Did you know that band directors can often tell which students will drop out of band by looking at the quality and condition of the instruments that they're using? Why is that?
It's because an instrument that is difficult to play or won't perform properly is a huge discouragement to beginning musicians. Like anyone learning a new skill, a beginner can find it challenging to make the first sounds. The instrument used during the first few months of study is critical in determining the success or failure of a young musician.
Beginners are learning the basics of making the notes, so beginner flutes typically don't have the features to produce a high-quality tone. Beginner instruments are designed for early use and gratification for the student.
Qualities of a beginner flute:
- Doesn't require an excessive amount of air
- Plays the correct notes when the correct keys are pressed
- Plays in tune with the other instruments in the band
- Can be repaired and adjusted easily
Step Up Flutes
By the end of the first year of musical study, a student is already outgrowing their beginner instrument both physically and musically. A musician's instrument should grow with them. This means it's time to step up to a more advanced, higher-quality instrument that will complement their developing music skills.
Advantages of step-up instruments:
- A larger and fuller sound
- Clearer, more pleasant tone
- Quicker response time
- More powerful resonation
- Better dynamic expression and control
You may be wondering, "How advanced of an instrument is needed at this stage of musical study?" Step-up flutes are available in three levels: intermediate, performer, and top-line. While most beginner flutes are made of nickel silver, step-up flutes are made of increasing amounts of solid silver. Solid silver vibrates more freely, creating a fuller, more pleasing tone with more harmonics. Here's a breakdown of the different step-up levels to help you decide:
An intermediate flute typically has a solid silver head joint. This addition makes a dramatic difference in tone and response that often surprises and thrills a flutist playing one for the first time. Band directors, fellow musicians, and those with a musical ear notice the improvement in tone immediately. A good model for junior high students likely to continue on flute into high school is an intermediate open-hole flute with a low-B foot. This model will keep up with their developing abilities and should not have to be replaced unless the student decides to pursue music after high school.
Performer flutes have solid silver head joints, bodies and foot joints. They offer additional improvements in tone and response. For students who are serious about their music or who might play past high school, a performer open-hole flute with low B foot is a good choice.
Music majors or professionals most often play top-line flutes, although others sometimes choose them too. Top-line flutes have solid silver head joints, bodies, foot joints, and keys. They provide the best response and tone, and the special attention they get in manufacturing is meant to make them the ultimate instruments.
Additional Step-Up Features
A low-B foot is an option that is included with most step-up flutes. The "low B" is actually an additional key at the end of the flute; to accommodate it, the foot joint is slightly longer. As well as giving the flutist the additional note, it improves the overall tone of the flute.
"Open-hole" refers to holes in the middle of the keys; the flutist covers them with the fingers when playing. Open-hole/closed-hole can be a matter of player preference, although most fine flutists play open-hole. Flutists often say open-hole gives them better flexibility and control of the sound. An open-hole flute is a safe choice because it can be played as a closed-hole flute by inserting plugs. Plugs are also helpful in giving a flutist time to adapt to open holes.
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