Although it might seem almost any flute will work for a beginner in school band, it's not really true. A beginner flutist struggles to make the first sounds and find the initial notes. The first few months are the most difficult and are critical for a young flutist. A flute that won't perform properly, even when the flutist does, is too much of a discouragement for most beginning musicians. Band directors often say they can predict which students will drop out of band by looking at the quality and condition of the instruments they begin on.
A beginner doesn't need the finest or most expensive flute, but s/he does need a flute that responds freely (doesn't require an excessive amount of air), plays the correct notes when the right keys are pressed, plays in tune with the other instruments in the band, and can be repaired and adjusted as it (inevitably) needs it. (Flutes are sensitive instruments with lots of adjustment screws.)
Appropriate beginner flutes are available from many sources:
- Buying outright. If you're sure your child will like playing music and will want to stay with the flute, you could purchase a flute outright. However flutes that are appropriate for school band use aren't inexpensive, and it's difficult to tell which model will be right for the long term until the student has played at least a few months.
- Renting. Renting gives the child (and parents) time to see how s/he likes playing
music, consider whether flute is the correct instrument, and consider
what type of flute is right for the longer term. The band director knows and usually advises beginners' parents where they can rent the right kind of flute, considering not just the cost and quality of the flutes rented, but also the condition they are kept in and the support the company provides to keep the instruments playing properly. A portion of the rent paid can be applied to the later purchase of an instrument. (This is the most popular way to get a student started in music. )
Buy (or borrow) a used one. When a good used flute can be gotten at a low enough price, it might make sense to take a chance on the student and buy it outright. But always check first with the band director to assure the flute you're considering is the appropriate quality and will play in tune with the band. Then take it to a flute repair shop to see what it will take to put it in playing condition. (Flutes that have been sitting up for a year or more virtually always need some or all of the pads replaced to play properly, typically at a cost of $100-400. )
- Internet. The Internet is considered a dangerous place to buy a musical instrument, but someone who knows flutes and is careful can sometimes find a bargain. By some estimates 90-95% of the flutes sold on the Internet are foreign off-brands and inappropriate for school band use; indeed many directors say they are the students' and director's worst nightmare. However appropriate flutes can occasionally be found on eBay and other Internet sites, sometimes at good prices. Once again, confirm that it is a appropriate brand and model and either check its condition carefully or anticipate repair costs as part of your purchase math, since a flute that has been sitting up virtually always needs pad replacement to play properly.
More questions about flutes? Reach an instrument specialist by email here or by phone at (901) 323-8888.