What sort of flute should and intermediate flute player have?

I’ve been playing the flute casually for over 5 years now. I learned the basics in 3 years of elementary school, but didn’t play at all in high-school. Once I graduated, I borrowed my then-girlfriend’s flute and started playing again. Since then, I’ve improved quite a bit, but (since it’s just casual and I’m not very musically-inclined to begin with) I’m certainly not advanced.

If you need a better idea of my skill level (?) I could e-mail anyone interested a few .gifs of free sheet music I feel are at my abilities.

Anyway, the actual question is “what kind of flute do I need?” Since it wasn’t much more expensive than a student model, I rented an open-holed flute that I’ve been playing for the past 6 months or so. It’s not fantastically easy, but I can play it. Just recently, my step-dad found a new student flute for $40 at a garage sale. At my level, does it really matter if I’m playing a bottom-of-the-barrel flute?

I don’t know if it’s so much a question of level as “where and how will you be playing it?”

I like to play the flute too, and I studied the instrument seriously even as an adult. But I also did a lot of playing of pop stuff with some friends who jammed and who did pub gigs. At those times, I’d take along my sturdy old student flute, since I wouldn’t worry too much if anything happened to it (well, I’d worry, but not as much as if it had been a very expensive model), and the tone it had was good enough for what we were doing. For pretty much the same reasons, my student flute also accompanied me on a number of trips through the US, Canada, and Australia–I wanted to keep in practice while I travelled.

But that’s what I mean by “where and how will you be playing it?” If all you want to do is to have some fun with the instrument, take it places, maybe jam with some folks occasionally, then a student flute is probably fine. If you want to get into some serious flute study, then you may want to have a more advanced instrument. But it’s all up to you.

My daughter is a flutist/pianist, music ed major in college. I’ll forward your inquiry to her and am sure she will have strong opinions.

Right now she is on (I believe) her 3d flute, which probably cost $7K, and is pretty fine for anything short of professional play. While you don’t need anything that pricey, you might really benefit from something in the several hundred dollar range.

What you will find is that there are a couple of specific price points at which the quality clearly jumps. If you have been playing for 5 years, have any level of ability, and expect to be playing for a while, you should so yourself the favor of playing on something other than a bottom-line instrument.

I suspect you will find that a $500 flute may well sound a lot better and play a lot easier than the $40 garage sale find.

Of course, if you are doing anything like marching band, you may want to also keep a cheap beater instrument that you won’t worry about playing in weather and such.

Ask your instructor for any recommendations as to brands and models. Then find a store that stocks those and spend a morning trying them out. You may be surprised that you strongly prefer a $500 flute over a $1k one. And at the higher levels, you will even develop preferences between different flutes of the same make/model.

Good point, and I forgot to address this.

I’d wonder just how “new” such a find would be. Oh, it may well have been gifted to a student who never touched it, but it may also have been used a few times. And in those cases, I’d wonder how it had been used. Flutes are delicate things, and their keys have to work just so, and their mechanics and their springs have to work just so, and their pads have to seal just so. Any mistreatment by somebody who is not familiar with the instrument or doesn’t care much about it, even inadvertent or accidental, can result in big repair bills, no matter the model.

Dinsdale makes a good point–forget the $40 garage sale find and get yourself a decent brand-new flute from a store. It will not have been badly treated by any previous owner, and it will often come with a warranty that will take care of any problems it may have at first. As things turned out, one of mine had to go in for warranty repairs shortly after I got it–glad I had the warranty, since the repairs would have been very expensive otherwise. I agree that you’d be better off spending a few more dollars and getting something from a reputable dealer that you can bet will work properly and will sound and play better too.

Most intermediate players upgrade to an open-holed model. The consensus (of Midwestern band directors at least) is that these sound better but are a bit more difficult to play. I have read a skeptical opinion somewhere though. With a bit of practice the open holes won’t bother you anymore if you go that route.

The option of having the middle keys (the ones your ring finger on your right hand and index of your left rest on) offset to produce a more curved key layout may be more desirable if you have shorter fingers. This is common on student models, but I’ve seen it go both ways on intermediate/advanced models. My flute instructor was strongly against an offset arrangement, but I don’t really remember why. Different metals will also affect the “color” of the sound. Strangely enough, expensive metals like silver and gold are considered to have superior sound than nickel. The cut of the headpiece is also very important, but I don’t know enough about what to look for to help you on that aspect.

The flute I upgraded to was a student model silver-plated, open-holed Miyazawa. It cost around $2000 when I got it 8 years ago. It was recommended to me as a good bang for your buck, and would be appropriate until you’re at a professional level. While the open holes took some getting used to, the flute was so much more responsive than my crappy Yamaha. I no longer had to strain to hit high notes, and the low register had noticeably better tone than my old one.

I would stay away from the garage sale flute. It probably has who knows what growing on the inside from the last person who played it and then didn’t clean the spit out and left it around for a decade to fester. The pads are probably bad and need replacing as well which would be a hassle (but then again cheaper than buying a new flute outright). I recommend going to a local music store and asking a knowledgeable employee what intermediate level flutes they recommend and spend an afternoon trying them out and seeing what you like. Play a piece you know well with them to get used to each one and test the sound difference.

On the other hand, it might be good to think about your goals with the flute. If you mostly play at family gatherings, community band, or church services, upgrading really isn’t necessary, although nicer flutes are certainly much more pleasant to play. If you would like to eventually do competitive or professional performances, then upgrading is a must.

I’ll just add that it’s a shame this thread went five posts before anybody used the word ‘flautist.’ :smiley:

Thank you all for the advice! The garage-sale-flute (GSF) is brand new, as it came in all the original packaging. I think the standard line of advice has been good–I can stick with it as a backup beater flute. I plan on hiring a tutor (all my learning for the past 5 years has been independent) this summer, so I’ll also discuss the kind of flute I use with him or her. I’ll also probably stop in at one of our local music stores and see if any of the employees there can help me.

Many years back my daughter convinced me that the terms are interchangeable and that neither is preferred - among flutists at least.

Here’s her answer. I guess she messed up on your gender:

Oh dear… she asked a question to which there is no one answer. Ultimately, she should pick a price range of what she is willing to spend, go to a flute shop, and try out everything. She needs to pick a few things to test: such as intonation, tone quality, high register, low register, ease of sound production. She needs to have a tuner with her, and she should have some excerpts. She needs a checklist so she can rate each flute. She should mark flutes as she plays them on her checklist. Then, when she finds the flute she likes the best, she can start looking at different head joints for the flute if she desires. Sometimes, one can get a much better sounding flute for cheaper by combining flutes and headjoints. At five years, she should be playing on an open-holed flute.