With evidence of the use of transverse (played to the side) flutes as far back as China in the 9th Century BC, it is one of the earliest instruments invented; despite this, it is still a familiar sight in modern orchestras and one of the most popular instruments for budding players to take up.
Originally the flute was a straightforward wooden tube with a hole to blow through and seven holes for the fingers. It didn’t allow for a chromatic scale – in other words, not all the semitones were available. This is much like the tin whistles that you see in folk music - they are limited to one key. In the late 17th Century a single key was added and the bore of the instrument changed to become conical. This allowed for almost all of the semitones to be played, and is now known as the ‘Baroque flute’.
At the 1847 Paris Exhibition, the German woodwind manufacturer Theobald Boehm presented a completely new flute he’d designed. This had a cylindrical body made of metal and many keys, making the instrument completely chromatic and with a much larger range than the previous simple design. This flute is what became the modern ‘Concert Flute’, the design with which we are so familiar today.
In simple terms, there are three levels of student flute to choose from – Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. A beginner instrument will generally take the player up to about Grade 5 or 6, the intermediate from about Grade 6 to 8+, and a more advanced one would suit a music college or conservatoire level player. In this blog we are going to look at beginner level flutes.
What do you need in a beginner instrument? Well, firstly it is important to have a well-made flute which has precisely engineered key-work. A very cheap instrument may have a mechanism which isn’t properly regulated and where some of the keys don’t open or close as they should. This makes it hard for the inexperienced player to produce a sound. Most student flutes these days will be made from nickel silver and then silver-plated. The lip-plate (the bit you blow across) is usually designed to be free-blowing and easy for the player. There is nothing more disheartening for a new student than to be unable to make their shiny new instrument work and it can put them off forever.
The price level for a good student flute outfit (including case and cleaning equipment) is around £400 to £600. Brands we suggest are Trevor James, who have been making a wide range of excellent flutes for many years, Yamaha (very famous and whose flutes have been considered the benchmark in many school bands and orchestras) and Pearl – less well-known perhaps, but extremely well-made instruments which have a very rich tone. The models you might like to look at are:
Trevor James TJ10x – these are one of the most popular models for beginners. They make a standard straight-head version (a typical flute as you would see in any orchestra) and also a curved-head model. The curved head, fitted to the body of the flute, brings the whole thing closer to the player’s body and means that the younger, smaller child, or maybe someone with limited movement in their shoulder and arms will find it easier and much more comfortable to hold. A TJ10x will take a player up to around Grade 4 or 5.
Trevor James Privilege – this is an upgrade of the TJ10x and is suitable for either an absolute beginner or someone who has been playing for a while and now wants to move onto a better instrument. The main differences are that it has a solid-silver lip-plate, with the purer metal giving a much better tone. It also has what we call ‘pointed’ or ‘French’ key-work. This means that the keys which aren’t in contact with the fingers, have a little arm which is attached to the middle of the key cover, closing the key very precisely. It’s a nicety which is worth considering as this level of flute will take the player a bit further in their playing career, possibly even up to Grade 8.
Yamaha YFL212 - A stalwart of the student flute market, this flute also has the pointed key-work as described above, but not the solid lip-plate. A curved head model is also available. As the most expensive of the student models it sometimes gets passed over, but is definitely worth looking at if you have the budget.
Pearl PF505 – The first of the Pearl models, this flute has a similar specification to the YFL212. It’s slightly rounder lip-plate design gives a very rich tone. Pearl also produces a model with what they call a ‘Forza’ lip-plate. This is flatter on the back edge and may increase the control the player has over the sound.
Your head might be spinning at this point, but I hope we have cleared up a bit of the mystery surrounding buying a flute. There are many terms we've yet to cover - ‘Split E’, ‘Offset G’, ‘Open-hole’ etc, but these will be covered on another occasion.
If, after having read this, you think that it might be too expensive to get into, why don’t you consider our Musical Instrument Rental Plan, which offers low-cost monthly rental payments from 3 months minimum commitment?
Happy Flute Playing!
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