Have you ever thought of why the flute is included in the woodwind family? Of course, there is a history of flutes made partially with wood. The real answer though is much more interesting: the woodwind family is actually classed by the way sound is produced an excerpt from WWBW “the way they produce their sound which is by splitting the player’s air stream on a sharp edge, such as a reed”. When looking at flute specs – especially for younger students – often you are dealing with a cheaper silver – usually nickel. Here is a comprehensive list of both flute specs and flutes for students:
There are so many variables with it comes to manufacturing a flute, this is no way a fully complete list (since there are a vast amount of custom variables), I have divided these specs into 6 common categories:
C foot v.
Open holed v.
Inline G key v.
Offset G key
Gizmo key (foot)
Bb side key (body)
C# trill (body)
Split E (body)
C# roller (foot)
D# roller (foot)
Brossa F# (body)
Nickel silver – sometimes with silver plating on the exterior
Coin silver OR Sterling silver
Gold – How many karats?
Combination of metals
ie. a sterling silver body with gold keys; OR a coin silver body with gold interior wall.
The riser is part of the embouchure hole and can be any metal (ie. silver, gold).
The wall thickness can impact the color of the tone (and the weight of the instrument).
Also as mentioned, the inner wall of the flute can be made of a different metal than the outer wall.
The thickness of the tube is important because flute players will often upgrade their headjoint (since it is less expensive than buying a whole flute) and the diameter of the tubing MUST match the body of the flute.
FLUTES – General Names to be aware of
Beginning Brands (can also be used for outdoor playing/marching band)
Conservatory Brands (get through Undergrad)
Azumi (by Altus)
Amadeus (by Haynes)
More specific – general specs and pricing
Beginner (Grades 4-6)
Selmer – FL711 Prelude
Gemeinhardt – 2SP
Intermediate (Grades 6-12)
Pearl – PF 500
Yamaha – YFL 222
Pearl – PF 505 RBE
Yamaha – YFL 262
Conservatory (Grade 10 upwards)
Yamaha – YFL 577(H)
Powell Sonare – PS 601
Muramatsu – EX
Azumi – AZ series (1, 2, or 3)
Trevor James – Cantabile OR Virtuoso Voce
What are your favorite student flutes and specs? Let me know in the comments below!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! I thought I would start off with the first post of 2021 being an instrument comparison since this [in a non-pandemic world] is the time region band meets again, at least in NJ. I have found that non-flutists rarely think of the flute and piccolo as different instruments. Of course, the other woodwind instruments have doubles (ie bassoon v. contra, all the saxophones, Bb clarinet v. bass v. alto…why are there so many clarinets). However, I have found in my own experiences that the doubling from flute to piccolo is expected to be this easily transferable skill when for many it is not.
Have some sympathy for your brand new piccolo players, and let’s get into what you need to know to help them transition easier from flute to piccolo:
What’s the same? What’s different?
At a glance, the piccolo may just be a “small flute” in fact some scores DO list the piccolo as such; one example being Grainger’s Shepard’s Hey (not exactly sure on the edition, but when I was handed the part I had a good laugh). This “small flute” label is misleading because the way you get a sound on the piccolo is VERY different than flute, and rather than giving piccolo to your first or second chair you should assess who may be best suited to play piccolo.
YES the fingerings are generally the same. However it is important to note that some flute fingerings DO NOT work (intonation wise, coordination wise) on the piccolo.
Good flute players are NOT always good piccolo players, this applies to both in high school and college. Just because a student is responsible and organized does not mean this is always a good fit for them!
The embouchure is a vital difference between the flute and piccolo. Of course, this needs to be generalized because embouchures vary greatly (even on flute alone) because of the differences of people’s mouth cavities, lips, and physical capabilities/limitations. For this generalization I will be referring to Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book”:
YES the body needs to be relaxed, with minimal obstructions that will impact the air stream.
YES both the flute and piccolo should rest on the chin (that space right underneath the bottom lip) rather than ON the bottom lip itself. (Offset embouchures are okay on both instruments, if your primary instrument isn’t flute DON’T meddle too much with this let their flute instructor handle it).
Here’s where the similarities end. The lip formation/apperture as Toff discusses varies just on flute ALONE, add piccolo into the mix and things get confusing (especially for non flutists):
The flute has 3 general registers, each where the lip formation adjusts slightly to accommodate. One GREAT exercise that is rarely used for flute players in public schools is harmonics. While your brass players are doing their fundamentals let the flute players join in. Why? Because discovering the ratio of the top/bottom lips, apperture size, hole coverage is all highlighted when the students can only change the pitch that way (not changing their fingers at all).
The low register (B3/C4-B4): This is the most relaxed, the jaw is slightly lower (more space in the mouth cavity), the bottom lip needs to be wide (touching the lip plate) rather than turned up, to maximize tone quality.
