Whether you are just starting out, looking to upgrade your current instrument or shopping for a beginning player, purchasing a flute can be daunting. In this guide we’ll walk you through the things to consider in choosing the right flute for your situation.

Explore the huge selection of flutes at Musician’s Friend.

Table of Contents

Anatomy of the Flute
Beginner, intermediate and professional flutes
Upgrading with a new headjoint or lip plate
Flute families
Flute Care and Maintenance
Why buy online?
To Rent or Buy?
We are here to help!

Anatomy of the Flute

The flute has three main parts: The headjoint, the body, and the footjoint.

The headjoint

This is the top of the instrument where the lip plate and embouchure hole reside. In the tip of this piece is the cork—this needs to be handled with care while cleaning the instrument. The cork seals the flute so that the air goes only through the body of the instrument and not out the wrong end. A damaged cork will lead to an inconsistent, airy sound and must be repaired by an instrumental repair shop. The headjoint may be upgraded to improve the overall tone quality of the instrument as we discuss below.

Gemeinhardt Piccolo Headjoint

The body

The mid-section of the instrument is where the main mechanisms are that control the majority of the keys are found. The key springs are very finely adjusted and should be handled with great care.

The footjoint

The right pinky finger plays all of the keys on the footjoint. On an advanced flute there will be additional keys to extend the range. The keys on the footjoint enable the player to extend the bottom of the range. There may also be a gizmo key that makes it easier to produce a high C note with clarity.

Inline vs. offset G keys

Inline G Keys vs. Offset G Keys

When shopping for a flute one of the biggest variants is the G key. Flutes come with either an inline or offset G key. Now, although only one key is shifted slightly to the left, the entire playing position of the hand is altered greatly. There are professionals that play both models and swear that one allows for quicker trills than the other but it comes down to whichever position is more comfortable for the player.

Beginner, intermediate and professional flutes

When purchasing a beginner’s instrument it is tempting to go for the cheapest model. This may not be the best route to choose however. A higher quality flute will have much better intonation, playability, projection and will speak with more clarity in all ranges. If a beginner is given a low-grade flute they may get frustrated and give up playing. To ensure your student receives the best opportunity as a player, it is best to take time to compare brands, price and customer reviews. Look for models that balance economy with good sound and playablity.

Beginner flutes

Getting started with the flute can be hard for students with small hands.Recognizing that, some beginner models have curved headjoints extending the player’s reach. By minimizing the reach, the flute will feel easier to play for many beginner flutists.

Nuvo Student Plastic Flute Kit

A good starter model, the Nuvo Student Plastic Flute Kit offers a durable alternative to more delicate metal flutes.

Yamaha Curved Headjoint

The Yamaha Curved Headjoint replaces the standard straight version on Yamaha student flutes, allowing smaller students to easily reach the most distant keys.

Student flutes

A student model flute will usually have plateau or closed holes on the keys. This makes the flute easier to play. The sound of a flute does not come out of the end, as is commonly thought, and therefore these differences in the keys will dramatically affect the sound produced. Serious players will eventually upgrade to an open-holed flute because of their improved tone and control over the intonation.

Closed Hole vs. Open Hole Flutes

Both a beginner and student model flute will most likely be made out of a nickel and silver alloy which it is far more durable than silver alone. The most popular plating for a flute is silver because of its brilliance, while nickel-plated flutes are a more affordable option. Some people have allergies to silver or nickel and should opt for the type plating they can safely handle.

Allora AAFL 229 Student Flute

The Allora AAFL 229 Student Flute is a solid instrument choice for students: Its plateau-style holes allows easier playing, and has a parent-friendly price.

Intermediate and Professional flutes

Transitioning to a better-quality flute with open-hole keys can be difficult. There are key plugs available that can be inserted into the holes of the flute to ease the transition. These can be removed at any time and do not cause any damage to the instrument. However they do prohibit the flute from resonating at its full potential.

The other major upgraded feature is the footjoint of the flute. A third key is added on advanced models allowing the range to be extended down to a low B. Additionally, a “gizmo” key (also known as an auxiliary high C facilitator) is added to assist hitting a high C above the staff. This note is the highest note a flute can play before getting into the extended range and without the “gizmo” key the note is very difficult to play with clarity.

