What the amazing concert flute is made of

Learn Flute Podcast SHOW NOTES:

In this episode, you will learn about what the amazing concert flute is made of. 

 

A few key points for this podcast: 

  • Information on this podcast is supplemental to LearnFluteOnline.com
  • What flutes are considered the best.
  • A few different types of metal flutes are made of, and how they compare. 
  • Allergies to specific types of metals found in flutes. 

Learn Flute Podcast 116

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Podcast Transcript

I was recently working closely with someone who appeared to have an allergy to their flute. Could this even be possible? Let’s check it out today and see what the amazing concert flute is made of. 

Ah it’s great to have you here today – isn’t playing flute the best? We just finished up the most amazing formal recital week at Learn Flute Online and I was blown away with the preparation. 

It makes me have proud mamma moments as the teacher of this amazing group. It’s so fun to help you accomplish your goals in music. 

It’s as big of a deal to me as it is to you, and I’m happy to be able to work with you. 

My name is Rebecca Fuller (in case you’re new here) and all of this fun we’ve been having lately inside our members area just reminds me that 

Learn Flute Online is just one big happy family, and even though we may not be in the same room physically with eachother, it “mattereth not” because our amazing world of technology is making all things possible for us.

In fact, I’ve worked really hard to be sure that we have the correct organization in the learning area here so that you can just fly – you still get to move at your own pace all the time here. 

Everyone has their own set of skills and it’s great to be able to help you lay foundations and build upon those for fun and confidence in flute playing.

Allergies

So welcome again here today… Now spring has sprung where I live and I’m sure that pretty soon I’m going to be sneezing all day long and wishing winter would come to my rescue, I do have allergies. 

Seasonal allergies mostly that are related to grasses and hay. So living in the country is a challenge for a couple of months this time of year. It’s okay, I am still glad I live here though.

You know, speaking of allergies, I was working with someone a few weeks ago and this subject came up. 

Let me explain. 

This person was on vacation and didn’t have her own normal, regular flute with her. So, she had a temporary replacement for the week that was a different flute, a different make, a different model, and I should say that it was significantly of lower quality than what she was used to playing on.

An interesting thing to note is that after a couple of days of playing on this different instrument, she started to have an unusual number of cankers in her mouth and a rash under her lip.

She showed me and we started to wonder if it’s possible she was having some sort of allergic reaction to this different flute.

I asked a few questions, and sure enough, it did seem like a possibility because her whole life she’d had troubles wearing jewelry like necklaces especially – made her skin sweat and have a rash.

What is your flute made of? 

Pretty interesting – so we decided to dive into what the flute was made of and then of course, we needed to find solutions for her.

It’s really normal to not know what our instruments are made out of.. Unless you’re some sort of metal scientist, you probably would never know.

But, it’s actually quite interesting and as I mentioned earlier, quite useful to know since what our flutes are made of is what affects our sound, the durability of our instrument, and also how it can feel to our body.

So as we dived into figuring out what this cheaper flute was made of a few weeks ago, I found that it had a very high content of nickel, which is quite common for lower end and beginner student model flutes to be made out of. Nickel and a little bit of silver, both.

So, I know most concert flutes look really shiny and silvery, the base is actually made from a sheet of nickel or alloy which is a mix of metals with a higher content of nickel, and there are also some other things in it like copper and well- we can dive into that another day I guess.

And then they are silver plated on top to help a couple of things like tarnishing and also this is what gives the flute it’s iconic sound. 

Usually, the higher level the flute is, the higher level metal materials were used in its making. Many intermediate flutes are more silver or even a sterling silver. 

And of course, you may have heard of gold flutes – we’ll get into this in a bit, but let’s go back to the nickel idea.

Nickle Flutes

Nickel is a pretty inexpensive metal. It’s also really durable and like I said, the most common metal used in making beginner flutes.

Nickel is a really great choice because they sound really good despite only being lightly covered with silver.

So, it makes sense that many and most lower end flutes are made of it.

Nickel does tarnish very easily, and isn’t really quite as bright and pretty as silver.

There are two schools of thought when making flutes nowadays, the first being to stick with traditional ways in trying to increase the quality of the instrument so that the player of it has the best fighting chance to sound amazing.

The other school of thought is to roll out flutes that are as low cost as possible while still sounding like a flute.

What type of flute do you own? 

You might be kind of wondering right now with this introduction.

Well, your first indication is how much you actually paid for your flute. If it was found on the internet for less than two hundred dollars or so, then you can assume it’s probably nickel and also probably produced in China where they are known for being able to mass-create at a very low cost..

By also using low quality materials as well.