The middle register (C5-B5): A more neutral set up, typically the upper lip is just slightly in front of the lower lip (think of the air hitting the lower lip and going down into the flute), the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is slightly less than before this can be achieved by a neutral jaw or widening the tongue.
The high register (C6-beyond): Rarely would you tell a student to pinch, or squeeze the sound; however things are getting smaller for this top register. The space between the top and bottom lips is the smallest – the lips are still able to let the air pass through, the cheeks are still relaxed, and the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is less which can be done by lifting/widening the tongue which also requires speeding up the air (like blowing out a candle rather than filling up a balloon).
The piccolo is a transposing instrument, it reads the same as flute, but sounds an octave higher. One MAJOR MISCONCEPTION that beginning piccolo players make is taking the embouchure from the middle and high registers on flute and applying it to piccolo. NO NO NO!
Beware, just because the sounding pitch is in that range as flute does not mean the embouchure stays the same. This is precisely why flute to piccolo is this ‘hidden challenge’ in comparison to the other woodwinds because with something actually inside the mouth – reed, mouth piece – the main challenge is size. However switching from flute to piccolo requires a completely NEW embouchure!
Generally, the most common mistakes new piccolo players make is squeezing or forming a too tight embouchure because they are trying to match the mid/higher embouchure from the flute. It is actually the OPPOSITE, maintaining a loose embouchure where the lips can still vibrate, and the cheeks are relaxed is ideal.
Obviously the piccolo is smaller and requires different air than the wider, longer bore of the flute. Also the materials are completely different (especially at the more advanced level).
While flutes are made of metals, piccolos are made of plastic/resin, wood, a combination of these. Piccolo players have to adjust to all of these factors. To summarize:
Piccolo size is much shorter and thinner than the flute.
Piccolo material varies much more than flute.
Piccolo range – transposes up an octave.
Piccolo embouchure – despite it’s range the lips and apperture are NOT the same as flute. Stay relaxed, loose on piccolo.
Intonation on certain fingerings from flute do NOT work on piccolo.
I have compiled some resources that can be useful for these students transitioning on flute to piccolo:
Young flutists that are surrounded non-flutists or are self-taught can develop a wide range of bad habits that take years to unlearn. There are common myths that are just taken as fact by band directors when recruiting or coaching young flute players. In this article, I’ll be clarifying what/if there is any true to these myths as well as sharing resources for more information!
Myth 1: Lip Shape/Size Matters
… NO! The way I have most commonly heard this myth is referred to as the “textbook embouchure” where the lips are fairly even is size (the bottom might be slightly wider) and the embouchure when playing is centered or inline with the nose.
This isn’t the best or the only (obviously) way to produce a good tone on the flute. In fact, people with that “textbook embouchure” may struggle to get a sound out.
In comparison, the lip shape deemed challenging for flute playing is one that is tear drop shaped because of the jut in the top lip, this is also untrue. Accommodations such as forming an “offset embouchure” are common for not just this lip shape, but many others. For more detailed information check out Dr. Cate Hummel’s article.
Anyone who wants to play flute should not be deterred by the shape or ratio of their lips. More factors than just the exterior lips play a role in how easily someone produces a sound on the flute.
Myth 2: Alignment Doesn’t Matter In The Beginning… It Will All Sound The Same
First, Jennifer Cluff has written many articles/FAQ on flute alignment – check these out to answer specific questions.
Alignment is VITAL to setting young flute players up for success,
Balancing the flute properly with the chin, left hand pointer finger, right hand thumb and pinky – helps with the stability of the instrument which creates consistency for students which will improve tone quality and register.
Also, alignment of the flute itself is vital – lining up the center of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys of the body AND the rod of the foot joint with the center of the keys of the body). When the flute is out of alignment, the experienced flutist has to work much harder by contorting to get a focused sound on the flute.
Myth 3: Roll In/Out To Improve Tuning and Tone
NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Below is a representation of how I feel every time I’ve heard that advice during a coaching session before I step in to talk about how meddlesome this is.
For tuning, you should NOT default to adjusting by rolling the flute – this fosters posture and alignment issues. You SHOULD pull/push out the head joint to tune. You can use this saying to remember the direction… “if you have something SHARP in your eye you should PULL it OUT”.
To be clear, this CAN be done, but it SHOULD NOT be the primary or first defense for tuning. Therefore, teaching your band students to do this is unnecessary and causes more trouble than it’s worth.
Jennifer Cluff did an article on this where she states, “Rolling the flute inward only covers the embouchure hole too much with the lower lip and strangles the tone quality, and is not a “cure all” in any way.”
Myth 4: The Flute Embouchure Doesn’t Change For Each Register
FALSE – There are very specific adjustments made to help produce a focused and vibrant tone in each register (typically divided into the low, middle, and high registers). There is an adjustment between the top and bottom lips as well as slight changes inside the mouth (much like singing) that occur with register shifts.
