Voices of the Masters: Bridging Baroque and Modern Flute Practice

by Francesco Belfiore


In the vibrant world of flute playing, the daily practice routines of musicians are as varied as the instruments they play. From the intricate Boehm system of the modern flute to the simpler yet equally demanding baroque traverso, each instrument offers its own set of challenges and rewards. 

In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the distinctive elements of daily practice, as seen from the baroque flute and its modern successor point of view.

We invited 26 baroque flutists to share the refined techniques and strategies that define their daily practice rituals, and shed light on the essential characteristics of playing the two instruments; their responses are summarized in this article.

The full interviews, in which they share many other insights and pieces of advice on their approach to baroque flute practice, can be found on the Traverso Practice Net website.

The Traverso Practice Net is an open-access multimedia sharing platform that uses cutting-edge communication technologies to share interest, knowledge, curiosity, and love for early music, in particular on such a representative instrument as the baroque flute.


Before delving into the nuances of daily practice, it’s essential to grasp the unique features of the two instruments. 

The journey between the modern flute, with its Boehm system and complex key mechanism, to the simpler baroque flute, or traverso, entails a multifaceted process of adaptation and discovery.

All musicians, regardless of the instrument they play, work on the sound, articulation, intonation, phrasing and all the musical and technical aspects of the performance praxis. Of course, the approach to all these specific elements is completely different depending on the ‘nature’ of the instrument and its musical context.

The differences between the baroque flute and the modern flute extend beyond their physical construction to encompass the very essence of their sound and expression. The traverso’s lack of a complete key system and lip plate requires a more intimate connection between player and instrument, fostering a deeper engagement with the nuances of sound production and articulation. In contrast, the modern flute’s advanced key mechanism offers greater stability and uniformity, allowing for more consistent performance of complex technical passages.

Modern flutists often tend to aim for high technical skills, such as playing even, or loud, and fast, while the baroque flute has more subtle objectives, requiring attention to sound quality and variation for repertoires from different years and countries.

In a very visual manner, an interviewee has described the difference between playing the two instrument to driving on a highway compared to driving on a winding mountain path.


In general, practice techniques are not created in abstract, but are developed to address the particular expressive and technical demands of each era, as well as the ideal performance styles of different countries, whether for pros or amateurs.

Practice techniques for flute have been changing over time and places, as illustrated in historical sources. This is evident when looking at methods, instructions, and exercises from the late 17th century to the present day. This historical process can be seen as a continuum, a fantastic mine of information open to exploration, that can be interpreted, adapted, or simply used as inspiration.

For example, as some of the flutists put it, we know more about the physiology of breathing than we did 300 years ago, and our neurological knowledge is also better than in the Baroque era.

Most mainstream contemporary practice has been developed by great players and teachers, providing a constant source of models for baroque players. However, there are features of baroque performance that late 18th to 21st-century sources do not touch on, which can only be found inf Baroque sources of the period.

Let’s now delve into some details from the answers provided by the baroque flutists that took the interview.


The whole physical approach to the instrument in terms of posture, embouchure, mouth and lip positioning, is essential to the production of a good sound on the flute.

All the flutes are relatively flexible instruments, but temperament subtleties, articulation requirements, intonation corrections, inner resonant spaces revelation, and body awareness when playing the flute can make them very different from each other.

Some flutists highlighted the need for finesse and flexibility in sound production with the baroque flute, which is particularly crucial for delicate ornamentation found in baroque repertoire. This requires the development of fine muscle work in the embouchure, whereas with the modern flute it is thought to be more about robust muscles and focussing on maintaining consistent airflow and breath pressure to achieve dynamic contrast and projection, especially in the instrument’s lower register. 

The baroque flute’s inherent unevenness and sensitivity to changes in airflow and finger positioning require flutists to develop extensive ear training and intonation awareness. To achieve tonal clarity and harmonic balance, pitch and tuning notes must be adjusted accurately, especially in sections with weak notes or enharmonic fingerings.

The aim of practicing with the modern flute, on the other hand, is to create a balanced, full tone and dynamic range across the various registers, requiring a broader and somewhat more relaxed embouchure.

The daily study of the modern flute, considering its inherent stability, often aims at achieving ever more extreme technical skills, rather than focusing on challenges that are more specific to the baroque flute, such as attaining speed in response and prompt coordination to adjust to intonation changes.

Another major takeaway from our conversations with the flutists was the ability of the baroque flute to play as if speaking or telling a story, by means of applying a very wide variety of syllables to clarify musical phrases through articulation. 

A hallmark of baroque flute practice lies in the exploration of tonal colours and articulations inherent in the instrument.

It may not be necessary to limit ourselves to French music (tu, ru) or to use Quantz (ti, di, ri, did’ll) solely for late baroque music, but we should be aware of the language we are trying to reproduce when playing any piece. In fact, applying some of this to playing modern flute can yield some positive outcomes.  

Furthermore, while the baroque flute and modern flute have distinct qualities and repertoire, there are study pieces that can be beneficial and applicable to both instruments. These pieces often focus on fundamental techniques such as tone production, articulation, phrasing, and finger dexterity, making them versatile options for flutists transitioning between the two instruments, and serving as pillars upon which to build a fine understanding of historical performance practices.

Some classical evergreens were mentioned to this purpose, such as the collections by Reichert, Taffanel or Moyse, but also baroque references were given as useful tools for the modern flute players to get closer to the style and historical context of that time, such as the works by Quantz or Telemann.

Even some contemporary extended techniques of the modern flute can help a lot in developing a more flexible baroque flute technique, as in these examples: playing multiphonics and harmonics can help stabilize the sound, or practicing extreme glissandos, or note bending helps to expand our dynamic and intonation abilities.

Still, the differences between the two instruments need to be taken into account. The Boehm flute places a strong emphasis on evenness and technical proficiency, as that instrument’s design makes this more suitable. With the baroque flute there are some specific areas to work on: managing the weak notes; practicing short scale patterns and paying attention to airspeed over the weak notes so they aren’t blown sharp; practicing slow and quick diminuendos on all the notes, though primarily on the strong ones, as small dynamic shaping is such a distinctive aspect of baroque phrasing.

By incorporating these study pieces into their practice routines, flutists can enhance their technical proficiency, musicality, and versatility on both the baroque flute and modern flute, in a sense bridging the gap between historical and contemporary performance practices.


By examining cases and input from experts, we have developed a better understanding of different ways to approach practicing baroque and modern flute. Whether blending historical authenticity with modern innovations or immersing oneself in the rich texture of baroque repertoire, flutists continue to push the frontiers of their art form, savouring the challenges and rewards of daily practice with passion and dedication. 

The main message to take away from this discussion is that flutists base their practice around musicality and expression, prioritizing the communication of emotion and narrative through their playing, approaching each piece as a story to be told. This requires a deep understanding of historical performance practices and stylistic nuances that can be applicable and helpful across various types of flutes.

Francesco Belfiore

www.traversopractice.net | Facebook Page | Youtube

Francesco Belfiore is a lifetime flute enthusiast, amateur and researcher.

In 2022 he started the Traverso Practice Net, an open-access multimedia sharing platform, with the aim to fill existing gaps in baroque flute practice at all levels. 

In just over a year, the platform has gained global traction and extensive recognition.

The website has had more than 9,000 visitors from all over the world and the Facebook community counts nearly 1,000 followers.