How To Choose A Flute For Traditional Irish Music

Posted by Admin June 18, 2018 2 Comments 10878 Views

I get asked this question time and time again, no matter what stage you’re at or how familiar you are, purchasing a flute can be daunting even if it’s a beginner flute or advanced flute. We get everyone, from experienced players to people just starting out, coming into our workshop asking questions about which route they should take to find ‘the one’.

This blog has  been written purely to inform you and help you choose the right Irish flute, no matter what stage you are at. We here at McNeela Music are an Irish Flute Store and we promise to leave no stone unturned in your quest to find the right fit; we want players to be fully informed before buying a flute. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have more questions. 

What exactly is an Irish Flute?

A classical flute (or concert flute) is usually the modern metal flute that you see in orchestras and played in marching bands such as those in American universities. They are fully keyed and your fingers don’t cover the holes instead you press the keys which in turn cover the holes. The standard concert flute is pitched in the key of C and has a range of about three and a half octaves starting from the note middle C.

The Irish flutes were taken from the old concert flutes from Europe and the UK, these old concert flutes were made of African Blackwood in general and usually fully keyed. When they were replaced by classical steel concert flutes made from either silver or nickel at the turn of the century, the Irish grabbed them up. Around the 1930s they became popular for playing traditional music (what some call Irish folk music).
The Irish trad flute (or keyless wooden traverse flute) is in the key of D. If it has keys mounted onto it, it can be played in other pitches such as C, A etc. For those who don’t know, the key of C is slightly lower than the key of D, meaning you play slightly higher in trad music, but then you can play in different keys in Irish music on a regular keyless flute, such as the key of D, G, A.


How to choose the best beginner Irish flute


Obviously you don’t want to spend too much money on your first flute but some think they can get away with the cheapest flute model available, we strongly disagree with this. You don’t want to spend too much until you’re confident that you’re going to keep it up, however, if a beginner buys a low quality flute, it can produce a low quality sound and the playability may be poor. This is can be extremely disconcerting and frustrating and may result in the player giving up. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we advise beginners to carefully evaluate brands and prices. Customer reviews are also a really good way to get an insight into a product. Get on google, visit music shops if you live near one that has Irish flutes for sale and talk to flute players or music teachers. You’ll also find many online forums which can be really helpful. 

Under €100 – Useful for learning.


The volume on the plastic Tony Dixon practice flute, tuneable and non tuneable is not that high however they are very popular with school teachers, who want to help children learn how to blow and “fill” the flute with air as they are easy to fill and get the low D – which is the lowest note making it the hardest to get right. Because they are not expensive music teachers tend to go for them so they can teach the flute but not get complaints from the parents for spending too much!


Tuneable Polymer Practice Flute By Tony Dixon DX021 

This tuneable polymer practice flute is made by the aforementioned iconic Tony Dixon. It’s a fantastic flute for beginners and at only €80 for the tuneable version, it’s a bargain. We have received good feedback from customers (mainly due to its low cost), and we believe this is a great place to start for any beginner, especially if shopping on a budget. It’s a tenor/low flute, has a polymer body and tuneable head. The flute is in the key of D and is also available in keys F, E, Eb.


Under €250 – Useful for learning a Wooden Irish Flute


The Cygnet is for Adults who are interested in learning the flute or for children who are getting more serious about learning and want to progress from the plastic flute. They are still relatively inexpensive but also give the benefits of a real Irish wooden flute. It’s made from rosewood meaning it will have a softer sound than other wooden flutes and comes in a nice case. It’s got lovely tone, is nice to play and when something is nice to play you tend to practice more. You will now notice there are two more holes on the end of this flute, these are for C and C natural on the lower octave, but you will never use them because you would need keys to be able to reach them. They are really only there for tuning and decoration. The aperture (or embouchure hole) that you blow into on this flute, like all the flutes in the McNeela flute range is smaller than normal; it has been designed this way so beginners can fill the flute more easily.


The Cygnet Rosewood Flute 

The Cygnet is currently our most popular flute and is rated by music teachers as the preferred flute for students, it’s priced at just €225. It provides an ease of play and allows the player to quickly advance, it’s also been rated as the most inspirational beginner flute and has received tremendous reviews. It not only provides auditory pleasure but with its naturally treated rosewood finish, it’s also visually beautiful. A knockout in every way!


Under €300 – Better for getting good tone and volume


The Cocuswood Flute – one of the original tonewoods, the timbre in this is even more dense than the Cygnet so it will have a higher volume. It’s particularly easy to get volume, easy to fill and easy to get a good tone from it.


The Best Flutes For Intermediate Players


The Lon Dubh Flute – (Under €350)

This flute produces a strong clear tone and is ideal for a traditional music session. It’s highly durable and is made using a very strong polymer resin.  As it’s made with the strongest quality of materials it’s a flute that can be passed down from generation to generation. This flute is part of a set priced at only €399 and is definitely a worthy long term investment. 


McNeela African Blackwood Flute – (Under €450)

This Irish flute has a full bodied resonance and produces a strong timbre tone. It’s made with African blackwood which is a very dense hardwood, dense enough to sink in water. It’s finely textured and has a very smooth finish when polished. The Blackwood is highly comparable to more expensive blackwood flutes and at its current price of €405 it beats all other premium intermediate flutes hands down.

