Choosing a new instrument

Recently I had the opportunity to help one of my college students decide on a new flute to purchase. She is currently a sophomore music education major. While she wasn’t playing on a bad flute, it was obvious that she had grown out of the one she had been playing throughout high school (and probably even before that).

She had been planning to make the purchase for several months, which gave us time to thoroughly investigate some options. She and her parents determined a budget and she also thought that she didn’t want a more advanced model of the brand she was currently playing. Once I learned the upper limit that she would be able to spend, I started calling music stores in the state. Unfortunately, the stores that I called carried student-level instruments only. To be fair, there may be stores in this state that carry professional instruments, but none of the stores I contacted did. At that point, I contacted a trusted colleague who owns a music store in the Atlanta area. I’ve known Jeanne Carere at Carere Music for at least 15 years. It’s where I bought my professional Powell and where I recently bought my Powell Sonaré alto flute. They’re a trustworthy family business and very reasonable on prices. They had a good selection of instruments available and emailed me a list of the specific models and prices.

Over the Thanksgiving break, my student and her mother drove to Atlanta where we met at the store. We settled in for as long as it was going to take for my student to know which instrument was the best fit for her. Here was our procedure:

  1. Assemble all of the available flutes.
  2. Choose one, and play long tones, covering the entire range of the instrument.
  3. Adjust the head joint to make sure it’s in the best place for optimum tone production.
  4. Make sure the foot joint is aligned comfortably.
  5. Get acquainted with how the flute itself feels, such as the keywork and the weight.

We followed this process for each of the flutes. We didn’t make any written notes, but we tried to assess each flute against the one that immediately preceded it. While I helped my student keep a mental checklist of the things she liked and didn’t like about each flute, I was careful to not voice any opinion about which ones I liked better. I wanted her to be able to make her own decision so that she would be just as happy with the instrument a year from now as she was that day.

As she played through the flutes, she decided that she strongly preferred a flute with an offset-G. Luckily, all of the models available that day with inline G keys didn’t have the kind of sound she wanted. However, we did talk about the possibility of ordering any instrument she liked with the offset G key. It ended up not being an issue because her favorite flute happened to be an offset model.

After playing through the flutes for a while, she began to eliminate certain brands. Her ear is very good, and the flutes she decided against were fine instruments but didn’t “ring” as well as they could have. Her list grew shorter and shorter until she was deciding against two different models of the same brand. One clearly had a better sound to it, and it became her final choice.

Throughout the process, one flute was clearly the stronger choice for her. My challenge was to stay out of the way so that she could make a decision but also make sure she chose an instrument that was the best for her. By playing methodically through all of the instruments, playing the same long tones on each instrument to make sure she was comparing them against each other as closely as possible, and identifying what she liked and didn’t like about each instrument as we went along, she was able to make a really great decision.


*I am not endorsed by or contractually affiliated in any way with Carere Music or Powell Flutes.