museums dedicated to the instrument, so wide is its use and popularity. The list of materials from which these instruments are made is almost as long as the list of instrument types.