There are more upgrades as you advance to a professional-level flute. Metals are of much higher quality. The springs & the pointed key arms are made with more precision and function very smoothly. Professional-level instruments also offer the option of soldered versus drawn tone holes—a personal preference.

Jupiter JFL1000RB Series Intermediate Flute

The precise feel, response, and key action of the Jupiter JFL1000RB Series Intermediate Flute separates it from student models.

Upgrading with a new headjoint or lip plate

The first place to start when upgrading your flute is with the headjoint, which is a relatively inexpensive way to achieve a new level of sound. This option is ideal for players who are not yet ready to advance to a new flute, or advanced players who want to take it to their playing to the next level while keeping their current body. Purchasing a better headjoint will drastically improve the brilliance of the tone and the responsiveness of the flute. This is due to the drastic difference between an economy machine-cut headjoint versus one that is hand-cut. Hand-crafted headjoints offer far more subtleties in the tone production of the instrument.

Not all flutes are made of the traditional silver or nickel base. Many of the professional flutists play on either rose gold or traditional gold flutes which have a different timbre entirely. Since a solid gold instrument is well above most everybody’s price point, a wonderful way to achieve that richer, warmer tone of the gold flute is to get a gold lip plate. Altering any metal used on the flute will alter the tone.

Flute families

The flute is one of oldest instruments in the world, second only to the drum. Ancient flutes were crafted of bone or hollowed sticks with holes cut in to add pitch variation. The modern flute we know today was developed by Theobald Boehm in the 19th century. At this time the main body of the flute was still made of wood which was quite fatiguing to play. It was not till the end of the 19th century that the metal flute was perfected.

There are a wide variety of flutes including the piccolo (sopranino), concert flute (soprano), alto flute (alto), bass flute (tenor), and contrabass (bass).

Concert Flutes

Pearl Flutes Dolce Series Professional Flute

The entirely handcrafted Pearl Flutes Dolce Series Professional Flute is clad in silver to make it more affordable for accomplished students.

The C flute is the main instrument in the flute family. Unlike other instrument families such as the saxophone, a player usually does not specialize in an alto, bass or piccolo. Instead, a flutist must master the concert flute as his or her primary instrument and study the others as secondary instruments. The other flutes are not used constantly, they add additional color to the piece being played. This makes learning the concert flute by far the most critical phase for students.

Gemeinhardt Model 23SSB Professional Flute

With its solid silver headjoint and body as well as 12K white gold springs, the Gemeinhardt Model 23SSB Professional flute offers the precise intonation and playability demanded by discriminating players.

Alto Flutes

Featured in many orchestral pieces, the low timbre of the alto flute adds a mellow, sweet sound to the upper woodwinds. Although the fingering is the same as the concert flute, the alto plays in the key of G, sounding a 4th lower than the standard C flute. Because the instrument is in a different key, the flute sounds the pitch G when fingering a C due to its size difference. An alto is essential for professional level of play as there are many orchestral solos specifically written for the warmth of the alto.

Bass Flutes

The bass flute is seldom used in traditional band and orchestra music appearing mostly in flute ensembles. Due to the family groupings, flute quartets, quintets, and flute choirs are very popular among intermediate to advanced students.

Due to it’s size, good intonation is difficult to achieve with the bass flute. It requires a very high level of skill and a well-developed ear for pitch. Although more rare, there are flute family member that have lower tuning. The contrabass flute and the subcontrabass flute further extend flute choirs. Due to their size these flutes rest on the floor and the player stands or sits on a tall stool.

Yamaha YFL-B441II Professional Bass Flute

Yamaha has included numerous improvements in the design of the YFL-B441II Professional Bass Flute that overcome the playability and intonation issues that plague lesser instruments.


The piccolo is the smallest member of the flute family, sounding an entire octave above the concert flute. Just like the standard flute, the piccolo is in the key of C. Although size-wise the piccolo appears to be a miniature flute, the two instruments are quite different.

