Fife vs. Flute (What’s The Difference?)

The fife and flute are two different wind instruments that are often confused for each other.

Though they both produce sound using air, the fife is a small, cone-shaped instrument while the flute is larger and has a longer tube.

Fifes are typically used in military bands, while flutes are more commonly found in orchestras and concert bands.

So which one is better? Let’s take a closer look.


Fife is a diatonically tuned instrument that is somewhat similar to a piccolo. Its innovative design consists of a narrow bore that produces a high-pitch sound compared to that of flutes used in orchestras.

Due to their portability and loud sound, fifes were widely used by military units and marching bands during the Renaissance period.

Its squeaky sound could travel far and be audible to the people over the noise of the battle. A person playing fife is a fifer or fife player.

The material used for fifes is wood, including boxwood, blackwood, rosewood, and maple. Fifes are also made out of plastic and metal. It is about 15in (38cm) long. A fife has a metal end enclosed with brass rings to prevent the wood from breaking or splitting while a fifer plays.

It has an embouchure blowhole that is positioned in line with finger holes and produces sound when blown across. The body of a fife is usually made from a single piece of wood and has six finger holes. The modern version of fifes consists of 10 or 11 finger holes that enable a fifer to play any note and are chromatic.


A flute is a family of melodic instruments that belong to the woodwind group. It is an aerophone that produces sound when the air streams across the opening. A person playing the flute is referred to as a flute player or a flutist.

Back in time, flutes were made of animal bones. Modern flutes are made of wood and generally have metal keys to play with. Some of the flutes are made out of metal. Flutes intended for practice are made from alloys of nickel and are considered cheap. Most expensive flutes are plated with silver. 

Flutes are played by blowing air over the mouthpiece and pressing down the instrument’s keys. The pitch changes as you open or close the keys. Varying the airflow into a flute will affect the pitch, volume, and type of sound created by the instrument.

Flutes come in various sizes, including treble, alto, and bass. Alto and bass are bigger and produce a lower sound, while the flute’s smaller version, piccolo, can play an octave higher and is considered one of the highest instruments in the orchestra. 

Vertical flutes are played by blowing air against the edge of the hole at the flute’s end. Horizontal flutes are played by streaming air against the edge of the hole in the side of the flute.

Vertical flutes include instruments such as Japanese bamboo flutes and the panpipe. Horizontal flutes are also known as transverse flutes and include modern flutes used in orchestras.

Let’s take a closer look at the fife and the flute.

The Differences

Many people think of the fife the same as the flute, but it isn’t. The visible difference between them is the sound each instrument produces. A fife produces a high pitch sound – louder and has a shriller sounding.

Flutes are transverse musical instruments that have a conical bore and are held sideways. Modern-day flutes and orchestra flutes are made of metal and have keys with a separate head joint.

On the other hand, fifes are small musical piece that has a cylindrical and narrower bore. Fifes are held right and are blown in a cross direction to produce a higher pitch than a flute.

Fifes usually do not come up with a separate Boehm-style mouthpiece. They are used by military units and tend to be louder.

The Similarities

When it comes to hunting for similarities between a fife and flute, amazingly, they are similar in a few ways.

Simple-system (keyless) flutes and fifes are relatively inexpensive instruments and are often used as a side note in tutorials intended for folks playing instruments with keys. These instruments are available in a wider range and models.

Typically, both flutes and fifes are made of wood. Simple-system flutes and fifes are mostly similar in design and can differ in other aspects, such as bore diameter.

Which Instrument Is Good For Beginners?

Fifes are considered to be real instruments, and this is why it is one of the hardest wind instruments to learn to play with. While you learn to play the fife, it may wind you when you learn to blow into the fife and play strings of notes.

It is recommended that you should take breaks and rest for a few minutes to build up your stamina and have a better lung capacity. But this isn’t meant to discourage you. Keep practicing, and you’ll learn in no time.

Flutes are considered to be a good option for those who want to learn to play a musical instrument. Flutes are known as C instruments (concert pitch instruments) and can mimic many instrumental sounds.

You can play anything in the treble chef with a flute. The best part is you can practice flutes without transposing music.

When you opt for a flute, it opens up a whole new world of tunes for you. Flutes are versatile instruments with which you can play various notes ranging from low C to B. With flutes, you can play the music written for violin and music composed for instruments.

Flutes can prove to be an advantageous option to start with before you enter the world of musical instruments. You get to play the sounds of various other instruments with it.

But Remember…

Although flutes are better and easier for beginners, remember to focus on where your passion lies. You can pick up any instrument and learn how to play, but it’s your passion that will make your journey trouble-free and fun.

Some instruments can indeed give you a hard time, but if you have love and a knack for learning, you can easily overcome problems.

While you think about which musical instrument you should learn, figure out which musical institution will be the best option to learn with. Indeed, mentors have a big part in helping you achieve your dreams.

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