7 tips on choosing a beginner flute

Yamaha YFL-211 Flute

This article was first written in February 2011, and has been updated in July 2015.

Buying your first flute can be daunting: there are so many different makes, models and types of flutes available, and the variations in price can be hundreds of pounds. Below, we’ve compiled our top tips to help a complete newcomer decide on a new flute.

1. Do plenty of research on the different brands available

The ABRSM Viva Woodwind forum has a lot of helpful information from players and teachers, detailing some good and bad brands. If you already have a flute teacher lined up, they should also be able to offer their own advice on what to buy.

2. Be careful of flutes which look too cheap…

This is important. Some supermarkets, high street chains and online-only warehouses sell their own brand of flutes. In our experience, these flutes should be avoided: while the quality of Chinese flutes has undoubtedly improved since this article was originally written, there are still many poor-quality, cheap flutes around, and while the initial outlay is low, the running costs can quickly overtake the price of a good branded flute.

As well as the high running costs, cheap flutes are not as easy to play, and can be difficult even for an advanced player to make a decent sound on. We see so many players on the verge of giving up because they thought they were just no good at the flute – when in fact the problem was caused by a poor-quality instrument.

Our own-brand budget flutes may be priced a fraction higher than the cheapest high-street flutes – but they have been designed by flute players (us!) and will give a student a good start.

We recommend that you should budget between £200 – £450 for an entry-level flute, although rental schemes, Take It Away and buying second hand can help to reduce the up-front strain on your wallet.

3. …But don’t buy something that’s not designed for a beginner

It should go without saying that flutes classified as ‘beginner flutes’ have been designed specifically for beginner players. A good quality beginner flute will be easy to play, light to hold, and should withstand the knocks that are almost fated to happen to it.

On the other hand, step-up flutes, professional flutes and so on, have been designed for players who can already play the flute to an extent. They’re not designed to be as easy to play, but they don’t need to be – they tend to be heavier, offer the fuller sound and increased projection that an advanced player needs.

4. Stick to ‘traditional’ specifications

There’s a whole raft of options available on flutes. Open holes, C# trill keys, E mechanism, B footjoint, D# roller, silver this or that.

In our opinion, a beginner player should start on a silver-plated flute with closed holes, E mechanism (sometimes called a Split E) and C footjoint. If you want to know what these terms mean, read our Jargon Buster, but basically a flute with these specifications will be (a) easier to play and (b) easier to re-sell at a higher value when the time arises.

5. Get the right size

Flutes don’t come in different ‘sizes’ as such, but you can get curved headjoints for a small beginner. This brings the keys of the flute closer to the body, reducing the stretch. If your child needs a curved headjoint, the truth is that it will cost more; but the problems if you don’t get a curved headjoint could far outweigh the price difference. Neck and back pain from over-stretching can arise, and players can easily get into the bad habit of poor posture. It can take many years to sort out a poor posture that wouldn’t have arisen with a curved headjoint.

For very small players (ages 5 to 7), you could start on the fife or Apprentice flute, both of which are affordable ‘mini’ flutes.

6. A good brand will hold its value

Unlike many things in this modern world – cars, computers, phones etc – flutes can hold their value very well. Many major manufacturers have been making the same models for years, so you don’t need to worry about your flute being obsolete or superceded in six months’ time. In fact, because of increasing metal prices, some customers have been lucky enough to discover that a Yamaha 211 flute bought new a few years ago is now worth more second hand than they paid new!

7. Think ahead

Hopefully, you’re buying a flute with the intention of sticking at it and developing your ability and sound. Certain beginner flutes – notably the Pearl PF-505 and Yamaha YFL-211 – are upgradable by replacing the headjoint (the part that you blow in to). Putting a handmade silver headjoint on one of these is like loading it with rocket fuel – the improvement is immense, for a fraction of the price of an intermediate flute.

If you stick to this advice, you will have an instrument that will give you many years of reliable use and enjoyment, with that all-important room for development.

Now that you know what you are looking for, view the selection of beginner flutes on offer at Just Flutes
Haynes Flute

8 Top Tips on Testing a New Flute

When it comes to testing out new instruments, the experience can often be overwhelming. We’ve put together our top tips to help you narrow down the choice and find your perfect upgrade flute. Whether you are looking for a step-up instrument or a professional model, follow these pointers to help you on your way!

1. Warm up on your current flute first

It’s natural to be excited about trying new flutes, but don’t test one of the new flutes with Flight of the Bumblebee quite yet – hold back! Get your chops warmed up on your existing flute with some long notes first. This has the added benefit of giving you a reference point for what you are comparing the new flutes to.

2. Scales. Sorry!

Once you’re warmed up, hold off the tunes for a little longer. Play some slow scales on each flute – this will give you an idea of how the instrument sounds across its entire range, and may expose weaker areas.

3. Check the dynamic ranges

This is something that can be done while you are playing scales. Can you play the low register with a strong, full sound? Can you play high notes quietly and sweetly?

4. Test the articulation

How responsive and clean is the articulation? Again, simple scales played slowly and tongued will give you a good idea. Also, try without tonguing (diaphragm only).

5. Get an idea of its tone colours

Play low, simple tunes (good ones are Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ or ‘The Aquarium’ from ‘Carnival of the Animals’), and aim at a very hollow, open sound. Go up an octave and see if you can produce the same sort of sound. It is very important that an instrument is capable of producing a similar quality of sound throughout the full range. Next, try a much harder sound with lots of harmonics, again in different octaves (Moyse 24 Easy Melodic Studies No. 10 – strong and trumpet like, is ideal).

6. Get a friend to help

A listener comes in useful when testing the projection. Some instruments appear to play loudly close up, but cannot be heard at the back of a concert hall. Others don’t sound loud close up, but the sound travels better – this is projection, and can be very deceiving. A good way to test this is to compare instruments while you have a listener outside the room with the door closed: which sounds louder?

7. Be prepared to compromise

You may have a pre-conceived idea of your ‘perfect’ instrument, (in terms of sound, feel or any other area really!).  But – take our word for it – it probably doesn’t exist!

8. Be realistic about what an upgrade offers

A new instrument can’t compensate for shortcomings in your playing – only hours of careful practice can do this. But a new instrument gives you the potential to improve your sound in all areas – practice will then make this a reality!