CAFE is best remembered for its outstanding musicianship, playing a wide variety of musical genres, and of course the 10-foot long contrabass flute.  This is the fourth of four articles that explore this distinctive member of the flute family.  Thanks to for sharing this enlightening information.

Paige Dashner from Florida

Contrabass Flute vs. Subcontrabass Flute:

The Contrabass flute and the Subcontrabass flute are both incredibly low-pitched instruments that push the boundaries of the flute family. While they share similarities in terms of range and function, there are distinct differences between the two.

Size and Physical Characteristics

– The Contrabass flute, as mentioned earlier, is the largest member of the flute family. It stands as a giant among flutes, measuring around 8 to 9 feet in length and employing a bent design to facilitate playing. It is typically made of metal, such as silver or gold-plated brass, to support its size and ensure durability.

– The Subcontrabass flute takes the concept of low-pitched flutes to the extreme. It is even larger than the Contrabass flute, reaching an impressive length of over 15 feet. Its design often incorporates complex curves and extensions to accommodate the enormous size. Due to the immense length, the Subcontrabass flute is usually made of lightweight materials like carbon fiber to reduce its weight and make it more manageable for players.

Peter Sheridan performing the subcontrabass flute

Range and Transposition

– The Contrabass flute’s range extends down to C2 or even lower, providing a strong foundation in the lower register. Its deep and resonant sound contributes to its versatility in various musical contexts. Notated an octave above its sounding pitch, the Contrabass flute adds a distinctive low voice to the ensemble.

– The Subcontrabass flute goes even deeper than the Contrabass flute, reaching incredibly low pitches. Its range extends below the audible spectrum of the human ear, but it is capable of producing powerful vibrations that can be felt. The Subcontrabass flute is notated at its sounding pitch, allowing composers to explore new sonic possibilities in the extremely low register.

Tonality and Sound

– The Contrabass flute produces a warm, velvety, and full-bodied tone. Its low register adds depth and richness to the overall sound, providing a solid foundation for the ensemble. The Contrabass flute’s timbre blends well with other instruments, and its unique sound offers composers and performers a wide range of expressive possibilities.

– The Subcontrabass flute pushes the boundaries of what is traditionally considered flute-like. Its sound is characterized by its immense depth and power. While its extremely low register may not be suitable for every musical context, it offers a fascinating and otherworldly timbre that can be used for special effects or experimental compositions.



In conclusion, the Contrabass flute, Bass flute, and Subcontrabass flute are all remarkable instruments that expand the possibilities of the flute family. Each flute offers its own unique characteristics in terms of size, range, tonality, and sound production.

The Contrabass flute stands as the largest member of the flute family, providing a deep and resonant foundation with its warm and full-bodied tone. It is often used to enrich the lower register and add richness to ensemble compositions.

The Bass flute, although smaller than the Contrabass flute, still offers a lower range than the standard C flute. Its rich and sonorous tone adds depth and complexity to the flute section, making it a versatile instrument in various musical genres.

The Subcontrabass flute takes the concept of low pitches to the extreme, with an extraordinary range that extends beyond the limits of human hearing. Its immense size and unique timbre offer composers and performers opportunities for exploring new sonic territories and pushing the boundaries of flute music.

Overall, the Contrabass flute, Bass flute, and Subcontrabass flute contribute to the richness and diversity of the flute family, providing composers, performers, and audiences with a wide range of tonal possibilities and musical expressions.