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Walt LaForet
PO Box 222, Chalfont, PA 18914
Shopping Center for Native American Style Flutes, Flute Accessories   

FAQ about band and orchestra flutes (Frequently Asked Questions)

For FAQ about Native American Flutes, click here.


Click here for FAQ on Native American Flutes  

Should I rent or buy a flute?

Many people feel that it is better to rent until you find out if your son or daughter is serious about the instrument. Lets compare renting a flute to buying one of my demo flutes for $299.95, or a new flute for $329.95 to $399.95. To rent a flute at even a minimal fee of $25.00 a month comes to $300 in one year. At that time if you want to buy it you must come up with an additional $350 to $450 more. (Figures are from the local area) As you can see there is quite a savings to buying rather than renting. If you choose not to buy the flute you have rented for all this time, you must turn it in and have nothing to show for your money spent. If you bought a flute, and your son or daughter does not want to continue with it, you can sell it and thereby increase your savings. Prices vary and some music stores give a deal with the first 6 months for $30 or something like that but the math still supports buying a flute rather than rent one.

A good deal at a garage sale/pawn shop/on-line auction?

For a flute to play easily for a beginning student it must have pads that seal properly, have no sticking keys, and be adjusted and regulated properly. (That is refurbished properly) You must add the cost of refurbishing to your "bargain" to see what it is really costing you. This is not to say there are not any bargains out there, but be sure you know what you are getting into. Some flutes are not worth the refurbishing costs even if you get the flute for free. If you start your son/daughter with a flute that is difficult to play, it can be very discouraging.

What is the best brand flute to buy for my son or daughter?

For a beginner, ease of playing should be the first consideration. A closed hole* flute is easier to play than open hole, or French style. A C foot* flute is sufficient for a beginner. As it works out, a closed hole C foot flute is the cheapest. An offset G key* makes it easier to reach that key with less strain on the hand, although some teachers insist on an inline G but normally all student flutes are offset G. 
As far as brand, it is very subjective and in a student flute you cannot go wrong if you stick with a major brand.  For what it is worth, my personal opinion in ranking student flutes for tone, ease of play, and workmanship: Yamaha is tops, made in Japan, and the Gemeinhardt is a close second, and a little cheaper.  Then you have Emerson & Armstrong, these are also an good makes. The next level is Selmer, Bundy, etc. These are very popular in my area and are good beginning flutes. I do not recommend the very cheap Chinese flutes that are available under different names. 
* See other FAQ for information on these items.

How do I learn to play? 

To learn to play and master the standard metal flute you will need lessons from a teacher and many months/years of practice.  If you want to play right "out of the gate" I would suggest you look at the Native American Flute. It is easy to play and there is no music to read as Native American flute music has traditionally been 'made up' on the spot, by playing what one feels. It is a wonderful tool for self expression.  And they are very affordable as well.
Also we have recorders listed with the standard flutes.

What is your most popular flute accessory?

The Pro Tec A-302-MT flute case cover with a piccolo pocket has taken the lead this year. It protects the flute case from opening and spilling your flute out on the ground as well as providing a shoulder strap and pockets for accessories. One pocket is large enough to hold a piccolo case.  Polishing cloths & 3M silver protectors are also popular.
How do I learn to play with vibrato? (By Elisabeth LaForet)

The easiest way to think about how to make vibrato is this: vibrato uses the very same muscles that you use when you whisper "ha ha ha."  It should sound very free and relaxed, but to make it sound natural, you have practice it like anything else on the flute, until it becomes second nature.  This way, you will be able to control every aspect of your vibrato, including both speed and depth.

Some vibrato practicing tips:

First, get comfortable whispering "ha ha ha" very evenly.  It's not like great huffs of air as in belly laughing, but more gentle.  Think of a dog panting - that shallow kind of ha ha-ing, nothing too big or disruptive.   Feel what muscles are involved in this: you should feel your throat pulsing the air rather than huffing it from your stomach (or your diaphragm, as some flutists prefer to think).  

Then, if you have a metronome set a very slow tempo at first, maybe around 80 or 90. Using triplet groups, do three pulses to a beat. Work for absolute control and evenness.  In performance, you won't want machine-like vibrato, but the more you can control it and make it sound exactly alike now when you practice it, the more you'll be able to vary it the way you want to in the future.

