Deciding which flute is right for you | When to upgrade your flute
Hello fluters! Welcome back to another blog post. Today I'll be sharing a few suggestions I have in regards to knowing which type of flute is best for you and knowing when it's time to upgrade your flute.
As always, these are just my personal opinions so if you are already working with a flute teacher, make sure you consult with them so that they can provide you with advice that is specific to your needs. Let's get started!
If you are a complete beginner and have never had any experience playing flute before, you should most definitely start out on a student flute and not on an intermediate or advanced model. A lot of parents will make the assumption that purchasing a more advanced instrument for their child to start out on will help speed up their child's progress. While it's true that playing on a good quality flute that is well-built will reduce any unnecessary problems created by the instrument malfunctioning, purchasing a flute that isn't in line with the student's skill level can bring about its own problems.
I would always advise that complete beginner students are better off starting out on student flutes. Student flutes are usually made from cheaper materials (nickel silver that is plated instead of solid silver), and so are much more affordable than intermediate/professional flutes. The lighter material used to make student flutes also allows them to be much more free-blowing and easier to hold compared to intermediate models. This is ideal for complete beginners as the instruments are more forgiving compared to the more advanced flutes. If you are playing flute just for fun as a hobby, you don't really ever need to upgrade from a student flute. At the time of writing, a well-built student flute that is good quality ranges between $500-$900 brand new.
So, when would it be suitable for a student to upgrade from a student flute to an intermediate flute? My answer is when they have been playing for a couple of years and are progressing steadily into playing music of a higher difficulty - either through completing exams such as AMEB, Trinity or ABRSM or by playing full-length works that are more technically demanding than beginner books. If you would like to take your skills to the next level and are financially able to do so, then moving on to an intermediate flute can help with that process.
In my experience as a flute teacher, complete beginner students actually find it more difficult to learn on an intermediate flute. This is because those flutes are made for players who already have a grasp on basic flute playing skills. Intermediate flutes often include features such as open-holed keys, extra keys (B-foot and C# trill key) as well as heavier weight due to the use of purer materials (such as gold or silver). The addition of all these extra features can help the student achieve a purer and more supple sound and allow more customisation in the build of the flute (ie. solid silver body with silver-plated keys or solid silver body with solid silver keys). The use of purer materials also means that the flutes can provide different levels of resistance, which opens up a variety of tone colours that the student can produce. Although these features can help the student produce a more 'professional' sound, if they haven't already developed solid fundamental technique, these features can make their flute-playing experience more challenging.
There are plenty of different models of intermediate flutes available, but the two main types are student-intermediate and semi-professional intermediate flutes. Just as a very general reference, student-intermediate flutes would be suited for those who are in between AMEB Grade 2 to Grade 5 while semi-professional flutes would be suited for those who are AMEB Grade 7 and above. For those who take their flute studies as a serious hobby but aren't aiming to become a professional performing flautist, a student-intermediate or semi-professional model can get you quite far and last a number of years provided that you take care of the instrument well. At the time of writing, intermediate flutes can range from $5000-$10,000 brand new.
You only really need to get a professional flute if you are aiming to become a professional flute player (ie. you're studying at a tertiary level and plan to do some sort of professional performing in the future). This is because professional flutes get very expensive and would be quite a large financial commitment to make. So unless you are financially able or committed to playing flute at an elite level long-term, there is really no need to purchase a professional flute. Professional flutes are usually priced at the same bracket as a brand new car.
If you are looking to upgrade your instrument, definitely trial some flutes in-person before you make a decision. There are so many different brands and models that play so differently, so if you can spend a day or two testing out the flutes, you can make sure you are definitely picking the model that is right for you. In Australia, some of the biggest flute stores will travel interstate to do showrooms once in a while, so those events would be good opportunities for you to test out the models that you are considering. Some stores also offer the option to mail out two to three flutes to you to try, but you'd need to get in contact with the flute stores to arrange that personally.
Most student flutes feel pretty consistent to play, but when you start getting into intermediate and professional models where the makes are a bit more complex, each individual flute can vary quite a bit in terms of feel and response because more parts are hand-made instead of machine-made. This is why it is ideal to try the flutes out in-person before committing to buying one.
You can also search for any second-hand flutes that are currently on sale on the market. In Australia, flute players will usually advertise through specialist flute stores or facebook groups. I would only recommend that you go this route if you are an intermediate/advanced player who is able to test out the flute thoroughly. I go through a few ways you can get a student flute in Australia in this blog post.
So those are some of my suggestions on knowing which flute is right for you and knowing when it might be time to upgrade to a new flute. For more flute-related resources please feel free to check out my other blog posts. Happy fluting and see you in the next post!