When I was in high school we had the ‘drum closet’.
The ‘drum closet’ was a blackhole where the percussionists liked to hide, but it was also a house for outdated marching band uniform ruins, the marching percussion equipment, and the district’s unused loaner instruments. The ‘drum closet’ was a treasure trove of unused instruments, but it was ungodly hot. Our band room didn’t have AC, so why would the drum closet get such a luxury?
Brass instruments can fair pretty well under those conditions: being locked away for years on end, in the heat and freezing cold; most likely never properly cleaned by their former musicians. I had the privilege in high school of cleaning this ‘drum closet’ to do instrument inventory… I took home a euphonium one holiday break to practice and cleaning the thing- I’ll spare you the gruesome details of what I found inside, but I will tell you whoever played this instrument (which, by the looks of it, must have been at least a decade prior) did not like to rise out their mouth after lunch.
Woodwinds, in contrast, are high maintenance – they have springs/rods, pads, cork… all things that require annual upkeep lest you want to spent an unthinkable amount of money to either replace the instruments beyond repair or make a sad attempt to salvage a horn that has already phoned it in. I will make the argument that at the student-instrument level the flute is the most high maintenance of the woodwind family (only being rivaled by the oboe and bassoon). Most student-clarinets are made of some blend of plastic material, the cork is used to connect the joints which can withstand a little chipping and not impact the instrument’s ability to produce sound, the felt pads are sturdy enough; which leaves only the spring/rods to be the main thing to breakdown from wear-and-tear. And saxophones are the instrument equivalent to cockroaches and could probably withstand a nuclear explosion.
Things to consider about student-flutes:
The cork in the head joint should NEVER be exposed to water. It impacts tuning and can form mold if not replaced or cared for properly. (And for the love of Sir James Galway, do not let your band students play a flute that is missing a crown… and then replace the crown with the color guard’s electrical tape, I speak from experience it does not work).
They rods and springs are extremely fragile. The mechanism on the body is much more small and thin than on the clarinet and the soft metal of the student flutes can easily get damaged if a student grips too tight; knocks the flute on a chair, stand, etc; or tries to mess around with the screws.
Temperature matters… this applies to the other woodwinds as well. But the metal of the flute – as well as other factors – can make the effects of climate more detrimental to the longevity of the pads.
Speaking of temperature effects, the silver plating on flutes will start pitting if not regularly cleaned and maintained. To my knowledge there is no DIY solution to pitting, once that happens it is either replace the flute or have a magical bag of money drop into your repair account and send the instrument out for service.
Alright, we’re through all the perils of up-keeping a flute so how do you actually protect your precious flutes?
During the school year: It depends on your inventory and how many students are actively in the program.
Some districts have only a few spare instruments that rarely get used unless a kid forgets their instrument while other districts are reliant on loaner instruments because the families would not be able to rent a quality instrument.
If you have instruments that are rarely used, make sure you leave them in a space where the temperature can be regulated. Maybe that’s in the back of your office or in the back of the classroom, every school is different. You want to avoid leaving them in an area that fluctuates extreme temperatures or is exposed to extreme temperatures.
Try to rotate instruments. Make sure you’re not letting instruments sit unused. If your program is small, consider having a bright, motivated student become a doubler – that way the instrument is still being used.
If you are in a district that is reliant on school instruments, have a cleaning contract that makes the students aware of how to properly clean the flute. See the next bullet.
During the school year: Cleaning and maintaining instruments when in use.
A cleaning contract for students who are loaning out instruments can be a massive help to saving money in the repair budget. Be proactive, don’t let it sneak up on you! So what should go on a cleaning contract?
When summer break hits: Immediately do instrument inventory and assessment
Don’t let those instruments just sit there in your hot band room or storage closet to fester. As students are bring instruments back to you after graduation ceremonies or after the final concert, use those final days of school to take stock and see what the status of instruments is.
What needs to be sent off for repairs urgently? What can wait?
Find out who is taking instruments home over the summer or for marching band, and do a quick check in on the instrument. (Trade in is necessary!)
Be realistic (not always equal to optimistic), if you have an instrument on its last legs think about the frustration it will cause you next school year. Yes it looks like a flute, but does it sound like one? Especially in the hands of an intermediate student.
Summer break: Alternative storage solutions
In a perfect world, there would be reliable temperature control in public schools at the band director’s disposal. While you may be able to store your percussion and brass equipment in these conditions, communicate with your school and B.O.E. to consider your options for more fragile instruments.
Is there a room in the school (or another school in the district) that will have regulated temperature? Is this room secure or does it get a lot of visitors and foot traffic?
Could the instruments be stored in the school office or in the B.O.E. building for a short period?
As a last resort: Is there an option to take the instruments home?
What kind of solutions have you been using to storage instruments? Share your success or horror stories in the comments!