In two previous blog articles (“New Flute Buying Guide” and “Intermediate Flute Buying Guide”), I discussed the different types of flutes, features, and specifications. Today I will talk about ways to test a flute: what to listen for and how to narrow the field.
Once you have narrowed your choices to the flutes that serve your needs and fit into your price range, you are ready to begin testing. Many music stores will allow you to use a practice room or quiet back room for play testing. Online retailers will ship several flutes for you to try at home.
Play some long tones. What is your first impression? Almost always we have a visceral reaction to the first tones on the flute. If your first feeling is “yuck,” put the flute down. No further testing is necessary.
If you like the tone or if it sparks curiosity, continue with the next tests. Play some slow scales or a legato passage you know from memory.
Develop a vocabulary for describing the tone. Does it sound “silky,” “bold,” “fluid,” “nasal,” “bright?” Perhaps you can assign a color to the tone. Be specific. Instead of purple, you might think “indigo velvet, like the kind a queen would wear in the winter.”
Begin playing the flutes one after another. It’s helpful if you can have a friend help you by handing you the flutes. Try playing without looking to see which is which. Playing the same short passage on each flute is helpful.
Does the flute feel easy to play, free, and air efficient? Or do you have to blow more air while feeling more resistance? A more resistant flute could be the right flute for you, so don’t discount it. Just notice.
Play short detached notes in all octaves. Listen for the beginning sound. Is it crisp and controlled or jagged? How easy is it to hit the high notes? Try the combination A-E in the upper octave. Does the sound split or is it easy to go between the notes?
Do some passages that include double tonguing. What is the response of the flute? How fast can you go and keep the notes clear?
Play scales with a tuner. Are the registers consistently sharp or flat? Try our famously out of tune notes:
Play loud low notes, high notes with tapers. Use a tuner and see how much you have to adjust to keep the notes in tune.
Middle range- how much air before the note breaks
Enlist the help of a friend to help you do a blind test of your short-listed flutes. Your friend should hand you the flutes. Don’t look at the flute or try to guess which one it is. I suggest adding your current flute to the test flutes. I find it helpful to have a “control” flute in the mix. Try playing the same passage on all the flutes. Which one is your favorite?
Now play the flutes for your friend but don’t let your friend know which one you are playing. Play the same test passage. Which one is your friend’s favorite?
If your favorite and your friend’s favorite are the same flute, you have found your new instrument!
Still working on this, but it’s time to shut down the computer and my brain for the night.