While early flutes, and many types of flutes used in world music, are wooden, the flutes used in orchestras today are metal – often made of silver or silver-plate. The flute is two feet long and played by blowing across a mouthpiece while holding the instrument out to the side. It consists of three parts that are joined together – the head, the middle and the foot. Different pitches are produced by holding down different configurations of thirteen keys, which changes the length of the column of air vibrating inside the flute. The tone can also be altered by changing the shape of the embouchure (the shape and position of the lips), the amount of breath, and the angle at which it’s blown across the mouthpiece.
Flute is a popular instrument for beginning musicians, because it is relatively uncomplicated, easy to transport, versatile and has a beautiful sound.
The player needs to have long enough arms and large enough fingers to hold the instrument and reach the keys easily. As with all of the woodwinds, a flutist needs good breath capacity. Because the flute is held out to the side where the player can’t see their fingers, it also requires good coordination. Compared to other woodwinds, the flute is easier to play with braces on the teeth.
Young flutists often start playing flute around age 9 or 10 in a band program. Younger students may start with Suzuki method or other private teachers. Some online lessons are also available.
If a very young child is not big enough to comfortably handle a flute, there are a few alternatives. First, if they are younger than seven, they might start with a recorder, which gives them an opportunity to develop finger coordination and use of their breath. Some flutes are made shorter for small musicians by curving the mouthpiece around. A few instrument makers also manufacture special “beginners flutes” that are shorter and lighter than other flutes with a curved head.
The flute is used in many types of music. In addition to being played as a solo instrument, the flute is played in orchestras, bands, flute choirs and jazz ensembles. With its higher voice, the flute often plays the melody in ensembles, as well as harmony descant parts that soar above the melody.
Flutists read music on the treble clef.
Because the fingering is the same, experienced flutists also often play the piccolo. The piccolo is a short flute, about a foot long, that produces a very high pitch that stands out high above the rest of the instruments. “Piccolo” means “little” in Italian. It comes in two pieces. Although it’s held differently, the flute also has similar fingering to the saxophone, so that’s usually an easy cross-over instrument for flutists.
Where To Buy A Flute
See “Where To Buy Musical Instruments” for general buying advice on:
- Buying in a Specialty Store vs. “Big Box” Stores
- Buying Online vs. In-Person
- Renting vs. Buying
- Buying Used Instruments
How To Buy A Flute
Resist the temptation to buy a very low-priced flute. In the long-run, good design and construction will be worth the extra cost. It’s best to stick with a good quality brand-name, such as Pearl, Jupiter or Yamaha – possibly also Emerson, Armstrong, Gemeinhardt, Trevor James or others. Check your options out with a teacher or experienced player if possible before you buy. Used flutes are often available at good prices. That may be a good beginner solution, but do have the instrument checked by someone knowledgeable, because it may require expensive repairs or repadding, which may add significantly to the cost. Professional-level flutes are often silver, but that’s not necessary for a student flute – most are silver-plated. Most advanced players play “open hole” flutes, but most beginners start with closed hole (plateau) flutes.
Sample Flute Prices
$300 – 500
$700 – 1,500
If you are buying your instrument from a specialty music store, inquire about a trade-in policy. When your student is ready for a larger or higher quality instrument, they will often give you a good portion of the original instrument price back when you trade it in.
Flute Accessories: What Else You’ll Need
Be sure to get a sturdy, well-fastening case to protect the flute. A music stand and metronome are recommended for all instrumentalists.
Flute Care and Maintenance
Tune the flute first when playing with other instruments by pulling the head joint out or pushing it in to increase or decrease the length of the instrument.
When putting the flute together, hold only the non-keyed parts. Never force the pieces together. Don’t oil or grease the joints. If the joints are too tight or too loose, take it to a flute repair specialist for adjustment.
Cleaning: After playing, clean the inside of each of the three flute parts by inserting a cotton cloth on a cleaning rod. Insert a corner of the cloth through the slit at the end of the cleaning rod, wrap the cloth around the rod, insert it into the flute and turn it several times. This will remove moisture that might cause tarnishing or cause problems with swollen pads that don’t fit properly. Also clean the outside with a clean cotton cloth to remove perspiration or dust. Don’t use any oils or liquid silver polish.
Keep the flute in a case. Don’t keep the moist cleaning cloth or other things that might damage the flute in the case.
Once a year or so, take the flute to a reputable repair shop for servicing to keep it in good playing order. They will inspect, clean and oil the instrument, adjust keys and replace pads if needed.
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net