By the time your flute students have been playing two or three years, they are ready for a flute that has a more sensitive and faster mechanism and allows them to explore a wider range of dynamics, tone color and vibrato. There are many fine brands on the market today to choose from, as well as a dizzying array of features and options. Here is brief explanation of the main features so you can advise your students if they are shopping for a step-up flute.
Silver headjoint and plated body – in many cases, this is the most economical step-up choice available for students and their families. They range from around $1000-$1800. There is a significant improvement in tone quality and sensitivity of the mechanism over beginner flutes. I recommend these for avid band students who want more response and enjoyment out of playing. Several manufacturers make flutes in the $3000-$5000 range with silver headjoint and plated body that have more handmade features than the standard step-up flutes. These flutes should be considered for college-bound players who think they would like to major in music.
Solid silver headjoint and body – all silver does make a difference in sound. These flutes are for serious flute players who think they might want to continue into college. A good step-up silver flute is in the $1800-$2500 range.
Open holes – standard on most step-up flutes. They come with plugs so students can gradually get used to playing with open holes. I recommend taking plugs out by starting with the F key, followed by the A key, E key and then either the G or D keys. The last two can take some time. Having good balance and hand positions is essential for making the transition to open holes.
Y-arms or pointed arms – there are step-up flutes that come with either on the keys you do not finger. Pointed arms look more like professional flutes. The pointed arms do lend a lightness to the mechanism, but it isn’t a significant difference. If looks are important, go with the pointed arms.
In-line vs. off-set G – This depends on the size of your hands, the length/width of your palm and length of your fingers. In general, a smaller hand does better with the off-set G. For me personally, switching to off-set G in my 20s was the best thing I did for myself. My left wrist was straighter under the flute and my thumb was more relaxed.
B-foot – pretty much standard on step-up flutes and higher. Also comes with a Gizmo, also known as the high C facilitator. A very sweet plus for advanced ensemble music. To use it, you finger the high C or C# and open right hand to reach the gizmo at the same time. It improves the response significantly. If you want a C foot, it is a special order these days.
Split E mechanism – As you can see from the diagram, it adds mechanical complication. It does stabilize the high E by closing the G key alone. If you know how to maintain fast air speed, it isn’t really necessary, but I don’t discourage students from getting it if they want it.
C# trill – this feature is available on some step-up flutes (especially all silver flutes) by special request. Is this necessary? I would really recommend this for any serious student. It is not so important for a more casual player who is in band just for the fun of playing and being with their friends. I love the C# trill for all the tricks and hacks it can do like solving the B-C# trill, high G-A trill, high Gb-Ab trill, playing a high Ab super soft and giving another fingering for the C# whose tone color has a bit more hair on it than the standard fingering.
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