What brand of flute do you recommend for the beginners in your band program? Why that particular one? If your response is, “That’s the one we’ve always gotten” or “This was the one that was recommended by my woodwind methods teacher when I was in college”, it might be worth reevaluating your choice because there have been so many improvements in student flutes in recent years. There are also brands on the market now that didn’t exist even five years ago.
There are three main things that you should consider when making a choice of which brand to request from your local dealer. First is whether flute has a modern scale. There are old and venerable brands who haven’t changed their scale since they started making beginner flutes back in the day. The problem with the older scale is it was designed to play in tune at below A-440. In order to get the flute to play at A-440, the headjoint was shortened. Consequently, the low register is flat and the high register is sharp. When a beginner starts on an old scale flute, the student becomes acclimated to hearing the flute out of tune. For example, a screaming high Db and low Eb doesn’t bother them because that’s what they are used to. On flutes with an updated scale, the entire key schematic is slightly shorter so the entire range is better in tune. The newer quality brands have a modern scale. And slowly, the older brands are retooling and incorporating better scales in their beginner flutes.
The second factor to consider is sturdiness. Like the proverbial Timex watch slogan of old, can the flute “take a licking and keep on ticking”? There has been a disturbing trend in recent years to use softer metals to save money in manufacturing. I’ve had way too many experiences in the past few years of seeing bent Ab keys, as in wrapped around the flute body, bent trill keys, twisted main line keys, footjoint keys bent open a 1/4″ or more. While it is true that these things happen because of mishandling by students, it is safe to say that the metals are too soft if the keys can be bent back as easily as bending a paper clip. Another dubious manufacturing trend is having adjustment screws anchored in a nylon slug rather than into threaded metal. In my experience, these screws slip much more easily and constantly need to be adjusted. Lastly, check the quality of the plating. Does it hold up well or does it pit or start to come off, showing the copper under layer?
Thirdly, the quality of the cut of the blow hole can make a huge difference in developing a characteristic sound. There have been huge innovations in headjoint technology in the time I have been a flutist. Most flutists will tell you that the newer brands tend to have better sounding headjoints, though there have been recent improvements in the older brands as well.
In conclusion my suggestions are: Learn as much as you can about all the quality brands available on the market today, both old and new. If you are intensely brand loyal but have concerns about some of the issues raised here, talk to the manufacturer representative in your area and voice your concerns. They do listen. If they hear the same concerns from enough people, things change for the better.
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