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1550s, from German Pfeife "fife, pipe," from Old High German pfifa, or via Middle French fifre (15c.) from the same Old High German word; ultimately imitative. German musicians provided music for most European courts in those days. As a verb from 1590s. Agent noun fifer is recorded earlier (1530s). Fife and drum is from 1670s.
A small flute with a high, piercing tone, used mainly in military bands.
small transverse (side-blown) flute with six finger holes and a narrow cylindrical bore that produces a high pitch and shrill tone. The modern fife, pitched to the A above middle C, is about 15.5 inches (39 cm) long and often has an added E hole covered by a key. Its compass is about two octaves. Fifes of conical bore have also been made since the 19th century.