The contrabass flute in C is a member of the Western concert flute family. It is pitched exactly two octaves lower than the standard Western concert flute, and is played by blowing air across the embouchure hole. This instrument is typically only used in flute ensembles and as a solo instrument with orchestral backing.
Like the recorder, whistle, and pan flute, the contrabass flute is a member of the flute family. Since the instrument is played by blowing across the opening, it is known as a transverse flute. All types of Western concert flute are transverse flutes as well.
Every contrabass flute is pitched two octaves below the common Western concert flute and one octave below the bass flute. Its lowest note is C2, the note two octaves below middle C. Most players can play up to three octaves above that, although expert flautists can play even higher.
Other large flutes, such as the contrabass in G, the subcontrabass, and the double contrabass, are often confused with the contrabass flute. The contrabass in G and the subcontrabass are more properly known as the contra-alto and the double contra-alto flute because they are pitched one and two octaves respectively below the alto flute. Playing an octave below the contrabass flute, and three below the standard Western concert flute, the double contrabass flute is the largest commercially made flute.
Although it is technically a woodwind instrument, it is not made out of wood like the clarinet or fife. Instead, contrabass flutes are made out of metal, often brass or silver alloys, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, with metal keys. The headpiece is bent in a triangular shape to enable the player’s mouth to reach the embouchure hole, while the body and foot joint are held vertically. An adjustable support is attached to the foot joint so that the player does not have to carry the weight of the large instrument.
Contrabass flutes are relatively rare instruments, used primarily in flute ensembles. Some concertos, such as “Lyric Concerto” by Bruce Lawrence and “Nola” by Benjamin Yusapov, feature the contrabass flute as a soloist with orchestral or string accompaniment. Their size, complexity, and rarity instrument contribute to the higher price of this instrument. New metal contrabass flutes cost around $10,000 US Dollars (USD), while PVC versions cost closer to $5,000 USD.