Of Beginner's, Intermediate, and Advanced Flutes
Just thought I'd introduce some thoughts on the
differences between beginner's, intermediate, and advanced flutes.
The most obvious difference is the money. Here
are some approximate price ranges for new flutes. These can vary greatly,
but just to establish a ballpark:
- Beginner's Flutes are made of plated base
metal and run from $150 to $700
- Intermediate (or "College") Flutes usually
have a solid silver head and plated body and keys; they run (roughly) from
$800 to $2500.
- Performance-Grade (or "Professional") Flutes
are usually made of solid (not plated) precious metals or wood, are often
handmade, with prices starting around $3000 and going up past $10,000.
First, there is a myth, and it's so common you will hear some teachers and band
directors quote it when they should know better. The myth is "the more expensive
the instrument, the easier it is to play."
What makes this myth so pervasive is there is some truth to it, but it leaves
out a related and vital question: easier for who to play?
Big challenges for the beginning flutist are learning to make the instrument
sound at the most basic level, learning to control the fingers, and making
tongue, breath, and fingers work together. So, "easier to play" for a beginner
means simply "easy to get a sound out of."
Challenges of the advanced player include playing with a wide range of dynamics
and a wide tonal palette, using special techniques such as multiphonics, playing
into the fourth octave, and playing with enough projection to carry a solo
passage over a full orchestra without the use of a microphone. So "easy to play"
to an orchestral flutist means easier to do all of that: a projective, flexible,
responsive instrument which is going to respond like it's a part of their own
Do you get the idea that a flute like seems easy to play for little Sally
Wilson, who's got two years of beginning band under her belt, won't necessarily
be a flute that's particularly easy for Sir James Galway to play?
Conversely, and every bit as important--maybe more important, given the topic of
the thread--is that a flute which Sir James finds to be a fine and capable
instrument may barely seem to play at all in little Sally's hands.
Beginner flutes are made to be easy to get a sound out of. They are not made to
handle extremely wide dynamics or a wide tonal palette, because no beginner can
play with extreme dynamics or more than one kind of tone anyway.
Performance-grade flutes are made to project, to be responsive across a wide
range of blowing techniques, to handle extreme volumes, to handle extremely
rapid passages, to be in tune at extreme volumes...to do all the things that a
beginners' flute doesn't do well.
But by the time you balance all of those characteristics: responsiveness,
projection, intonation, pitch stability, flexibility...there's just not much
room left to tweak for ease of play.
So the bottom line of all of this?
When you move to a higher-grade flute, often you'll find it harder to play,
especially at first. You may have to "grow into it" a bit.
But it's time well spent, because at the end of the day, a high-end flute will
do things that a beginner's flute will only do with great difficulty, if at all.
So which should you get?
For most children, starting with a beginner's flute makes sense, as long as
you know you're going to be upgrading it in a few years. Children often
don't stick with playing, or wind up having talent but for a different
instrument, and a beginner's flute represents a way to get a low-cost instrument
into their hands that's good enough to get them to a certain starting level of
For adults and for very committed children, starting with an intermediate
flute may make more sense, particularly if the person has a level of
responsibility equal to caring for (and keeping track of!) a very valuable
instrument. Also, intermediate and higher flutes often keep their value
well, and can be sold later without taking much of a loss.
Finally, I don't think any beginning player of any age, level of
determination, or income level would really be doing themselves a favor to start
with a handmade, performance-grade flute. You need to have a certain level
of skill and experience to be able to pick effectively which high-end flute will
respond well to you and match your own unique abilities.