The history of the flute goes back a lot further than most instruments. In fact, there are records of what you might call flutes made from animal bone over 10,000 years ago. The flute then was more like a recorder. In those days, you didn’t have to think about how to choose a flute – B foot or C foot.
It wasn’t until the Renaissance period of the 16th Century that the flute we see today started to take its final form. But still, the term “flute” covered instruments that were played vertically like a recorder, or sideways.
Even up until the time of the Baroque Period, the term was used to describe both formats of playing. And don’t forget, the Baroque period included great composers like Vivaldi and Handel, and perhaps the greatest of the period, JS Bach. It was slow to change and develop.
The Addition of Keys
Early flutes had no keys, but gradually, in the 17th century, they began to appear. However, it was all still very rudimentary and crude by today’s standards. Gradually, the “sideways” flute became a separate instrument to the “vertical” flute, or as we might call it, the recorder.
Things Changed in Paris
Quite a lot of things changed in Paris in the 19th century, but one in particular, the flute. A gentleman by the name of Theobald Boehm, who was a German manufacturer of wind instruments, made this change.
At the Paris exhibition of 1847, he exhibited a ‘new’ flute with a metal tube and extra keys. The notes now became easier to make and were uniform in their distance from each other.
Now people wanted to play this instrument that before had been so difficult. The beginnings of the modern flute had arrived.
Choosing A Flute
There are a couple of decisions to be made when choosing a flute to buy. Buying a B-Foot or a C-Foot is only part of it. There is also the issue of the type of keys.
This can be important for several reasons. There are two options, both with their playing characteristics. Let’s take a quick look at both.
This is sometimes known as the “German” style. With this design, the key cups are given a lid-shaped design, and the keys cover the holes completely. This prevents any breath from escaping.
Many think that the action becomes more natural and the keys easier to press with this design. This is because an offset key is included. The key for G that is operated by using the ring finger on the left hand protrudes. It can be set up to suit the length of the finger operating it.
This is also known as the “French” design. Some people think that this is a harder design to play. The key cups have a ring shape. To cover the holes properly, you will need good technique.
This is true to a certain extent, but the ring key design provides at least three benefits that the ‘covered’ key option doesn’t possess.
- When you’re playing, you can feel the vibration of the air on the tips of your fingers. This allows opportunities to control the nuances possible for changing the sound.
- It allows the finger-slide technique. This gives you the freedom to use pitch variation.
- You will be able to play a run of notes just by gradually opening the keyhole. This is known as the “glissando” technique.
Flutes with the ring key design usually have an inline key configuration. That is, the main tube keys are in a straight line. But, these days, you can also get offset ring key flutes.
The choice of what you pick is yours. Both designs have their advantages. Having had a look at that, let’s move on to how to choose a flute – B foot or C foot.
How Many Feet?
Just two, and there is often some confusion about the difference between B-Foot and C-Foot flutes, and who should use what. Let’s have a closer look and try and dispel some myths about the differences and if it makes much of a difference at all.
If you lay the B-Foot and the C-Foot side by side, the first thing you notice is the length. The C-Foot is slightly shorter than the B-Foot. The B-Foot has three keys which makes it longer, while the C-foot has only two.
What Difference Does The Extra Key Make?
The extra key means that you can go one note lower. Is that important? I shall take a look at that a bit later. The C-Foot has its lowest note of ‘C.’ The B-Foot goes one-note lower at ‘B.’
Using a B-Foot does improve the pitch when you are playing in the third octave. This is something that may not bother some flute players to a great extent.
Another small difference is that the extra key of the B-Foot makes the flute about one inch longer. This adds a little bit of extra weight to the instrument, which again is not worth concerning yourself with too much. After all, flutes are relatively light instruments regardless of the type.
Is There A Difference in Sound?
There is a small difference in how B-Foot and C-Foot flutes sound. The extra weight and length of the B-Foot add some extra resistance when you’re playing. This will give you a slightly darker tone. The C-Foot, with its slightly shorter length, gives you a brighter tone.
Is That It?
That is about it for the difference. In other words, hardly any at all. A little bit in third-octave pitch, and the B-Foot is slightly longer and slightly heavier than the C-Foot.
Sound-wise, the tone of the C-Foot flute is brighter than the darker sound of the B-Foot. And finally, you can play one extra key with the B-Foot.
The Extra Key
I mentioned earlier about the extra key and does it make a difference. I asked a professional flute-playing friend of mine about the ‘low B.’ Her reply was quite firm.
She said in all the years that she has been playing, she has rarely used a ‘low B.’ Very occasionally with a symphony orchestra, but that was the only time. In those 20 years, about three times, she thought. She uses the C-Foot Flute because she prefers the brightness of the sound.
Beginners vs Experienced?
There is this myth that the C-Foot flute is only for students and the B-foot for experienced players. Not at all, from what I can see. The low B is rarely used, which is its big selling point. Beginner or experienced, if you prefer the brighter sound, use the C-Foot Flute. It is as simple as that.
Let’s take a look at a few options…
I have enclosed a good quality standard flute and a decent budget range option for both B and C flutes.
For a B-Foot flute, there is the Gemeinhardt Model 3OB Flute, Open Hole, Offset G, B-Foot. For a budget version, there is the Open Hole Flute with B Foot.
Likewise, for a C-Foot Flute, we have the Yamaha 200 Series Open Hole Student Flute YFL-281 C Foot. And budget versions, these Eastar Open/Closed Hole C Flutes.
How to Choose a Flute – B foot or C foot: Conclusion
So, what’s the difference? For me, it would be all about which sound you prefer. Do you like a darker sound or a brighter sound? In some ways, the C-Foot flute is slightly easier to play. But that is not a reason to play it. Pick whichever sounds best to you.
Until next time, let your music play.