Which Beginner Flute Is Right For Me?
As one of the major members of the woodwind family, the flute has a proven place as one of the most popular instruments for beginners to pick up. This can be attributed to multiple things – being lightweight, and the unique technique of blowing across the instrument rather than into it can often be appealing! The flute is also part of many ensembles – wind bands, flute choirs, jazz bands, and orchestras offer truly something for everyone. There’s definitely multiple things to consider when looking at your first instrument, so here’s some handy tips to think about.
What manufacturer features should I be looking for in a flute?
In my opinion, the most important thing to consider when purchasing a flute is the keywork. There are many off-brand factory produced models running around, and many of these will have been made using cheap moulds, which results in poor keywork – this can in turn mean that the holes on the instrument are not fully covered by the pads, which can lead to air escaping and a direct effect on not only the quality of sound produced by the instrument, but the ability to produce sound altogether! By investing slightly more in a better instrument, these issues will not occur – saving you more in the long run in repair charges.
It’s also important to look for scratches and dents when selecting an instrument – while this can occur and is not detrimental to the instrument, signs of exterior damage can often mean that more needs work than meets the eye. This is especially true when buying secondhand, as mechanisms on the instrument and other features can often wear over time.
The final thing to ask about the instrument is the quantity of silver that was used in manufacture. Many entry-level instruments will have silver-plated lip plates, and the further up the range you look, the greater quantity of silver is used – high end models often include an entirely solid silver headjoint! A greater quantity of silver not only increases durability but has a direct impact on the sound produced – a clearer, more rich, pure tone.
There’s a lot of specifications I don’t understand! What should I be looking for in a standard instrument, musically?
Many flutes have different specifications regarding the way the register of the instrument is physically distributed. On instrument descriptions, you’ll undoubtedly see a list of keys and mechanisms that are different between each one – however, to generalise, a standardised list would be the following:
- Closed holes : An “open hole” flute has open keys, meaning the finger must encompass the entirety of the key to fully close the air gap. A closed hole flute will be more easily accessible for a beginner.
- The split E mechanism is designed to make the high E more responsive. This mechanism physically splits the double G keys. When playing G, the keys behave as normal, closing both of the G keys. When fingering high E, the mechanism closes the lower of the two G keys.
- A “C” footjoint is often desirable – this simply means a footjoint where the bottom note you can play is a C. Different footjoints do exist that will take a player to lower registers however are not necessary for the majority of repertoire.
I’m buying for a youngster, and they can’t hold the instrument. What do I do?
This is sometimes a common problem when young children take up the instrument, and there’s certainly an option to work around this. Entry level flutes often can be equipped with a curved headjoint, shortening the overall length of the instrument and making keys easy to reach whilst keeping the proportions and ratio of weight distribution in the player’s posture. Many outfits actually include both the curved headjoint and the standard straight one, so that when a player grows they can “graduate” from the curved headjoint without any more expenditure necessary! A particularly good example of this would be the Trevor James 5x, which is entirely silver plated, and serviced in TJ’s UK factory before even reaching us.
For very young players, it’s entirely possible to start on a fife instead, which is lightweight and smaller in size whilst encouraging the same technique used to play the flute.
What else would I need?
At Millers, we simplify things – our flutes all come as outfits which means a padded case and silver polishing cloth is included within the price to help you maintain your instrument correctly. You can upgrade these if you feel it’s necessary – hard cases are certainly available, and do offer a higher level of protection against accidental knocks and bashes. You may also wish to get hold of a pull-through which is a cloth used to remove condensation from the inside of the instrument. It’s recommended to bring a flute in for a general service once every 6-9 months – mechanisms can loosen which will affect playing. This is generally inexpensive, and at Millers, we offer a 2 year warranty with any instrument which would cover this.
The next steps
Moving from entry-level to intermediate flutes can be daunting, as there’s a wide variety. Usually, a beginner flute will last a player multiple years, whilst the individual progresses through the first few grades. Really, you will be looking for something with a higher quantity of silver in the headjoint, which will increase purity and consistency of tone. I highly recommend the 10x or even the Cantabile by Trevor James as fantastic intermediate to high level models made with reliable components for an affordable price. You can find our Trevor James range on our website, under the Flutes category!
Flute is a great instrument to play with a ton of opportunities to get involved with both local groups and larger size ensembles. Finding a teacher is really easy too – many local schools even provide them for their students, and for adult learners, many can be found through a quick Google search. Usually you can take a taster session with an instructor to see how you get on, and then work from there! Start your musical journey today, and never look back.