The flute is one of the mostly popular woodwind instruments, and the transverse flute is the standard orchestral design, so-named because it is held horizontally and air is blown across the mouthpiece rather than into it.
It is usually made from metals like nickel or silver, or sometimes hardwoods like Grenadilla. As a result of how it is played, the tone is much breathier and softer than the recorder, but it does need a lot more puff (air), so for younger children there are smaller flutes available. There are also bent head flutes available which reduce the reach required by younger players. You should consult with a teacher and discuss the best options for the student. By high school (when most people start the flute) the majority of students can cope with a standard instrument.
Because of the special breathing, sound generation and fingering techniques required it is best to get professional tuition and guidance from the outset, as is the case with all woodwind instruments.
A silver plated flute is the most popular instrument though it takes a little time to care for it each week. Nickel instruments don’t tarnish and are harder wearing but to a trained ear the can lack a little in tone quality. Ultimately players will graduate into solid silver instruments which have a finer tone quality. Many of the world’s leading players have gold instruments for a yet more refined sound.
The key mechanisms on flutes need care and should be protected from dropping or heavy bumps so a good case or a flute stand are strongly advised.
Some buying tips
Tip 1. Get the teacher’s advice before shopping, as they will have to teach the child and will want to be sure you are buying a good quality instrument.
Tip 2. Make sure you buy a flute of the correct specification. Closed hole keys with an offset G, an E mechanism and a C foot joint is the most common. You may hear shop staff talk about inline or open hole keys, B foot joints or other things such as drawn tone holes, and there’s a quick glossary at the end of this information sheet. But it’s best to take direction from your teacher.
Tip 3. There are different finishes of flute available. The most popular for beginners is silver plated finish, which is comfortable to hold and relatively easy to keep clean
Tip 4. When buying the flute, ensure it has been checked and tested properly, as flutes have intricate parts which, if not set up correctly, can make it difficult to play. This includes making sure the joints are not too loose or too tight.
Tip 5. If the flute is for a small child, a curved head flute may be required to avoid strain. Some curved flutes are also supplied with the straight head joint making the transition to a standard flute easy as the child grows. Check with the teacher if this is necessary and always follow their advice.
Tip 6. Because a flute is such a complex instrument that needs to be properly set up, buying a flute on the internet can be risky. If you do want to buy on the web, then stick with a popular brand which will ensure it is the correct pitch, is well designed and manufactured. You may need to then pay a local music products store or woodwind technical to set it up. A poorly set up flute will be almost impossible to play.
Like all instruments a poor quality one will soon become unpayable and the learner is more likely to lose enthusiasm. You and your child deserve something at a quality level that will encourage them to play – it is a long term investment and can be a life-long pleasure.