Speed up as you get comfortable... the average vibrato speed is generally around 116-120 on the metronome (using 3 pulses to a beat).  Vibrato speed can also vary depending on the style of the piece you're playing.  Despite how technical creating vibrato is, using it is entirely an artistic judgment, so it's up to you how fast or slow you want it to be for everything you play, but just be careful that you don't get TOO slow, or else it will sound like "waah waah waah"...  And too fast, and you'll sound like a nanny goat. :)  

Once you have more control over the speed, you want to think about the depth of the vibrato, too. Vibrato is actually made by pitch bending, although it's fast enough that we don't perceive it as a bad kind of pitch bending.

To visualize what vibrato is, try thinking of the note you're playing as a straight line and the vibrato as a wavy line juxtaposed on the straight line. You can have several different types of vibrato:

A) Vibrato that spikes above the note (so the wiggles of the vibrato line would push above the straight line).

B) Vibrato that dips below the note (wiggly parts going below the straight line)

C) Vibrato that's in between (wiggles bisecting the straight line to wave both above and below the line)

It's good to be able to use all kinds of vibrato as there'll be different situations in which a certain kind is better than the others.  What vibrato you'll use will vary from piece to piece, and from musical character to musical character within each piece.  Some pieces will call for full, rich vibrato, others will need fast, brilliant vibrato, others shallow, barely-there vibrato, etc.... the varieties you can create are endless!   Always be creative with it. :)

Vibrato that pushes the pitch up rather than down (type A), is good for low register notes, when we have a tendency to go flat. Vibrato that dips below the main pitch of the note (type B) is good for high register stuff, to keep us from going sharp.   This type of vibrato makes a very rich, warm sound, and is the kind that flutist Julius Baker often used.  And type C vibrato is your general, in-between kind.

So, thinking of vibrato as both speed and depth, you should be able to get vibrato that you can control to beautify and vary your sound.

When to use it:
Next, there's the question of when to use vibrato. Your goal is to have vibrato that you can bring in and out of notes, so it's not like you have an "on" and "off" switch. Vibrato on every note is too much, so choose when to use vibrato very carefully. Sometimes on long notes, you might try adding vibrato late, or starting with vibrato and taking it out... there's a whole world of possibilities to try, so try switching it up a lot, according to what sounds right for the kind of music you're playing.

The best way to learn when to use vibrato and how it should sound is by imitation, so I highly recommend checking out some CDs of Julius Baker, Jeanne Baxtresser, Alberto Almarza, Jeffrey Khaner, or Jean-Pierre Rampal at your library. (If they don't have any, they should be able to borrow some from another library for you, usually free of charge.)  I would avoid listening to James Galway's recordings for learning vibrato, because his is quite fast, and sounds rather nanny goat-ish at times. :)

Flutists aren't the only ones to listen to, either.  Violinists always have great vibrato (although it's typically faster than what sounds good on the flute, but listen to how they use it).  And singers, too - jazz singers are great for this, as well as popular singers, too.

Bottom line, just be sure that you can control whatever you do with your vibrato. If something happens involuntarily, the goal is to find a way to be able to control it, so you're making your vibrato the way you want it, not the way it happens to come out.  Many flutists get a nervous tremolo kind of vibrato that happens involuntarily - this is what you want to avoid.

What is the difference between B foot / C foot?

On a B foot flute, the foot joint is longer and has an extra key (the B key, little surprise here!) allowing the player to play low B. The low B is not required too often. Aside form the lowest pitch, the footjoint influences the timbre and response. All student flutes are C foot and that is sufficient until you advance to a "step up" flute.
Photo of B/C foot joints

What if I have no musical experience and just want to play for fun?

If you cannot read music and have never played an instrument consider the wooden Native American Flute.  They have some great advantages over other musical instruments.  They are very easy to play and inexpensive.  You do not have to read music to play one as the Native Americans, like all tribal cultures, never had a written music language. They developed instruments that were naturally harmonic. No musical background is necessary to play these flutes. To produce the sound, one simply blows into the instrument; the unique design easily creates the music. They are also inexpensive allowing you to own and enjoy various models made from different woods and in different keys. The Native American flute is constructed with two chambers, one you blow into and the air flow is directed out a hole into the other chamber which makes the sound. The length of the flute determines the key.  It is a wonderful tool for self expression requiring very little maintenance.  To learn more about Native American Flutes, click here. 

