Best Beginner to Intermediate Flutes: The Next Step

Getting a new instrument is really exciting as an experience. You’ve been playing a while, and you’re getting on with your grades well, while enjoying the social and other aspects of playing an instrument! But the flute you started on doesn’t quite cut it any more – the keywork isn’t quite standing up to those tricky scalic passages, and the tone is a little breathy for your well-trained ear.
That’s natural – and that’s where having multiple options for better quality instruments is a fantastic thing. By trying a few, you can quickly get an idea of what kind of thing you’re looking for, but it’s always a good idea to read up a little bit before you browse in person. At Millers, we have a great range of instruments with something suitable for everyone, from the amateur hobbyist looking for a good quality instrument to the professional musician looking for something to last a lifetime.

What’s the difference?

Student flutes are in essence, stripped down versions of their more expensive counterparts. The blueprint is the same, but the components used to put the design together won’t be as good quality. This is noticeable in various areas, but the most significant will be the keywork mould quality and the silver quantity and type, which greatly affect the playability of the instrument. Let’s deal with each separately then step back to see the bigger picture:

Keywork

Beginner (or student) flutes such as the Vivace or Trevor James 5x will have been made en masse in huge quantities, in factories in the East. This is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s great that as a result, we have affordable options for players just starting, but there are drawbacks when it comes to the consistency of each individual flute.
Another noteworthy feature of intermediate instruments is that the majority will be “open-hole” flutes – this refers to small holes in the actual keys. Beginner players struggle with this as they will have issues with fully covering the holes, resulting in air escaping and overall loss of sound quality, but a more experienced player will benefit from the overall greater tone that it gives the instrument. 

Materials

Durability vs quality is a difficult balance to master, especially in musical instruments where small issues in keywork can cause expensive repairs. As a result, most student flutes are constructed using silver-plated nickel, which is a happy medium. This material can often survive a lot of the daily wear and tear that comes along with picking up a new instrument, especially when handled by younger players.


An intermediate instrument will begin to feature greater quantities of solid silver and other precious metals to assist a player’s musical development, as the repertoire they begin to play becomes more difficult and they have a more musically-inclined ear. This dramatically increases the consistency of quality tone produced throughout the register of the instrument – playing high notes will not be nearly as difficult! When looking through ranges, you’ll most commonly find solid silver lip-plates, and occasionally completely solid head joints. For professionals, it’s also possible to get hold of instruments that are made completely of silver, though this is not nearly as common. Gold is another material commonly used for this purpose, and delivers a slightly more mellow tone than silver’s bright, pinging sound. 

Yamaha’s solid silver headjoint with a silver lip plate has both balanced brightness and warmth with a great clarity of tone.

The Range

At Millers, we definitely have some great options for those looking to take their flute playing to the next level. Our two featured brands are Trevor James and Yamaha. We feel these give two contrasting tonal soundworlds, which is perfect for picking an instrument with exactly the tone you desire. 

Trevor James

As a UK manufacturer specialising in woodwind instruments, Trevor James has a fantastic range of options for flautists of any standard. All their flutes are handchecked in their UK workshop before coming to us, ensuring great quality instruments each and every time. The Trevor James flute is well-known for its rich, warm tonal quality.

The Trevor James 10x is the natural step up from the student model Trevor James 5x, with a solid silver lip plate it makes for an affordable option with great sound quality. This model also is the first in the range to feature high quality Italian leather pads, which help to make sure air doesn’t escape when closed – a vitally important part of the performance aspect of the instrument! Felt is also used instead of cork under the arms which results in a quieter mechanism, which is a basic quality of life feature but makes a really big difference for the player.

For someone looking for a flute to really take them through the higher echelons, it may be worth taking a look at the Trevor James Performer/Chanson (formerly known as the Cantabile) series. These flutes are all excellent with solid silver head joints and considered by Trevor James themselves to be true “step-up” instruments – the precious metal quality really helps a player to explore the vast amount of tonal landscapes available. The head joint on these models is hand cut in the TJ UK workshops ensuring great quality, and the instrument features everything the 10x has and more – hidden adjusting screws, a hand-cut lip-plate, and a highly projective leather hard case with a fleece cover to protect the instrument during transit. To check out Trevor James’ full range of options, check out their website here!

Yamaha

A household name in the musical instrument industry for a very long time, Yamaha are probably the most popular flutes worldwide. This is due to the great quality of work they offer and the reliability of their instruments – it’s very rare to come across a Yamaha flute that struggles with manufacturer issues. They’re also well known throughout the industry for the bright tone that they produce, which is great for solo performance.
A great option to look at for a Yamaha flute would be the YFL-312. This instrument can easily see a player through the intermediate grades into the higher levels of playing, with the CY solid silver headjoint producing a more focused sound thanks to its unique double flare taper and individually undercut embouchure design. The instrument also comes with a fantastic hard case and full cleaning kit that means you’ll be able to properly maintain your instrument.

Is there anything else I should look for?

If you’ve played for a while already, you’re probably familiar with the typical cleaning kit accessories. Things like silver polish cloths and pipe cleaners you may have already, but it might be worth looking into a stand for your instrument! When playing in an ensemble this is a simple quality of life feature that can really make sitting around during sectional rehearsals much more enjoyable as you don’t have to worry about your instrument rolling off your lap, or even worse, dreading leaving it on the floor!
Konig & Meyer, fantastic German manufacturers do a great range of woodwind stands, and the flute is certainly among them. You can check them out here.

Overall, upgrading your flute is an awesome process where you can find the perfect instrument for your needs based on your already trained musical ear and preferences. It’s worth taking some time to try some out. You can book appointments with our experts in store to have a look at our models in person, or feel free to contact us on 01223 354452 with any questions you may have! 

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