What Flute Should I Purchase?

I get asked a lot by people who are starting out “What type of Flute Should I Purchase? I’m just starting out.” While this may seem like a simple answer (“The cheapest so you don’t feel like you waste money when you stop playing 2 weeks from now.” Cynical I know, but sometimes the truth hurts) there are a lot of different thoughts on this.

Let’s start with the Cynical

Let’s be honest, unlike other instruments, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to play the NAF in your local area. So the possibility of maintaining a high level of excitement about the instrument drops significantly. People need the ability to grow in mastery; Mastery builds confidence; Confidence wants to be showcased. Unless you create your own opportunities to showcase your new mastery then the NAF is an instrument that will get played for a little while (2, maybe 3 weeks) and then get put on a shelf to collect dust.

If this is at all a possibility for you, let’s not look at “High End” Flutes, but consider the possibility that $50 may be the max you want or should spend on yourself. If this is going to be you then looking at “Little Hawk” A – Spanish Cedar flute is a great option for you.

A couple things to note about this flute:

  • It’s a 5 hole flute compared to a 6 hole flute. Great for beginners
  • Spanish Cedar is a soft wood which gives this flute a warmer tone
  • The size of the flute will fit perfectly for everyone’s hand types
  • the price is around $59.00 – perfect for those wanting to start out, but not knowing how dedicated they will be

If you are just wanting to dabble in the flute and not really have huge plans then this is the perfect flute to begin your journey. Not just because of the ease, but the sound isn’t shrill which will make playing it all that more enjoyable. Trust me, what can kill the experience of playing any instrument is the beginning sound you get from the instrument. This flute sounds great (I have one in my collection) which will make you keep wanting to practice.

So while there are cheaper flutes out there remember that price reduction does come with a cost: more often than not, it’s the sound quality.

Let’s get more … detailed

If you’re continuing to read that means you either like what I have to say or your convinced your better than the 96% of people who start playing the NAF and ultimately give up. Awesome! Congrats, You’ve made it to the 4% club. With this in mind we can have a deeper conversation about Flutes and what type of flute you should purchase.

Let’s keep something in mind: Most good flutes (beginning) will range from $100 – $300 in price. Comparatively, my beginning trumpet cost me $600+ to purchase new, my first student drum kit $975+ used, and my first electric piano $1575+ new. So when looking at price it’s not HUGE, but it is a chunk of change. Especially if your dedication to the instrument is not as strong as others. However ….

It is important to note that most flute makers, especially those in the “Mass Production” market, give up sound quality for price. This is not something I have ever found with High Spirits Flutes. Odell, The owner and maker of the flutes, makes sure each flute sounds great, which will give you the end consumer the best experience. It is the only, “mass production” (and I mean that in trying to get more to the population, not necessarily in production floor processing) flute maker I really trust. When talking custom flutes there are others I will add to the list, but for beginning, reasonably priced starting flutes that sound great. There is no one better, in my opinion, than High Spirits Flutes.

You Sold me on Price, What Key Should I get?

Understanding a NAF Flute key is important if you want to play with other instruments. However, just starting out you probably don’t need to worry too much about that. You just want something that will fit your hands and sound good as you start your journey. If that’s the case then you’re really talking about two different keys (with possibly a 3rd thrown in for good measure).

A Flute

  • Hole spacing is perfect for beginning hands
  • Higher sound, but not shrill levels
  • Easier to breathe sounds, shorter body = less air needed
  • Key of C Major, easier to read notes (no accidentals)

F# Flute

  • Hole spacing is a little further apart because the flute is longer
  • Lower sound, feels more “traditional” in sound quality
  • A little more difficult to breathe sounds, longer body = more air needed
  • Key of A Major, music has 3 Accidentals to read

While these are great things to notice there is one HUGE, important idea to remember when talking about these two flutes: A Flute is great for beginners, but the F# Flute is the traditional key of most Native American Music. At some point … you will want both in your collection.

The other key that might be important is a G Flute. It sits between the two sizes of A Flutes and F# Flutes, and while it is a good compromise, it is generally a key that not a lot of music gets played in for some reason. I love my G Flute, but very little repertoire for it in the NAF Music world.

What about wood? That plays a factor, right?

Actually, the major cost of the Native American Wood Flute is the wood. Not only does it play a major part in the price, it plays a MAJOR part in the sound. Soft woods (i.e. cedar, pine, etc.) tend to have a softer, warmer tone that works great when playing acoustically. Hard woods (i.e. birch, walnut, etc.) tend to have a harder tone with the upper notes being a little more emphasized. They are very durable and great when you want to travel to different locations with your flute. Here is a great little video from High Spirits Flutes owner Odell Borg talking about “Tonal Woods” that is very good.

So the wood is important and will ultimately roll into the price as well. If you are starting out I would recommend a softer wood because of the warmer tone. It will make your experience a little nicer.

So what do you recommend? I’m sick of reading all this “information!” Just tell me what to get!

Ok. Well … fine. If you really are invested in getting a quality sounding NAF that you can use because you want a good starting flute … get the Sparrow Hawk A Flute from High Spirit Flutes.

The one displayed is with the turquoise inlay which just looks pretty and adds nothing to the sound.

This flute is priced at $155 with the inlay and $135 without the inlay (So for $20 you get an aesthetically pleasing instrument, if that matters to you).

This is a walnut flute, which will provide a harder tone, but as a beginner you may want the durability over the softness. Unless you hear flutes side by side you won’t really hear the difference in sound. Which is nice. And even though it isn’t the “traditional key” (F#) it is still a great flute that will get you going to where you want to be headed.

You asked … I told you. And as much as I hate going out on a limb, if you are going to buy a flute without hearing it or playing it first, this is a good flute to risk your investment.

One Final Thought … because you should hear this

The Native American Flute sound changes over time. Every player of the NAF will tell you this. Something happens as you play the instrument. Getting a NAF made of wood and not other composite materials will showcase this. Over time the wood gets infused with your “essence.” Your breathe (the humidity of it, the hardness of it, the strength and weakness of it) all become part of the NAF and because of that the sound changes. This journey of purchasing a flute starts you playing, but the sound of the instrument really won’t sink in until you’ve played it for about 3-4 weeks, because it changes to you.

Unlike other instruments where the change in sound comes from your embouchure (mouth placement), mouth piece, and lungs, the NAF sound actually comes from your emotions at the time and breathe. It’s pretty amazing the difference in sound once you understand that.

So go out, buy your flute, and start playing. The journey is great and the destination is even better!

Happy Fluting!

1 Comment

  1. Paul Chapman
    February 15, 2015

    Masterful and comprehensive. Parents often have an interesting collection of "impulse instruments" Dad


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