The flute, which we also know well in its metal form, developed from the recorder, and features an array of keys. The early flute looked rather like a recorder but was held sideways. The sound was produced by blowing across the mouth-hole, splitting the air stream. The recorder channels the airstream down a tunnel, and the stream splits against a fipple (or little ledge) which is fixed in place. The angle of the air stream on the fipple is fixed – you can't change it.
On a flute, you can change this angle, giving the player more control. When the English player, Nicholson, produced a bigger sound than his continental counterparts, they were very annoyed. They found that his flute had large finger holes, producing a bigger sound – he had enormous hands. Boehm, the German flautist, produced an instrument with large holes, but closed them by an ingenious system of levers and springs, which is the modern flute, capable of three octaves at dazzling speeds.
The primitive flute of Mozart's time (he didn't dislike the flute, just abhorred the poor intonation so frequently encountered on it) was soon superseded by the instrument we know today. The lowest register is problematic for the young player, as the tone is naturally weak. This is not an insuperable problem, but needs consistent and dedicated work.
The commonest complaint for a beginner is dizziness. This is merely oxygen surfeit from frequent blowing attempts, and passes quickly. The next problem is the inability to produce a sound. If the player can produce an airstream of the right velocity and focus, the flute (or just the head for starters) can be brought into line with the stream, thereby starting the tone. It then becomes a “knack”. Some have it right away, and others take a considerable time achieving it, but ultimately may do just as well.
Flutes have no reeds, and few moving parts to service. Maintenance is generally inexpensive, and the instrument itself not hard to acquire. Flute groups are fun and are found in most schools. Tuning adjustment is done firstly, by pulling the head joint out a little (this makes the instrument longer, and therefore flatter), or conversely, pushing it further in to make it sharper (often necessary in Winter). This is only an approximate tuning, and the player gradually learns to adjust for more refined tuning, by turning the head joint outwards (sharper) or inwards (flatter). These adjustments are necessary to counteract the tendency of the flute to play sharper in “f” and flatter in “p” dynamics. The adjustment may also be done by promoting either lip to achieve the same effect.
For the young player with short arms, there is a flute with a curved head, like a walking stick or an umbrella handle. They look cute but sound good. There is also a plastic version of this one.
I have included some links here to play along with. They are: