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 price points, 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 plated headjoint and body – there have been step up flutes like this around for some time, but there is more customer interest in these models and there are more brands making them in the last couple years because of the jump in price of the model options below. Some of these models offer a silver lip plate and/or riser (the blowing chimney) as either standard or as an add-on. Prices range from $900-$1200
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 $1500-$1900. 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 are handmade rather than machine made. 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 $2400-$3000 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 – more and more step-up flutes that come with pointed arms. Pointed arms look more like professional flutes. The pointed arms do lend a lightness to the mechanism, but it isn’t a significant difference. There are still step up flutes with Y arms available. 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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