This week in our series on how to be prepared to try new instruments, we’re tackling the question, “What should I play?” Many students walk into the shop and can feel a bit overwhelmed by all of the choices. Don’t fret! My job is to make this process as easy–and hopefully fun!–as possible.
I like to start players out by trying about four flutes at a time. This gives you a wide range of sounds, feel, and tonal colors without overwhelming the player. The Indy Flute Shop is equipped with acoustic panels that are customized to the range of a flute so the instrument sounds great to your ear. Start simple: scales, long tones, or possibly a slow, melodic piece. If you’re stepping up from a student flute to an intermediate one, you should be able to tell a difference pretty quickly in the sound and responsiveness of the instrument. Next, try some low and high notes—anything you’re comfortable playing. Don’t worry about trying to play the highest and lowest notes if you’re not familiar with them yet. Most players notice the biggest difference in these registers.
Now is a good time to do a quick evaluation of what you think so far of the instrument in your hand. Does it feel easy to play, or do you have to work at it? How do the keys feel? Does it have the sound you are looking for? Make some quick mental notes, or jot down some quick thoughts.
Next, we will repeat that process with the other flutes you have selected to try. It’s best to play similar excerpts on all of the instruments on the first round to help differentiate between their sounds and how they feel to you.
For most students, after this first round of testing, there are usually one or two instruments that really stick out as favorites. We’ll revisit those instruments and set the others aside. For the second round, now is a good time to play some extended exercises or excerpts to get a better feel of the instrument or instruments you liked. Here are some examples of things to test:
1. Dynamics: try playing a variety of dynamics, from very quiet to very loud. Does one respond better? Can you push more air through before the instrument cracks or goes out of tune?
2. Technical passages: try some exciting fast passages, or even a quick scale a few times through. How do the keys feel?
3. Register jumps: the flute has a huge range, and sometimes we have to jump all over the place, from low to high and back again. Try some octave jumps, or find a technical passage in a piece you are playing. You want those jumps to feel as natural and effortless as possible.
By this time, you probably will have found the one…or maybe two. What’s next? Stay tuned next week to find out what the next steps are to your next perfect flute!