Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adult re-starting flute on a budget

Dear Fluters,
A letter from a budget-minded adult flutist re-beginner:

I played the flute for a few years in high school. My parents had purchased me a used, open-holed flute which I no longer have. I am now returning to the flute. I no longer have the flute I used to play and so am looking into buying a new one. My budget is limited. I certainly can't afford anything more than $700. I know Yamaha flutes have very good sound quality and sound quality is a top priority. But they're so expensive! I want a flute that I could use for many years even as I progressed to a more advanced level. Should I buy a beginner Yamaha flute or a less expensive flute from another maker that has more advanced features (such as being open-holed)? For instance, I've been looking online at the Pearl PF 505RBE quartz flute. I had been leaning toward buying a new flute because I don't have a teacher at the moment (I just don't have the money) to give me advice on buying a used one. I'd appreciate any advice you could offer me.

Dear re-starter,

Your situation is very familiar, as I have many adult re-starters, or re-beginners each year in the same situation, so I hope this information is able to help many flute-loving folk out there.

Firstly, like buying any new "hobby item", you really need to find the time and experience the fun of it more than you need to find the money for the initial investment. Thank heaven. Time and fun are virtually free! :>)
As we all know, so many people buy bicycles, exercise equipment, new kitchen-gadgets, but end up not using them six months later.
They can't stick to it. They need friends and fun to make the hobby come alive!!
So, I'll explain all that I know on this topic. :>)

Being creatively satisfied with your hobby will come from 30 to 45 minutes a day of playing an easy-to-play, good-sounding flute, entrancing sheet music, and even, one day soon, playing music together with your wonderful new musical friends.
Music is truly one of the most satisfying hobbies on earth.
But to really do it easily, well and to do it on a budget, does in fact mean taking flute lessons, (even if they are two weeks apart and only 30 minutes long) and buying sheet music and practising every day too.

Why do I think lessons are a necessity to improving on the flute? Here are just some of the benefits to lessons:

a) the flute teacher can help you shop for a new flute or used flute that's a good quality item and test flutes for/with you.

b) the flute teacher can play-test your flute any flute you're currently using and let you know ("is it ME, or is it the flute?") when to send it for repair. All flutes need tweaking and oiling once a year. Many amateurs have no idea that they've missed that window and continue to play on leaking flutes and get frustrated because they think they've just lost their abilities.

c) your flute teacher will introduce you to sheet music that you will LOVE and CDs that will inspire you! They'll also play duets with you and make you feel that you're involved in real music making!

d) your flute teacher will introduce you to other music-making adults at your own level so you can form chamber groups or flute duets/trios and start getting music into your life from all around.

e) your teacher will let you know about flute events that are coming up which will inspire you, like concerts, classes and workshops.

f) And most importantly; your flute teacher will help you avoid the 2,017,257 common pitfalls of self-teaching yourself the flute and getting all frustrated.
Yes, there are 2,017,257 known pitfalls, and many of them start with an unknowing flute re-beginner playing on a flute that is not functioning properly, and they end with some common human flaw like not holding it properly, not blowing properly, not playing in the right musical style etc.

So how to go about this project the way that will avoid most pitfalls and lead to musical glorious happiness when you only have $700?

The wrong way would be to spend the entire $700 on an open-hole flute. The right way would be something like this:

1. Check out local music stores that rent good quality instruments (phone flute teachers in the area; they will tell you the best music stores in your area or mail-order stores they trust.)
You may find that you can rent Yamaha 300 or 200 series for $15 to $25 a month. This will keep costs low for the first 3 months while you assess your personal time devotion to this new hobby, and search for a good quality used flute to buy.
We had a local music store here in Canada renting brand spanking new Jupiter 511s that were terrific quality, for only $15 a month. What a deal!!

2. Sign up for at least four flute lessons with a highly quality flute teacher, even if the lessons are only 30 minutes every two weeks (for the ultimate poverty-stricken person). Of course, 45 minutes per week for one month would be far better.
Maybe you could even find another adult re-beginner who wants to share lessons and a flute teacher who'd love to take you both together for a lesson. That's possible too.

Now, having a flute lesson every week allows you to not develop too many strange posture or holding or blowing habits before your teacher can spot them and help you learn the best methods instead. You don't want "bad-habits" to become ingrained, and you want to avoid flutey frustration.

So, thus tiny far you have invested let's say $30 for each lesson x four weeks = $120.
And your rented flute (your teacher has checked it to make sure it's in good working order) has been, let's say $75 for three months of use.

Yes, you have spent a maximum of $200 for three months worth of exploring, but you are about five years ahead of the game, than if you purchased a $700 flute that wasn't working properly, became frustrated and let it moulder in the closet and said "I'm a failure" plus you still have money left over, and you've invested what you did spend on getting off to a tremendously intelligent start. Who can fault this plan so far? Fire away (comment button below.) :>)

Still trusting me? Okay, let's go to the next very cool part of this whole equation. :>)

3. During the first three months (when your excitement is fresh) you will have discovered whether you actually can practise every day where you live, whether you enjoy practising, and whether you needed any basic help with music reading or playing the flute easily and well. (even though you only took, let's say four lessons, you now can draw on that information for a month or two afterward, especially if you recorded the lessons and took notes.)
Now, after all that input, you're in a position to be able to play-test various used flutes that you might like to buy. You can take a flute-testing lesson or two extra, where teacher and you both can play-test flutes you're considering buying, and you can even compare side-by-side several used flutes and pick the best one.

