Monday, January 29, 2007

Testing a New Flute on Trial

My flute teacher has had some flutes sent to her studio for me to try. My question is I'm wondering if anyone has some advice as to how to try them? Other than the obvious of playing - is there anything that I should particularly look for? C.

Dear C,
This is my personal method of testing a flute for a student or myself.
I set the headjoint to the same position as my regular flute (in case it's lined up wrongly for me to start.) And I put a plain white sticker on the barrel labeling the flutes 1, 2, 3, or A, B, C.


1. Play low register longtones with extremely light fingers, slowly descending from B natural, down to Bb, pause. Listen. Then Bb to A, pause, listen. etc. all the way down to low C. This gives me an idea of the tone quality of the low register, and whether there are any leaks in the pads. Too many leaks, and I put the flute aside and tell the shop it needs repairs.

2. Play an octave leap from B1 to B2 (one ledger line B) and repeat several times. How easy is it to leap up to a clear B2? Then play longtones chromatically downward from B to Bb, Bb to A, A to Ab, etc, while listening closely to the middle octave.

3. Leap up to B2 again, and slowly play rising longtones; B to C, C to C#, and go up as high as is comfortable for you level of playing. Listen closely to the tone quality of the high register. Pay special attention to the ease of emission for the typically more troublesome notes: E3, F#3, G#3, B3. Take your time. Allow yourself to change the lip position on the lip plate as required to find the center of the sound on this new flute.

4. Crescendo and diminuendo on various notes chosen from all three octaves.
Push the flute to "fff" gradually, and dim. down to 'ppp' gradually. Try simple, slow folk tunes at different dynamic levels. Discover how easy the flute is in playing simple slow melodies with dynamic swells.

5. Test the response to tonguing: Single tongue quick repeated notes in each of the three octaves. Experiment with fast single tonguing leaping from G2 to E2 and back again and other combinations.

6. Test the speed of trilling the keys, especially the thumb key. Do the keys feel light and responsive? Can you trill fast equally well with any key?

7. Play some etudes, pieces, orchestral excerpts, whatever flute pieces are most comfortable for you at your level. If possible record the same excerpt or snippet of a piece into a recording machine. Listen back at home later with discerning ears. You can name the flutes "A, B,C," or "1, 2, 3" to distinguish them on the recording.
Choose your favourite flute, and mark it with an additional hidden sticker that only you can spot, somewhere where the other player won't notice it.

8. Take a tuner, and play a slow chromatic scale, watching to see if any notes are wildly out on the tuner. Also play the octaves, fifths and other intervals into the tuner, and find out if you can easily get into the range of "in tune" without excessive embouchure change. Remember to use a good mezzo forte and full tone throughout this test. Then change to "piano" and "mezzo piano" dynamics and re-test the tuning.

Then: Give the flutes to the other person trying. In my case, I would leave them with the student who is buying. In your case, you would give them back to your teacher. Have the other person choose their favourite. Give them at least 45 minutes or more.

Take the best flute for a week's trial, and try playing it in a good acoustic space (a performance hall, or other performing venue witih good sound.)
Record all three flutes in this hall if possible, and listen to the teacher, and yourself play them onstage, while recording from among the audience.
This is testing for projection and interesting tone colours.

Note: In all cases, the flute the other flutist chooses is the same one I have chosen. The best flute leaps out from among even "identical" ones. Why? No two headjoints are alike. Some bodies are more closely finished than others.

You are seeking:
Most beautiful tone quality.
Ease of good tone production in all three registers (feels easy).
Easy to jump octaves or wide intervals.
Fast keys, no leaks.
Balances well in the hands.
Effortless loud and soft playing.
Ease of colouring the tone for musical expression.
Tonguing sounds clean and neat at rapid speeds.
A flute that sounds interesting and beautiful in a performing venue, from the back of the hall.

If you are not advanced enough to judge these qualities by performing them on the flute, have the teacher perform them into a tape-recorder, and listen carefully live and on tape later.

Hope this helps,
Jen Cluff :>)
Comments (7)
Anonymous Sheila said...

That's really interesting! As you know, I really only had one to choose from. Actually, two, but they were different models. I think we just hit that one that stood out! :D Thanks!

Thursday, February 01, 2007 3:28:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Yes, I've found that every now and then, when there's only one flute to try, it's still fantastic.
You may have lucked out because the person working at the brand name you bought from sent the best one they had to hand that day.

And, yes, sometimes you can tell right away; everything's easy to play, high/low, great tone, great tuning, great articulation etc.

Conversely, I've gone to a music store that has about three or four of each make, about 20 flutes, and there's not a single good one "in" that day.
I think that often they've already been picked over.
The best time to try flutes is when the store has JUST gotten a big batch "in", and no one has walked out with the "pick of the litter" yet.

Good comments! Thanks.
Jen :>)

Thursday, February 01, 2007 3:43:00 PM

Anonymous Camila said...

Thanks a bunch!!! I was'nt very sure of which flute to choose from the Azumi 2000 or the Azumi 3000. Then I read your comments on how to choose the perfect flute and found myself buying the Azumi 3000 the next day!! I'ts a GREAT flute! Thanks for your support!

Thank You,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 5:19:00 PM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear Camila,
So glad you got the Azumi 3000. It's far and away the best flute I've ever tried in that price range. My student's Azumis are holding up REALLY well, also. Very little problem with repair needs; just once a year for a cleaning, oiling and general adjustment. Fabulous flute!
Glad you're happy! :>)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 6:53:00 PM

Anonymous RF said...

Thanks for this great overview on how to evaluate flutes. I'm looking for an alto flute and this methodical approach will be very helpful.

Friday, January 02, 2009 5:20:00 PM

Blogger jc said...

Dear Jen,

Thanks for this article about flute testing, and I have more idea about testing and selecting a good flute now.

I am from Hong Kong, and I own my Sonare SF-7000 as my "step-up" flute. I am not a rich person, and why I selected Sonare flute because it's Powell signatured head with low price. I think the price/quality ratio is high for this model. and I think it is the best choice with the this price around different brand and model.

Recently, I want to buy a better flute.

I have budget around USD3000. It seem Powell is a favor model to have a try, however, it is a little bit over budget (the cheapest model is ~USD4800). Could you give me any advise and suggestion (brane, model) to have a look?

Thanks for your advise,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 1:46:00 AM

Blogger Jen Cluff said...

Dear Joe,
For under $3000 I would try:
- Azumi 3000
- Used Sankyo Silver Sonic or Artist model

See and and search for Sankyo and Azumi.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 9:34:00 AM


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