That is quite a question isn’t it? Really, when is it time? Is there ever an “absolutely must” time or is it only an “I really want it” time?
Then again when you have decided that it is time to upgrade, what flute do you get and how much do you spend?
Here are my thoughts on when to move up to a better flute. I hope this helps your decision making.
Beginner to Intermediate
There are a couple rules I follow when I recommend to my student’s parents that it is time upgrade to an intermediate flute.
Age is one of the factors.
Once my student enters 6th grade, I begin telling their parents that between now and 8 grade their child will need to move to a new flute. This gives the parents plenty of time to do their research, make an informed decision, and to gather the funds necessary to purchase the next instrument.
This is so much better than getting the news that they need to upgrade their child’s instrument – Now!
Do they have to upgrade? Maybe not, but competition in high school and for solo festival competitions make an upgrade very helpful.
Another factor is the student’s progress.
There are some students who are progressing very fast and would benefit from an upgrade before they enter high school. So, at this point I bring it up with the parents and see if it’s feasible. With other beginners it is their tonal development that I look for when recommending a new flute.There are times when a student is actually responding to tonal exercises, but their current flute does not really reflect this progress. That’s when a better flute would make a noticeable difference immediately.
Now that you know it is time to upgrade what do you look for in the next flute?
The cost for an intermediate flute can range from $1,000 to $4,000 (USD). I will always help a parent find an instrument if they ask but many times they want to know what specifications that I recommend and then they look for their own bargain.
So, here are the specs that I recommend:
Solid silver head joint and body
Everything else that a flute can have is just added value or more specifically it raises the price and weight of the instrument. Some parents will send me a link to a less expensive flute they found, asking if I would approve. But it’s less expensive because it only has a solid silver head joint. Here is where I try to be sensitive to the students financial situation. My preference is to wait and save a bit more for the solid silver body as well. For many students this will be the last flute they buy. So, I want to see them with a good instrument that will be great for whatever the future has in store. For some students the additional cost of a solid silver body is too great a burden. So, getting solid silver only on the head joint is what they need.
These are the general signs that I look when recommending a new flute. However, as always if a family cannot absorb the cost of a new instrument, I help them look for used instruments and in some cases I support just keeping the beginner instrument because I would rather have them keep playing then to quit.
Costs in a nutshell: most of the intermediate flutes in the above price range are going to be good flutes that will help a student transition from beginner to intermediate. So, it’s is a matter of personal preference as to which one you think makes you sound better.
Intermediate – Professional
The move to a professional model is a move not taken lightly. Of course, I would like to say all my students who are going to be music majors in college should have a professional model flute. But really, I will only recommend a pro flute to students who are going to major in music in college. However, I don’t think it is absolutely necessary for all flute majors to have a pro flute upon entering college. If their intermediate flute is a good one, then it can take a music education major a very long way through their musical career. It will then depend on their own personal goals if they need to upgrade to the professional or not.
However, if a High School student is planning to be a performance major, then they should have a professional model flute before college auditions. An intermediate flute will just not be competitive enough for the goals of a performance career.
The cost of a professional flute is prohibitive for too many parents and students. The range is anywhere from $6,000 for a good used instrument to $15,000 for a new solid silver b foot flute. Additionally, the price can go up from there with the addition of extra keys and metals like gold and platinum. Flutes can add gold in may different ways from a riser (the part that attaches a lip plate to the flute), to the lip plate, the entire head joint, gold keys and finally the entire flute. Today flute makers are adding touches of gold mixed in to the silver (hello Haynes!). Others have lined the flute with gold. Still other flute makers have come up with different metal alloys to make different tone colors. There are so many different choices out there that it can be difficult to decide. The best approach is to find a dealer in these professional model flutes and have them work with you to try out several flutes in your price range. This extra pair of ears can help you decide what type and combinations make you sound the best.
Costs in a nutshell: the more money you spend on a flute the better it is up to about $15,000. All the additional money spent after that is preference.
I definitely have my preferences when recommending beginner, intermediate, and professional model flutes but if you compare apples to apples you will be able to hear which one makes you or your child sound better and that is the one you pick.
Does everyone need to upgrade at some point? No, I don’t think everyone must upgrade. I have some adults in my private studio, or in my adult flute choir that play on an intermediate flute and that’s okay for them.
Do you need to upgrade? Perhaps. Feel free to let me know what specific questions that I can answer for you.
And when you do, take your time, try out several flutes, and enjoy the search. It’s such a fun experience!