This puts you in a knowledgable position and a much more independent and well-researched position. You are not just guessing anymore. You have your flute-teacher and their level of experience to corroborate or query your findings about each potential flute to buy, and at a flute-testing lesson you can hear the flutes actually played by someone who plays at the much higher level, the level that you will eventually reach if you keep going.

This is like having a professional mechanic test your used car. Much better than testing it yourself as a novice driver, as you wouldn't know what to look for.

4. Also, very important, during the first three months of re-beginning the flute, you can be using an Escrow service and www.usedflutes.com or other used flute source to shop for a good quality used flute. You are at liberty to try out and send back several instruments as long as you plan on having a little money spent for shipping and escrow fees,

Your new flute teacher might even be able to help find you an inexpensive but good quality used flute from another student in his/her studio who has kept their flute in great repair and is now selling it on. This is far more common than most people think. It takes about a week or two for the flute teacher of 30 students to ask them all if any of them want to sell their used Yamaha to an incoming student.

5. Now, you have about $350 or $400 left to spend on a good quality used flute. And if you save a little extra, you could have more. (Save $5 a day for three months by taking a brown-bag lunch for example and you have an extra $450 to add to your flute saving account.)
And that's plenty for a used Yamaha.

You can find this kind of price on decent Yamaha flutes in "Buy and Sell" newspapers all the time. One of my students found one for $375 that needed $150 worth of repair, but it lasted her for 10 years and was open-hole, solid silver headjoint Yamaha 300 series. What a deal!

And of coures, remember to put a little extra money aside for a high quality flute technician to tweak any used flute up to perfect working order. And trust a quality technician. If they say "This used flute has been bent, straightened, dented and badly repaired, and I don't recommend you buy it" then listen to them.

Naturally you won't want to purchase any used flute that needs such extensive "over-hauling" that the repair costs would have put you over budget and might cause future problems.
(Note: finding a quality flute teacher almost guarentees you'll find a quality flute technician.)

6. In the six months or so that all the above took to happen you may have also found a way to put a little more money aside
, or scrimp and save a little (pay less for another hobby during that time, because you'll be busy playing the flute everyday instead of watching cable TV etc. :>)
And in that same six months you'll have done all these things:

- rented a good quality beginner's flute that was easy to play and made the whole thing easy and fast to do

- gotten 'catch up' lessons to set you off on an easy and fun route to playing better, faster

- met with a font of flutey information who introduced you to music-friends, flute-sellers, sheet music you like and concerts to go to

- tried out some used flutes and learned about what makes a good/bad flute and how to judge for yourself

- started to practise every day for 30-45 minutes so that suddenly you have BECOME a flute playing adult, not just an adult who wished to do so, but has actually done so.

When I first received the question at the top of this post, my original answer to the email we started out with above was this:

I would still stick with Yamaha (or Pearl if you personally prefer) as Yamahas just last and last, and keep their re-sale value, and don't worry about open-holes.
What do the open-holes actually do? They allow you to play avant-garde music where you half-hole. ( this is called "extended technique"). I personally play an off-set G open-hole with plugs in all the holes.
Apart from enabling you to half-hole for very advanced music styles, open holes physically do nothing to the sound. The sound comes from the quality of the headjoint and the quality of the leak-free padding job.
There are plenty of under $700 flutes on www.usedflutes.com
I even saw $50 Yamaha there today. (Although at that price, it may have indeed spent a certain amount of time in a driveway looking flattened by a car tire, so buyer beware! :>)

Take the flute you are considering buying to the best technician in town and ask for a repair estimate before you make up your mind absolutely about any used flute. And before you even do that, phone the best flute technician in town to see if THEY have any good quality used flutes. They often do.
See article on buying used flutes here.

If buying from an unknown source, always always use escrow.com or other escrow service.
Have the flute professionally assessed by a teacher and technician before finalizing the deal with escrow and the seller. Give yourself ten-day trials. And find a quality flute teacher.
Even one lesson every two weeks for 30 minutes will save you MONTHS of frustration later.

....but I wanted to say WHY!!!

Happy fluting adults one and all,

Comments (2)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an adult (nearly 50) who learnt the flute as a child and took it up again two years ago can I strongly support Jennifer's recommendation to get yourself a good teacher! It is worth many thousands of pounds/euro/dollars on the cost of a flute in my opinion. After a year of lessons I felt in a position to replace my 30 year old Miyazawa with a second-hand Altus 907 and a new Arista headjoint. Living in London I am fortunate to have three music shops that only sell flutes to chose from, you may be less fortunate in your location.

Saturday, January 24, 2009 4:12:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for the corroboration D.P. Best, Jen

Saturday, January 24, 2009 12:06:00 PM


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