Buying a flute for yourself or child in order to commence music lessons can be more than a bit daunting. There are 1000’s of music shops up and down the country and also specialist flute shops too and of course online.So where to go? What to buy? How much do I need to spend?
Not all of those questions have a straightforward or easy answer and different teachers will have different opinions. My best advice is speak to the teacher you are planning to study with, before spending any money.
The most frequently asked question I get asked is “How much do I need to spend?” This depends on the age and standard of the student, the size of the student and whether they are likely to stick with it.
If a student is young, small and never played another instrument, I often recommend that they start off with a fife. Fife’s are plastic and made by companies likes Yamaha and Aulos and have no keys but holes, like a recorder, although you blow across the hole like you do on the flute. This is the most affordable option as the fife, a book and a music bag will cost under £20 at the specialist flute shops or on the world’s largest online retailer. This is a small amount of money and it’ll show whether a student has the aptitude for music, the interest to practice regularly and can get to grips with the basics of forming a good embouchure (mouth shape) before progressing to a flute and before spending a larger sum of money. I have had so many pupils switch from fife to flute without any problems, as the fife book only teaches the notes that have the exact same fingerings on the flute.
Another option for younger children and those with a budget to consider, are the NUVO flute range. They are available again at online retailers and the specialist flute shops and are priced from £120 – £180. They come in a curved head joint or straight head joint option. A curved head joint is just like it sounds it had a “U” shaped curved in the top section, so those with shorter arms don’t have to stretch too far. The curved head option flute only plays down to a low D not a C like a standard flute and is made of a lightweight plastic and has silicone pads making it fully waterproof and makes playing in the rain possible! When a student is ready you can buy a straight head and a foot joint to go into the body of the flute you own. I am really not a fan of a curved head joint, I think they are hard to balance properly and have found pupils can develop really bad hand positions to try and stop the flute from slipping.I like the idea of these flutes but have found I am always tinkering with the adjuster screws to get the flute playing properly. The sound is OK but not great compared to a standard metal flute. You will need to upgrade this type of flute after a year or so and I’d recommend definitely before taking an exam, due to the tone limitations these instruments have. Again, maybe the fife is a better option?
So now the “standard” metal concert flute. Flutes like cars, phones and laptops can vary in price for cheap to ridiculous! If you are just starting out, there is no need to spend thousands of pounds on an instrument. (I’ll deal with upgrading in another blog post) What you need is an instrument that is of a decent quality and is reliable. Please I beg, do not go for a flute from a supermarket or an online auction site that isn’t a brand, or is green, red, pink or purple! These flutes are very cheaply made and will cost you a fortune in repairs, probably far more than the instrument cost you to buy. The metal is just too soft and bends easily rendering them unplayable in a matter of weeks. Instead look at brands like Yamaha, Trevor James, Jupiter and Pearl, they have student level flutes that are silver plated and that will serve you well for many years and they will cost from around £350 -£500. Brand name flutes have a value 2nd hand, so if you or child decide the flute isn’t for you, you will be able to sell it and get some money back, the cheaper flutes just don’t have a resale value. Talking of 2nd hand or used instruments, again the specialist flute shops are often a good port of call. Online auction sites, can be good, if you know what you’re looking for. However, some of the “brands” listed on these sites are actually copies, or could have been badly abused and will be unplayable regardless of what the description says.
Once you know what it is you’re after, then look online to do a search for companies that are doing offers, Summer holidays are usually a good time. Some of the bigger retailers do also offer rent to buy schemes so you aren’t paying the full amount at once.
Do be careful with your local music shop, some shops in smaller towns carry only the aforementioned crazily cheap flutes and can often be pushy to sell and will try and convince you that these flutes are of the same standard as the “brands”. They want/need to sell to pay for their high street rent and rates, and sadly, I have found that they aren’t that bothered about the customer being satisfied. You do get a better service from the well known large music retailers and specialist flute shops and you get the advantage of dealing with people knowledgeable with the brands, and or flute players.
I feel it is always best to consult with your teacher, they will have recommendations on instruments and the best retailers. Music is not a cheap hobby and we don’t want to see people wasting money or having to continually fork out for expensive repairs. In my opinion I can honestly say that it is better to initially spend a bit more, to get a good quality and reliable instrument.