Choosing a Flute
Flutes normally fall into one of three overlapping categories – student flute, Intermediate flute or professional flute. Choosing a flute that matches your level and style of play will optimize your progress and performance.
A student flute is usually made of nickel or silver plate, has solid keys and straight key holes, posts mounted directly on the body, an offset G key, a comparatively thick wall tubing and plays to low C (C foot). Choosing a flute for beginning students is critical. Music stores often have lease programs for the instruments so that parents can see if their child will stick with it. Priced between $1,000 and $2,000
The next level is the intermediate flute. Intermediate flutes are part or all silver. For example, they may have a silver head joint and nickel or silver plated body and foot joint. An intermediate flute will probably have open-holed keys and rolled tone holes but is probably not handmade. Intermediate flutes are in in the $3,000 – 6,000 price range.
Professional flutes are solid silver, gold or a mixture of precious metals. For example, a gold body and silver keys. These instruments have open hole, also known as French, keys and rolled tone holes, posts mounted to ribs on top of the body, a thin wall tubing (0.016 or 0.018), and play to low B (B foot). Professional flutes are for serious flutists who plan on studying to advanced levels and playing in a band or orchestra beyond high school. Professional flutes are often handmade and priced between $6,000 – $60,000.
Beyond the professional flute are solo flutes. Solo instruments are for the top of the top who plan to make a solo career performing alone or in front of an orchestra. Flutes at this level have everything a professional flute has but to extremes. Often made with solid, high carat, gold or platinum and heavily engraved. Solo flutes are always hand made and often custom made for the individual. Pricing easily tops six figures. Sir James Galway keeps his collection of custom made flutes in a bank vault in Switzerland to be brought out only as needed!
When choosing a flute, depending on the level, there may be other options to consider. The first of these is whether to buy an inline or offset G key (little finger of the left hand). In general, flutists with smaller hands prefer an offset G and more advanced players traditionally used the more streamline inline G key. Recently, attitudes have shifted toward using an offset G, even for more advanced players, due to the improved ergonomics and structural strength offered by the offset G.
The D# roller key:
This greatly facilitates movement of the little finger of the left hand and is worth considering because no amount of practice can make transitions with this finger completely smooth.
The Gizmo key:
This has become all but standard on high end flutes and an option on others. It facilitates playing the highest C in the flute range. Ironically, if you have a good flute and practice a lot, you probably don’t need it. There is also the matter that, the high C does not appear very often in the repertory. However, these days, you may find yourself being flute shamed if you don’t have one so go for it.
The Split E key:
Just as the Gizmo facilitates the highest C, the Split E facilitates the high E. No doubt, the high E can be a devil to play cleanly on the flute, especially in fast or delicate passages. However, most flutists playing most flutes can overcome this inherent weakness with enough practice. The Split E key adds a rod and a key to the mechanism and cannot be mounted on flutes with an inline G.
The C# Trill key:
The C# Trill key facilitates several trills that may otherwise be difficult to play or difficult to play in tune. It also plays a C# that is more in tune. This is a very useful, especially when playing more difficult repertory. Like the Split E, the C# Trill key adds a rod an a key to the mechanism. This add on is worth considering if you can afford it.
Doodads, Fads and Gimmicks:
Like most things where there is money to be made, there is no shortage of snake oil. Things to strap onto your flute to make it easier to hold, sound better or last longer abound. The flute, including the mechanism, is about one inch in diameter, so unless your hands are the size of a toddler’s, there should be no problem in holding the flute and reaching the keys. As for sound, practice.
There are also, custom changes to your flute mechanism offered by some shops. Beware of letting someone mess with your flute. It changes the original design developed by the manufacturer.