5 Tests for Shopping for the Best Flute for You

5 Tests for Shopping for the Best Flute for You

play testing five piccolos

Shopping for a new instrument can be a lot of fun! 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.

My daughter needed a new piccolo. We went to the Central Ohio Flute Association’s Flute Festival. Together, we used this method to chose the best piccolo for her.

play testing five piccolos
5 piccolos

Find a Quiet Place. Choose 4-7 Flutes to Test

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.

Tone

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.

Response

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?

Intonation

Play scales with a tuner. Are the registers consistently sharp or flat? Try our famously out of tune notes:

  • C# in the staff (tendency is sharp)
  • low C, D-flat, and D (tendency is flat)
  • high E-flat (tendency is sharp)

Dynamic Range

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.

In the middle range, how much air can you blow before the note breaks?

Get Help

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! Your shopping expedition is complete.

piccolo shopping
We agreed! She loves the new piccolo!

Ask Questions

Once you have found the right instrument, find out if there’s a warranty. I know that Flute World gives you 90 days to have the flute adjusted for free by their technicians. Some places will allow you to finance the instrument, spreading out payments over several year. Ask questions before you swipe a card and officially end the shopping expedition.

Have Fun

Even if you’re not ready to buy a new instrument, it can be fun to try things anyway. This helps you to develop a vocabulary and a feel for what you like best. The picture below is my adult student trying a bass flute, just for fun!

bass flute at the Central Ohio Flute Association event
testing a bass flute at the Central Ohio Flute Association event

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