Keyed or Keyless?

This is the question most often asked by those hoping to buy a flute for the first time.

The keyless flute is really a development made in Ireland in the late 1970s in response to the demand for flutes. The old flutes, built as orchestral instruments, had eight keys to make them fully chromatic, and extend their range down to C.

The traditional player fingered the flute mostly like a tin whistle, ignoring the keys. In fact, many of the older players simply blocked the keys so that effectively they were playing on keyless flutes. The fact that all the old flutes had keys, but were essentially played as keyless instruments has caused a lot of confusion in the mind of the beginner.  It is useful to make a comparison between the tin whistle and the flute. The flute as played in Irish traditional music, is fingered in exactly the same way as the whistle and so for the vast majority of tunes, the keyless flute player is no more or less restricted than the whistle player.

The question must then be asked; if you can play almost  everything on a keyless flute, why bother with keys? The answer to this lies in the fact that although traditional music is mostly in the keys of D and G and their related minors, which use only the open holes of the flute, many players find it useful to have one, two, or more semitones at their disposal. Some tunes have an F natural, which requires a key to play properly, and a G sharp key is very useful for playing in A, which is becoming more and more common.

To some extent, using the keys is a matter of style, and some players make more use of them than others. Most players will at some stage however, want to have the facility of at least some keys, and in recent years because of the availability of decent keyed flutes, many flute players have begun to seek out and to compose tunes which make extensive use of the keys.  

Left Handed Instruments

Historically, all musical instruments were made right-handed and left handed people just had to make do and change around. A left handed person can play a keyless flute easily in a left-handed position, i.e. right hand on top, but in a lot of cases, including with my flutes, they will be blowing against the wrong side of the embouchure. This works, but you will get a much better sound by blowing against the correct side!

With a keyed instrument, it is possible to play left handed, but all the keys will be in very awkward places when approached from this side. If ordering a keyless flute don't forget to specify a left-handed instrument, if this is what you want. There is no extra charge for left handed keyless instruments. Left handed keyed flutes cost 250 Euro extra however, as this requires quite a lot of resetting of tools and machinery.

The flutes I make are available in several different pitches as well as the standard D, and each pitch is available as a keyless instrument, or with varying numbers of keys.

Keyed flutes are available in both block mounted and post mounted versions.

Flutes may also be available in different woods, but African blackwood is standard. Mail me about other possibilities.


All flutes come with one of my standard cases included in the price. We also supply several other types of case. Read about them here.

Practice Flutes

Initially developed to give a beginner’s class cheap and easy access to an instrument on which they could learn and make progress, the practice flute has since proved immensely popular as an entry level instrument, whether for children, adult beginners, or those coming from another flute tradition. Note that practice flutes are normally available ex-stock.

Low Whistles

In the few years I have also been making low whistles. Have a look here for some information about their design and some images