There’s a time and place for both types of instruments, so don’t get too worried about what you have right now.

Many of these new Chinese  manufacturers are really striving to make quality sounding flutes that are able to be sold and purchased at a very low cost.

Basically, it’s the idea of being able to spread education and music to the world in a more affordable way.

Some of these companies do a really good job. And some of them are still lacking quite a bit since the instruments arrive with the keys attached on there crooked, or the mechanism isn’t designed with the precision it takes to function at the standard this modern flute needs.

We can talk about this another day, but for now just know that the makers seem to be trying and there are more and more of them popping up each year.

In fact, when I began my pedagogy studies about thirty years ago, none of these china-made flutes existed that I even knew of, and now there are dozens and dozens of new makers. 

Silver Concert Flutes

Anyway, okay let’s move on to the next metal which is silver. Now silver has historically been the choice of most flutists.

It’s very pretty, which is asthetically very pleasing – it’s very shiny and the reason I had my eye on it at a very young age.

It’s also the silver sound that we’re used to.

The higher level the flute, the more real silver is in it usually. And this gives the flute possibly a sweeter sound and brigher. Of course it’s up to the player to make it do its thing.

Although silver does tarnish, it doesn’t tarnish as quickly as the nickel does. And, with proper maintenance, it really can last for generations.

If you have a flute that appears to be silver, and is probably silver plated with nickel underneath, it’s possible that you’ve already noticed some rub spots where the silver plating is starting to come off, kind of rub off.

This happens mostly on the lip plate and at points of contact where your flute rests on your hands.

And really, it’s okay – it won’t really affect the sound you’re creating, but yes, it can be annoying and a little unnerving.

Just know that moving to a higher quality flute will remedy this situation since higher levels of silver will run deeper into the instrument.

When I purchased my most recent flute I learned that sterling silver is different than just silver. It’s a different alloy mix which is over 92 percent and with a bit of copper in it as well.

This helps with durability of the metal. Silver isn’t as soft as gold, but pure silver flutes can bend and be damaged more easily – so we have to be careful with them.

Good thing that anyone who is playing on a sterling silver flute usually already knows how to properly play and care for a flute so it’s not usually an issue.

Sterling silver does tarnish though – and even quicker than regular silver because the copper in it oxidizes more quickly.

What does this mean?

Well, more than ever before, properly cleaning and putting away the flute after practice is important.

The flute case was designed to keep the metal safe from the elements.

I am a preaching flute teacher when it comes to flute care and keeping your instrument safe and healthy.

Why?

Because we need to do whatever we can to protect our voice.

This is why we play the instrument… Because of its voice. And if it’s damaged or suffering in any way, we don’t have a chance – You know the chance that we long for at sounding amazing. 

So, keep your metal flutes in their cases, folks.

Concert Flutes made of Gold

Have you ever heard of flutes made of gold? Yep, it’s a real thing. Gold flutes sound really great! They have a different sound, a little darker maybe, but oh so beautiful. So, what’s the reason we’d want to choose a gold flute over a silver one?

Well, there are few reasons: one being that when flutists get to a certain level in their playing career, they oftentimes are seeking an instrument that will allow them a certain sound that they’re hoping for, especially when they are performing certain pieces of music.

A gold flute can just hit the spot more correctly than a silver one.

It really just depends and it’s up to the player of the flute to decide what they like.

Another reason someone might opt for a gold flute is that they have found they have a silver or a nickel allergy, or both. Severe enough to seek for alternatives. Gold is a great idea. 

These flutes aren’t full gold though.

In fact, they are made of the same materials and alloys that other flutes are made of, but are plated with gold. This will still change the sound of the instrument and also give the player who might be allergic to silver or nickel the protection they need.

I had a conversation once with one of my teachers from many years ago about his gold flute. His flute was made by a manufacturer in Japan who created it just for him, just for my teacher.

Wow, wouldn’t that be cool to have your own flute maker at your disposal. In fact, I have a funny story about this he told me.

I was asking him how much gold his flute was made of, and how much gold was actually in it and he explained to me that it can’t be too high of gold content or the metal bends over time which throws the instrument mechanism out of whack as you can imagine. 

So he said if the maker pushes the limit too much it can be a real problem. Well, he said that his flute was one of these really high quality gold flutes and that it actually fell out of his car once and got ran over.

Whoa.

Yah, I just said that.

He was driving down a mountain road and the latch on his hatchback vehicle popped apart when he hit the big pot hole in the road.

The back came open and his flute bag fell out onto the road where behind him was a semi truck and trailer moving at 50 miles an hour.

Well, you guessed it.