Warning: Most people who purchase a Native American Flute love it so much they buy more flutes in various keys & woods. You can't say I did not warn you.

What is an open hole verses a closed hole flute?

An open hole flute has holes in 5 of the keys that need to be covered with the players' fingers. Closed hole flutes are also called plateau style. Open hole flutes are sometimes called "French" style, not to be confused with "French pointed" keys on professional flutes. Open hole flutes are harder to master but the holes can easily be plugged to allow a student to learn on a closed hole system, and then remove the plugs when they advance. Opinions differ on this feature. Most advanced players prefer open hole for advanced techniques, increased volume, the ability to half cover the holes, and quicker response. It also requires you to have proper hand position.
Photo of Open/Closed hole flutes

Is Silver or Nickel plating the best?

Most student flutes are made of "nickel silver". Nickel silver is made of a brass/nickel alloy and has NO silver in it. This base metal is then plated with real silver or nickel. In a plated instrument, there is no difference in the sound between nickel plate or silver plate. The difference is in endurance of the finish. Now, nickel does not need to be polished as it does not tarnish when exposed to the air IN THE SHORT TERM. But as it gets older, nickel tends to get, what I call, "smoky" in appearance. This cloudiness will not polish out. Silver on the other hand, does tarnish quickly, and will need to be polished with a silver polishing cloth. (Please do not use liquid polish) But a tarnished silver finish can be made to look very nice with proper polishing. In my experience, silver holds up better in the long run, but nickel requires less maintenance.

What is the difference between an Inline and Offset G?

The double G key that you play with the third finger of your left hand is the key we are talking about. It can be placed on the same steel rod as the other keys (in line) or on a smaller steel rod of its own, closer to the hand (Offset). There are different opinions on this feature, many professionals & teachers prefer inline G, but an offset G allows for a more comfortable hand position and can lead to better hand health over the years of playing.
Photo, inline G on top

What is a "step up" flute?

After a while your flute teacher may recommend getting a "step up" flute. (This is a good thing!) This flute usually has the following features: Open holes*, a B foot*, solid silver head, sometimes a solid silver body & foot as well. Some of the components are better quality also, springs, pads, etc.
* See other FAQ for information on these items.

Some words about getting nervous and "squeaking" in front of an audience?  (By Elisabeth LaForet)

Well, you're certainly not alone here. I don't know how often I've thought "I never did that at home, why did I have to do that in the concert?!" Performing in front of any kind of crowd, even just a few people, makes us play much differently than when we're at home. Nerves are inevitable, but you want to make your excitement work for you instead of against you.

It sounds to me that when you get nervous, you make those squeaking noises either from the fact that because you're excited and nervous, you're using more air than you usually do when you're at home, or, you may be tonguing harder than usual. (Or maybe a little of both.) Also, sometimes, those squeaking noises may be happening at home as well, but since they're often not counted as actual "mistakes", like a wrong note is, these may be overlooked until the performance. 

Depending on how big your sound is when you're playing comfortably at home, you can decide whether you need to work on being able to make a louder sound without cracking the notes, or whether you may just need to work on not letting your nerves come out in how much you blow or tongue while performing. 

If you think you need a louder sound when performing, doing long tones are good to help that. (Yes, I know they're boring, but... ;) Play a long tone and think of the note as being a big, thick, condensed sound. Instead of blowing harder to get a louder sound, try blowing the airstream faster. (When a garden hose's spray shoots the farthest, it's always using a skinny- but fast- stream of water. In the same way, you don't need gallons of air to get that big powerful sound.) Many people think of trying to hold a little piece of paper against the wall in front of them with their air stream. That definitely works.  If you crack, it's no big deal. A crack or two will let you see what your current range of loudness is. Work for a loud tone at a dynamic juuuust before you start cracking. As you get more and more used to using a bigger sound, you'll be able to play louder and louder without cracking. And when you perform, if you play louder out of nerves, you should then crack less.

