When a child initially takes an interest in learning to play the flute, parents often opt to purchase or rent a basic instrument, and with good reason. While there are numerous benefits to learning to play, the fact is that instruments are costly and there is no guarantee that the child will enjoy the learning process. However, if your child ends up loving the flute, at some point you’ll need to upgrade.
Of course, for the parent who is not musically inclined, it can be challenging to select the right instrument to advance to. After all, you don’t want to choose something that is only slightly better than what your child already has. On the other hand, you likely don’t want to go top of the line just yet and you also don’t want to buy an instrument that will be too challenging. So what’s the best way to choose an instrument that’s the natural next step in your child’s musical development? Here are some tips for discerning what sets an intermediate flute apart from a beginner version.
Durability vs. Sound Quality
Beginner music students usually take some time to learn the finer points of how to care for an instrument. As such, the majority of starter flutes are made of mainly silver plated nickel. The body and the moving parts are usually made of these materials because this type of construction can withstand a decent amount of wear and tear. However, while silver plated nickel flutes are the sturdier option, the sound they produce isn’t as good as what you will get from a higher quality flute.
Closed Hole Keys
On beginner flutes there are no holes in the middle of the keys to be covered by the musician’s fingers. Having fewer extras to focus on while still learning proper hand placement is a big selling feature for beginners. Once a student graduates to an an intermediate flute there are almost always small holes on the five keys that are directly pressed by the fingers. These holes present more of a challenge to the player, but also allow for clearer sound. Another advantage of the holes is that having them forces students to polish their hand positioning, as the holes must be covered correctly to achieve clear notes.
B and C Foot Joints
Beginner flutes typically have what is known as a C foot joint. The foot joint is the end portion of the instrument. It is controlled by the right pinky finger pressing on the end key of the flute. On a beginner flute the lowest note is a C. Most of the time when you upgrade to an intermediate flute the instrument will have another key (a B foot joint) that allows it to play a low B. There is much debate among flutists as to whether it’s more important to achieve the richer sound produced by the B foot or the clearer upper register of the C foot models. No matter your preference, most intermediate flutes include the B foot.
If your student needs an instrument upgrade, but is not yet ready to move on to an intermediate flute, there are still some options to obtain better sound quality. Replacing a headjoint with a higher end version makes a flute more responsive and generally brightens the tone of the instrument. Higher priced head joints are hand crafted rather than machine cut, so they provide more subtle nuances in sound. Another upgrade option is to add a gold lip plate. While a solid gold flute it out of most people’s price range, changing a regular lip plate for a gold one is a relatively economical way to improve the tone of a flute.
This should give you a basic understanding of the main differences between beginner models and intermediate flutes. If you’re still having trouble deciding which upgrades your student is ready for, try consulting with his/her music teacher. The music teacher’s input should help clarify where your child is in the learning process and which upgrades would be most beneficial. Another option is to head to Music & Arts–we’re here to answer your questions and help you decide whether or not it’s time for an upgrade.