Composing for Flute Composing for a Solo Instrument >

Guidance on composing for flute. BCMG flautist Tony Robb talks on video about composing for flute: the range, traditional and extended techniques and composing idiomatically for the instrument. 

Activity Panel

BCMG flautist Tony Robb talks about composing for flute


Flute range

Flute range

Extended techniques on the flute and how to notate them 1

The suggested extended technique notations below are only suggestions. Please feel free to invent your own or just write in the part what you would like the musician to do. All the note heads we have used can be found in the Sibelius software.


The musician vibrates the back of the throat whilst playing to make a pitched growling or buzzing sound.

 Flute growl


This is produced by the musician blowing directly into the embouchure hole (rather than over it) as you would a trumpet. It creates a buzzing sound with a variety of timbres similar to a trumpeter warming up on their mouthpiece.

 Flute buzzing


The musician plays intervals smaller than a semitone such as quarter tones (4 divisions of a tone) and even smaller. This is done by using different fingerings or with the embouchure (mouth).

 Flute quartertones





Flutter tonguing

The musician uses the tongue to create a fast vibrating sound like a buzz or ‘flutter’.

 Flute flutter tongue

Singing and playing

The musician plays two or more notes at once by singing one whilst playing the other. When using this technique bear in mind the complexity of the singing part and the range at which you want the musician to sing - this will vary with the individual player.

 Flute play and sing

Pizzicato or 'slap'

This is a dry percussive ‘pop’ sound made with the embouchure (mouth). Similar to a sax slap tongue or a violin pizzicato (plucking).

 Flute pizz


Extended techniques on the flute and how to notate them

Key clicks

This is simply the noise of the keys and can be pitched or unpitched.

Flute pitched key clicks Flute unpitched key clicks


This is a very quick succession of notes that start at one pitch and end at another. A glissando can move up or down, but the notes in the middle follow in order like a scale between the start and end notes. 

Flute glissando


This is similar to pitch bend but a continuously oscillating sound like many singers. 

Flute vibrato

Tongue ram or tongue stop

This is a resonant, percussive 'thump' sound that is produced by the musician covering the embouchure hole completely with the lips, and then pushing the tongue forward, through the lips and into the embouchure hole.

Flute tongue ram

Finger trills

The musician alternates the same note with two different fingerings. This produces a fluttering effect on the same note similar to a vibrato but uses changes of tone colour rather than pitch.

Flute finger trill

Whistle tones/whisper tones

The musician plays in such a way as to make a lot of breathy, whispering sounds on top of the note. Can be used with harmonics too. 

Flute whistle tones approximate pitch

Suggested listening

To listen to the following tracks you need to have Spotify open on your computer.