Actually, this is an informative guide for everyone! Purchasing a flute for your child can be an extremely confusing and complex process, especially if you’re not a musician. So much information is available through brochures, the internet, friends, teachers and flute shops, that it’s easy to feel completely lost as you gather information about flutes and piccolos.
However, we have also found that parents, no matter what their musical background, are usually quite helpful with the listening process. You may not know how to read music, but you know a sound you like when you hear it.
The process of choosing a new instrument is a road of discovery you and your child embark on together! Our job is to make you feel confident about your decision making process! Consider this article a crash course in “Flute Buying 101.”
Stage 1: Beginner Flutes
Most beginners start with a closed hole silver plated or nickel plated flute with a C footjoint. A closed hole flute is easier to play because your child does not have to worry about completely covering the open holes — they simply press the keys down and make the notes sound! A C footjoint is also preferable because the instrument will be lighter, making it easier to hold for long periods of time.
Silver plating will appear lighter in color while nickel plating will have a darker color. Both platings are durable and appropriate for younger students who may not be as careful with their instruments.
Buying vs. Renting a Beginner Flute
You may have thought of looking for a used flute or getting a hand-me-down from Uncle Joe who played 20 years ago. This is a great idea if you find one that has been well maintained, but the odds are pretty low. In addition, the flute technology has improved dramatically in the last 20 years. Innovations that were once only available on professional flutes have worked their way down to even the least expensive beginner flutes. Refinements in headjoint design and embouchure cuts, improvements in the padding, innovations in the machining process of the mechanisms and higher-quality metals mean the beginner flute of today is light-years away from the flute of 30 years ago.
Another concern you may have is that your child will simply stop playing the instrument. As parents and teachers ourselves, we have seen that students are more likely to stay with their musical passion when they have:
- A quality instrument with a beautiful tone and good mechanism.
- An experienced, knowledgeable and supportive private teacher.
- A band program or large ensemble that provides a positive social and academic environment.
Stage 1.5: Stepping Up to the Intermediate Student Flute
After playing a few years, your child will move up to an open hole flute with B footjoint. You may want to know why the B foot and open holes are necessary or desirable. The best answer is: everyone else has one! The standard or “fashion” in the United States is that most flutes have a B footjoint. The added length of the flute provides one more key that sounds an additional lower note. This adds to the overall power and projection of the sound, particularly in the low notes. As an investment, a B footjoint is the best option and will be much easier to sell later. It is possible to purchase an all silver plated, open hole flute with B footjoint for a very affordable price, but most people consider a step up flute to also have a sterling silver headjoint.
Why Spend the Extra Money on a Silver Headjoint?
After your child has achieved a level of competence on the flute, he or she and the teacher may feel that the beginner instrument is holding back their progress. What does this mean to you besides spending more money? It means that your child has reached a level of expertise and sensitivity where the sound they’re producing matters!
The reason why professionals play on silver and gold flutes is that it makes the sound more beautiful. As the silver content in the flute increases, the acoustic harmonic content of the sound will increase. Played side-by-side, a quality student flute with a sterling silver headjoint will usually sound richer, fuller and more interesting than an all silver plated flute. For the intermediate student who shows a strong commitment to the flute, the silver headjoint is highly recommended.
Stage 2: The Pre-professional Flute
A pre-professional flute like the Powell Sonare ranges in price from approximately $2,000 to $3,000 and is appropriate for your serious high school or advanced junior high school student, adult amateurs and those entering college as non-music or non-performance music majors.
This level flute offers an all sterling silver body with silver plated keys. The added silver content will make a significant difference in the tone quality, color, depth and projection. In addition, the solid silver body will prove more durable as scratches and dents are much easier to remove from a solid silver body. The long-term value of a silver body student flute will also be comparatively stronger because of the silver content.
Stage 3: The Professional Flute
Professional flute companies include top American companies such as Burkart, Haynes and Powell as well as companies from Japan such as Miyazawa and Muramatsu. Last, but not least, we proudly make our own handmade flute, the Weissman-McKenna!
The advantages of purchasing a flute from one of these companies are the high level of expertise in the design, advanced level of hand finishing in the pad work and mechanism and the prestige of owning a flute from a professional flute company.
A professional flute is an investment in a your child’s career or talent. Serious flutists, both amateur and professional, and college music performance majors should set their sights on an entry level professional or top-of-the-line professional flute.
The Entry Level Professional Flute
The entry level professional flute is characterized by the same craftsmanship as a flute for $10,000, but with less silver content. For example, the Haynes Classic Q1, Miyazawa 202, Muramatsu EX and Weissman-McKenna Integrity model flutes offer silver plated bodies and sterling silver headjoints. These flutes provide a big, beautiful sound with rich harmonic depth and cost about $4,000.
Many of these companies also offer options such as the 14k riser, C# trill key and D# roller which also enhance the value and versatility of the flutes. These are definitely instruments that can last a lifetime or can serve as stepping stones to the highest levels.
The Professional Flute
Some people refer to the all silver flute as a “real” flute. As you can see by the preceding information, there are many options available to serve the needs of different players. However, a truly professional flute is all silver. The additional silver content provides more weight resulting in a larger, more beautiful sound. The silver body and keys make the flute more durable — dents and scratches can be easily removed. Also, an all silver flute from one of the top professional flute companies will always retain a higher percentage of its original purchase price.
The Drawn Tone Hole Professional Flute
All of the top flute companies offer a drawn tone hole professional flute. Each tone hole is extruded or pulled from the body of the flute. Then the top edge is rolled over to form a “lip” that provides the seal against the pads. This process is less time consuming and labor intensive resulting in a lower price. Make no mistake, these are “le crème de la crème” and may people prefer the sound of a drawn tone hole flute!
The Soldered Tone Hole Professional Flute
As you know, more silver means more mass which means a richer and fuller sound. Many professional flutists, including orchestral players and university teachers, feel that the soldered tone hole flute provides the most power and projection of all of the flutes.
In the soldered tone hole process, the holes are extracted from the body of the flute. The tone hole is separately formed then soldered to the body of the flute. These top-of-the-line flutes will retain most of their value throughout the life of the instrument and may actually increase in value over the long term.
Any flutist who owns or plays a gold flute will tell you that nothing plays like one! The rich and creamy sound, the feel of the gold metal against your skin and the mystique of a gold instrument all contribute to a steady market in the flute industry for gold, gold alloys and combinations of gold and silver.
As always, we encourage players to try as many different flutes as possible. There is no one “best” company or type of flute. The choice is unique and specific to your child. As Jeff says, “the wand picks you!”