If you already have a fine loud sound, then you may just need to perform more, and get more used to playing in public. Julius Baker, the best flutist in the world, always tells people to perform all they can, anywhere they can. Play for friends, family, your pets, anyone. If you're going to be playing at a recital or audition, have a mock performance at home for your family. People often visualize what their concert will be like - they'll picture themselves walking out onto the stage, bowing, and playing beautifully, etc. A lot of it is in your mind. If you think you're going to foul up terribly....chances are you will. (I'm sorry, I hope I don't sound like your mom... :0) Athletes will think really positive thoughts before their competitions, and musicians should do the same. 

And I know you've probably heard this millions of times before, but your audience really IS rooting for you. They want to hear you do well, and most of the time (unless it's an audience of flutists), they'll think you do fantastic even if you totally mess up. And audience is easily fooled by a big smile at the end of your performance. Even if you don't think you did great, flash them a big smile when they're applauding for you. They always think, "Oh, she's smiling- she must have done really well! Just what I thought. It sounded great to me." Even judges in an audition want to hear people do well- unlike their names, they aren't out to judge you in a negative way.

Above all, think of the music. You're giving the audience a beautiful gift- your talent of music. They'll love hearing you play, and the flute is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful instruments. People love the sound of a great flute. So try to keep this in mind when you perform next, and it might help you keep those nerves under control. 
I hope this helps

What is the advantage of a gold plated lip plate?

It looks nice but does not change the tone at all. (Not to be confused with a solid gold or silver riser which does effect tone, see below) Unless you have an allergic reaction to the silver on your lip, it is for aesthetics only, so save your money!

What is a Gizmo?

Also called a high C facilitator, it closes the low B tone hole, providing clear response of the fourth octave C. (High C) This is only found on B foot flutes as they are the only ones with a low B tone hole.
Photo of a Gizmo

What is a split E mechanism?

The split E divides the action of the upper and lower G keys. Normally the G keys close together, in a split E mechanism, that is still true but the lower G can close when the third octave E natural is played providing ideal tone hole venting for the high E. Found mostly on professional flutes.
Photo of a Split E

What is a high E facilitator (donut)?

An inexpensive alternative to a split E mechanism. It simulates the effects of a split E mechanism. It is a small insert pressed in the lower G tone hole that will optimize the flute's high E.

When you refurbish a flute, how do you deal with germs? 

All refurbished flutes are cleaned with either a disinfectant or alcohol depending on the finish.  After it is allowed to dry it is cleaned again both inside and out.  If you share a flute, cleaning the lip plate with alcohol is sufficient.   This is what is done at the flute shows & conventions.

What are the different types of tone holes?

Drawn and Rolled - The tone hole is part of the body of the flute. It is shaped and stretched from the tube body and the edge is rolled over for a smooth lip. Found mostly on commercial production flutes.

Soldered - Short tubes are cut and shaped to fit the flute body and soldered in place. Found on handmade flutes. The tone hole is then "undercut", or machined on the underside of the tone hole for less turbulence of airflow.

What is traditional vs. modern scale?

A very long subject, but the short of it is in the late '70s Albert Cooper with Rudall-Carte developed the Cooper Scale. This was not a change in scale but a new scheme for the location and size of the tone holes on the flute body. This arrangement raised the traditionally flat notes at the lower end of the instrument and lowered the traditionally sharp notes. The Cooper or modern scale is also called the Deveau scale by some manufactures. The modern scale can be made in various pitches. (A-440, A-442, A-444, A446)

Do flutes improve with age like violins?

In short, no.  The long answer is a 30 year old student flute will only play as good as it's mechanics will allow, and at 30 years old it would be showing wear & fatigue and a newer student flute will play circles around it.  In addition there have been many improvements in head joint and embouchure hole design so a newer flute has advantages here as well. In the case of expensive hand made flutes, they may or may not play as good as their modern counter parts but they will not "improve" just due to their age. In fact the modern scales and higher pitch of the newer flutes make it a better choice in most cases. 

What are "French Pointed Keys"?

This is the style of key that has a pointed tone arm that extends to the center on the pad cup and is soldered to the top of the cup. This type of construction is stronger than the standard "Y" cup mounting where the tonearm is solder to the edge of the pad cup. The key is pressed in the center of the key with this design rather then the edge with a "Y" cup. French pointed keys are normally found on the higher end step-up flutes or handmade flutes.
Photo of French pointed key & "Y" arm key

What is a "French Case"?