The semi ran over his flute bag and by the time they had pulled over and picked up the pieces he said he found his keys on his flute were the size of pancakes.

Oh dear, what a disaster!

The gold was soft and the flute just flattened.

I was horrified when he told me this story and I asked him what he did with it after that.

He casually shrugged his shoulders and told me that he took it to his friend, the flute maker, and they melted it down and made him a whole new flute from it.

Haha, of course! Why didn’t I think of that?

Oh what a story!

 

Anyway, gold is soft, but it’s also a really nice sound on a flute. You can find flutes with varying levels of gold placed on it. For example, my flute has a gold plating inside the lip plate.

Some have the entire lip riser made of gold or even a body which is gold but the keys could be made of silver. This makes it so the flute has the acoustic benefits you’re looking for but is possibly more durable and lower in cost.

Platinum Flutes

Let’s wrap this up today by discovering one more type of metal that you might find a flute made of and this is: platinum.

A concert flute anyway, a platinum flute. So platinum is definitely the most expensive, and way heavier to hold, but more durable than gold flutes that we just talked about.

Platinum flutes sound deeper, darker, and richer. I’ve heard they have amazing response as well.

I don’t play on a platinum flute but I imagine this amazing response is because the makers using platinum are hand making them to perfection.

This is opposite from the factory flute makers who use a stamp and template cut outs to make the flutes from low end materials, like the nickel we talked about. These flutes are usually never to be touched again until the buyer purchases it and tries it the first time.

That’s very opposite from a handmade flute. 

Do you need a platinum flute?

No.

But if you want one and can afford it, what a great day. You should try one because you may find the making of it unparalleled to the other flutes you have played in your life.

Now, we won’t really get into other materials for flutes for the purposes of this episode, but you can know that there are also concert flutes made from wood and plastic composite nowadays – we can talk about those on another episode though because I feel they are in a different category.

Okay, so what a fun time we’ve had today discovering what the amazing concert flute is made of.

I hope you understand from this discussion that the craftsmanship is even more important than what the flute is made of.

The maker literally makes the quality of the flute. But, knowing what your flute is made of can help you with a couple of things like if you’re having allergies, like an allergy issue or feel the flute is underperforming your playing abilities.

Here at Learn Flute Online, we’re striving to do our best with what we have, of course. I know you’re gaining knowledge and enjoying the education here as you improve and move through the levels.

It’s fun to have these types of discussions because knowing these things broadens your flute horizons even more.

As usual, I’d like to invite you into a lesson today – we’re going to continue on – remember that the level module lessons are set up sequentially for your success.

And like Lisa who is a real member at Learn Flute Online said, she says:

“I love this. It’s a methodical way to learn to go faster and it’s just what I needed. The way you [Rebecca] teach[es] it I don’t find it frustrating or overwhelming.”

and Pat says

“I’d been trying to learn to play the flute for a number of years before coming to Learn Flute Online. I’m learning so quickly now. It feels like a miracle!”

 

Well thank you Pat and Lisa for your kind words, and I’m super proud of you and the success you’re finding here.

As usual, I’ll play you out now, but in the meantime, I want you to let me know if you find value from these episodes and I also want you to reflect what you learned today about what the amazing concert flute is made of.

Because it truly is an amazing instrument.

See you again soon!

Bye now.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about what the amazing concert flute is made of.  Join us for the next episode!

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Have any questions? Comment below and I will help you out.

Rebecca FullerRebecca Fuller
Get Flutie with us! Learn and enjoy every musical minute.

2 thoughts on “What the Amazing Concert Flute is Made Of”

  1. Flute Stories…here’s mine!
    Someone at church had an 85 year old friend with a flute that had sat sadly in her closet for more than 70 years! A small Gemeinhardt that she’d played as a child and then stopped. She only wanted $50 for it! I wrote her a check and then went to Bertrand’s Music in Mission Viejo to get a tune up and, out of curiosity, an appraisal! Turns out the lil flute was worth $700! So I wrote another check. A flute “rescue” that brings me joy (and frustration…but that’s not the flute’s fault:/) every time I pick it up, which is every day.

    The other day at UPS I was getting Bourrée printed out and the girl mentioned she plays a GLASS flute. I’d never heard of that. Maybe she was having her but o’ fun.

    Keeping flutie,

    Nancy Myers in So Cal

    1. Hi Nancy, oh yes – glass flutes are real! They are super pretty too. I like the sound of them (kind of like a piccolo sound). I’m so glad you have your Gemeinhardt and are enjoying it daily. Flute rescues are great! I rescued by first flute over and over and over until I got a new one… night and day for me. Keep it up – I enjoy your comments! Rebecca

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