The piccolo is much more difficult to play than many other flutes. The extremely high voice of the piccolo requires a highly-energized air stream the beginning player is not conditioned to produce. In addition to the lung support needed to create the sound, the close layout of the keys also can be challenging for beginners’ hands.

Piccolos come in one of three body types:

1) Metal body with a metal headjoint.

  • Ideal for marching band use
  • Most brilliant tone for biggest projection
  • Unlike wooden piccolos, humidity does not affect intonation

2) Composite Body (Plastic)

  • Durability of materials is ideal for young players
  • Intonation is not affected by weather

3) Wooden body with a metal headjoint.

  • Ideal for a beginner piccolo player
  • Has a constructed lip plate that makes it easier to form the embouchure
  • The metal headjoint provides less air resistance

4) Wooden body with a wooden headjoint.

  • Allows the most musicality
  • Most sensitive to dynamic changes
  • Required in orchestrational use and most symphonic wind ensembles

Flute Care and Maintenance

Proper care of a flute is absolutely critical to the longevity of the keypads and the overall durability of the instrument.

Rinse your mouth out!

Since wind instruments require you to blow through them, any remnants of food or sugar from beverages are blown through your flute. Beyond the hygienic benefits of rinsing your mouth before playing, it will also drastically improve the health and last of your pads.


Removing the moisture from your instrument is key to the preservation of your keypads and avoiding buildup inside. Your flute will come with a needle and cleaning cloth. Feed the tip of the cloth through the needle covering it completely, and then feed it through the three parts of the flute removing all of the condensation. Be careful how far you insert the swab into the headjoint—there is a cork in the tip and you could break the seal of the cork if you jab it with the swab.

Sticky keys

Even if you rinse your mouth before you play, due to humidity and weather conditions your keys will likely become sticky. Blowing sharp bursts of air on the sticking pad may solve the problem.

If the sticking persists you may insert a clean piece of paper and push the key down lightly—do not under any circumstances push the key down and pull the paper out from under the pad. The pads on a flute are very fragile and expensive to replace and that much force can damage the pads.

Proper assembly of the flute

It is essential to always follow the correct steps when disassembling or assembling your flute. All of the keys are connected with delicate springs and mechanisms that may be damaged if handled incorrectly, causing costly repairs.

  • Never grab the flute by the keys or mechanism
  • Always twist the pieces together, never push or shove
  • Put the footjoint on the body first; the uncoated metal at the bottom of the body section is the most easily bent
  • Put the headjoint on after the foot using the first key as a reference point for the embouchure hole

Why buy online?

It may seem counter-intuitive to not physically play the instrument before you buy it, but in reality shopping online can be a far wiser choice.You’ll find a much larger assortment to choose from at Musician’s Friend as compared to the typical music store. You also won’t have to deal with sometimes pushy salespeople. Instead, your choice will be based on the research rather than sales pressure.

No-risk purchase

Without the restrictions of a physical store our stock cannot be matched. And then of course, there is our 45-Day Satisfaction Guarantee. This means you have up to 45 days to test your flute thoroughly. Take your instrument to your music instructor, technician or any other non-biased source This way you will have an accurate sense of the flute’s range, tone, and feel so you know beyond doubt this is the flute for you or your student.

Right price

We don’t have sales reps trying to sell you anything. With our Lowest Price Commitment we match any verified deal from any authorized U.S. dealer, which means you get the instrument of your choice for the best price offered in the country.

To Rent or Buy?

When you are a beginning student, selecting which instrument you want to play is not an easy task. Having never been in a band before it is difficult to choose. The idea of renting may seem tempting but overall it can be more trouble than it’s worth.

Not your own

Rental instruments are used by many students. This entails some wear and tear caused by others. The pads may not be in prime condition and the cork in the headjoint will be used—both can dramatically affect sound quality.

Rental fees

Long-term rental fees can pile up rapidly when in all reality a beginner’s flute brought straight out costs less than a year’s worth of rent.

Trade-in value

A properly chosen student instrument that’s well maintained will retain its value and may then be traded in or sold for a higher quality flute.

We are here to help!

Still unsure which flute is right for you? Call one of our Musician’s Friend Gear Heads at 877-880-5907. We’ll help you find the flute that’s right for your situation.