This is a flute case used mostly on step-up flutes or hand made flutes. It is a slim, streamlined designed case with no carrying handle attached so a case cover is a must with this kind of case. In student cases, the B foot & C foot case is usually the same length, but most C foot French cases are shorter.
Photo of French flute case

What is Nickel Silver vs. Solid Silver?

Nickel Silver contains NO silver. It is an alloy of copper, zinc and brass.  It is used in student flutes for the tube and keys. It is either plated with silver or nickel.

Solid Silver  flutes come in 3 general types.
1. Solid silver headjoint. The body & keys are plated nickel silver.
2. Solid silver headjoint, body & foot.  Only the keys are plated nickel silver.
3. All silver. The headjoint, body, foot & keys are solid silver.
Solid silver is normally sterling silver (92.5% pure silver). 

Other metals used, but not as often, in flute making include gold (5K to 14K), platinum, & even titanium is on the horizon.  All have their unique sounds. There are also other alloys of silver used and combinations of gold fused on silver, etc.

My head joint/foot joint is too tight, should I apply some cork grease?

NO!  Applying grease to the head & foot joints will just attract dirt & dust making them even more difficult to assemble.  The first thing is to really clean them.  Pull the foot joint out a 1/4" and apply a few drops of lighter fluid (be careful, do not smoke or do this near an open flame) then insert the foot joint all the way and twist it around a few times.  Remove it and clean both parts with a soft cloth.  Then do it a few times more until it produces no more dirt.  The foot should slid on easily now.  If it is still too tight, it needs to be fitted and that requires special tools.  The same goes for the head joint.

What are Undercut Tone Holes?

The tone holes are the holes the pads cover. At the bottom of the tone hole, on the inside of your flute, where the holes meet the body is where the "undercutting" is done.  The edge is machined and beveled with special tools to allow the air to flow with less resistance and theoretically with a clearer tone.  Some people hear the difference, some do not. 

What is a gold/silver riser?

The riser is the short "chimney" that attached the lip plate to the head joint. This riser can be made of different material than the lip plate and head joint.  For example, Emerson student flutes have a silver plated head joint, but the riser & lip plate is solid silver.  My daughters Brannen Brothers has a solid silver head joint with a gold riser.  Again this is done for better tone quality. 

What are "Flute Larva"?

These are worms or larva that nest in the flute case.  They eat the pad skins, that are made of cow intestine lining, right down to the cotton. They only seem to attack flutes that are keep in storage for a long time in an attic or closet.  I am not sure where thy come from or what family of insect they are.  The best defense would be to enclose the whole flute case in a tightly sealed plastic bag if you are going to store the flute for a long time.  If you do discover them I would suggest you replace the case with a new one. Gross, isn't it.

How can I find a flute teacher in my area?

Word of mouth is the best, or call a local music school, conservatory, orchestra, etc. I would suggest you set up a "trail period" of 4 weeks in the beginning with a new teacher.  If the "student/teacher mix" is not there, no hard feelings when the trial period is over.  No commitment, just try another teacher. 

Is there such a thing as a left handed flute?

None of the major makers sells a left handed flute. The reason is when you play in an orchestra or band all the flutes must face the same way or you will have a flute in your face.  My daughter is left handed and took to the flute just fine.  So there is no disadvantage in being left handed. 

How do I clean sticky pads?

If one or two pads on your flute make that little "clicking" sound: Get some cigarette paper or special pad papers and insert it between the sticky pad and the tone hole. Gently press down on the key and pull on the paper just a 1/4" or so. One or two times should do it if it is just a normal stickiness. If oil or other substance is on it you could try lighter fluid on a Q-tip.

If the key itself is sticking in a closed position, or opens slowly when released, the steel pivot of the key would need cleaning and adjustment.

What effect does wall thickness have?

Some advanced flutes have wall thickness options. Student flutes and most intermediate flutes do not.  A thinner wall makes for a "brighter" sound, thicker walls produce a darker tone. Neither is better, just personal preference. Popular thickness selections are .018", .016" and even .014".  

Where can I get staff paper?

Just Click here to download a free file of staff paper.  It is in Adobe Acrobat format. 

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