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Des Seery Flute – (Under €500)

Des makes flutes which are known to produce an exceptional tone and intonation. They are powerful in character and suitable for any weather condition. Due to this they have virtually no maintenance costs – no wonder they are the most popular flute model. With professionals such as Tom Doorley of Danú and Eamonn de Barra of Slide having recorded on a Seery Delrin® flute, it is easy to see why this flute is always in big demand. It’s priced at €485 and is the ultimate must have intermediate flute.


The Best Flutes For Advanced Players

Arie de Keyser African Blackwood Flute – (Under €700)

The Arie de Keyser African Blackwood flute is a professional flute, it’s extremely durable, handcrafted with top quality blackwood, and can be upgraded with keys if required. Arie has been crafting instruments for many years. He began making Flemish pipes in the early 80’s, and soon after that he began to make uilleann pipes and flutes. His instruments became extremely popular and he decided to add more to his range. Over the past 12 years Arie has been making top quality Pratten, Rudall & Rose-style flutes, his range is extremely popular within the Irish traditional music community and his instruments are always in demand. This beautiful handcrafted flute is priced at €695.

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Sam Murray Flute – (Under €1,000)

Sam Murray is an excellent Irish Flute maker and is well known for his achievements over many years. Sam makes what we call a session flute, this flute type is known for its deep tones and high volume. It’s easy to fill and plays as comfortably as a whistle. This flute is made from African blackwood and is in the key of D. It is rare to have a Sam Murray flute for sale and they are not readily available, however we are lucky enough to currently have 1 left in stock and it’s priced at €995. An offer too good to turn down for any advanced player.

3 - Sam Murray Flute 1 Review

Tips for buying a beginner Irish flute

  • Ensure you buy a beginner flute

When buying your first beginner flute it’s a good idea to buy one that is specifically for beginners. Intermediate and professional flutes are designed for players who are experienced and a beginner may find it more difficult to practice and enhance their skills playing one. A good quality beginner flute will be light in weight and easy to play (i.e. easier to fill and get sound). 

  • A decent branded flute can last years

A well known branded flute can really hold its value and can last for years. A flute is not something that greatly depreciates and when buying a well known brand you know the instrument is reputable. In some case the flute is actually worth more a few years after purchase!

  • Don’t buy a flute 0n the spur of a moment, always think ahead

Obviously most people starting the flute have intentions of keeping it up, this is why I would advise buying a beginner flute which is upgradeable. By upgradeable I mean purchasing a flute which you can upgrade by replacing the head joint. A different head joint can do wonders for a flute, and you can upgrade as you advance! 

How to choose the right Intermediate and Advanced Flute: 

So the time has finally come, you have conquered the beginner flute and you are now ready to move onto an Intermediate or Advanced Wooden Flute. This is an exciting time – all your hard work practicing has paid off! 

  • Consider buying key plugs

The change can be daunting and it will take some time to get used to playing a more advanced flute which has open holes, I recommend that you purchase key plugs. This can help with the transition period as you insert the plugs into the holes until you are fully comfortable to play without them. Please note, key plugs may not let the flute reach its full tonal ability, however remember, this is only temporary and you will be able to play solo once you feel ready. 

  • Know your budget

Intermediate and advanced flutes can be expensive so it’s good to have a set budget in mind, this will ensure you don’t get carried away! Having a set budget will allow you to research suitable flutes within your budget and is a good way to narrow your search. 

  • Look towards the future

It’s always good to think about the foreseeable future when buying a flute, this will ensure you buy the right one which will suit your current needs, plus your future requirements. Some good questions to consider are; Is this an enjoyable hobby or would you like to study music at some stage? How long do you expect to play (this will also help determine your budget)? Do you play in gigs and if so do you want a flute which stands out or do you like to play in the background? 

  • As with all flute searches research is key

We advise you to get on google, visit Irish flute stores and talk to flute musicians and music teachers. All of these avenues will allow you to get all the important information you need. You will find many online forums, which can be really helpful. 

I hope this information has helped you with your search, and, although this journey can be time consuming and a learning curve, enjoy it! Once you find the ‘right’ one you will be glad you put the work in.

The Anatomy of the Flute 

The flute consists of 3 main parts, this includes, the head joint, body and the foot joint.

The Head Joint

The head joint is located at the top of the flute, it consists of the lip plate, embouchure hole, and tuning cork, which you can move to adjust the intonation of the flute. This piece of the flute is often regarded as the most important part as it contributes to the flutes flexibility, tonal performance and response. It must be handled with care as if it gets damaged it can result in an unpleasant airy sound. There are many variations of the head joint, some are metal, while others are wooden or platinum, the flute can vary in price depending on the quality of the head joint. Typically the head joint will need to be replaced at some stage, the main reason to do this is to ensure you are getting the best from your flute and to ensure you maintain an overall premium tone quality. 

The Flute Body

The flute body connects the head and foot joint, it’s the midsection and is the largest part of the flute. Most of the keys reside here. It’s essential that the key pads are in good condition, as they are essential to producing a good quality sound. The tuning slide and tenons are also located on the body, they are used to tune the flute.

The Foot Joint

The foot joint also contains some keys. The keys located on the foot joint allow the player to extend the bottom of the range. This is the shortest part of the flute and it also contains the rod. The rod must be aligned in order to centre the keys in the flute body. 

The biggest structural variant – the G key

Flutes come in two ways, they either contain an inline or an offset G key. This means one key is slightly shifted to the left. Even though this seems like a minor variant, it alters the players hand position greatly. Some very advanced players may play both, however deciding if you’d like to get an inline or offset G key really comes  down to preference and whatever the player finds more comfortable. 

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