How To Choose A Flute For Traditional Irish Music
Title Image: "Wood Flute Headjoints" by David Chu, sideblown.com
Purchasing an Irish flute for traditional Irish music can be daunting. Whether you’re looking for a beginner flute, an advanced flute or your first wooden flute it can be hard to work out which Irish flute is best for you.
We get all types of flute players, from experienced players to people just starting out to classically trained flute players ‘switching over’. Each asking questions about which route they should take to find ‘the one’.
This blog has been written to help you choose the right Irish flute no matter what stage you are at.
We’re proud of the great variety of Irish flutes we offer in our Irish Flute Store and we promise to leave no stone unturned in your quest to find the right fit.
- 1 About the Irish or Celtic Flute
- 2 How to choose the best beginner Irish flute
- 3 Budget Beginner Flutes under €100
- 4 Beginner Irish Wooden Flutes for under €250
- 5 Beginner Irish Flutes under €300
- 6 The Best Irish Flutes For Intermediate Players
- 6.0.1 The Lon Dubh Irish Polymer Flute – (Under €350)
- 6.0.2 McNeela African Blackwood Flute – (Under €500)
- 6.0.3 Des Seery Flute – (Under €500)
- 7 The Best Irish Flutes For Advanced Players
- 8 More General Information on Irish Flutes
- 9 Tips for buying a beginner Irish flute
- 10 How to choose the right Intermediate and Advanced Irish Flute
- 11 Different Parts of the Irish Flute
- 12 What is an Irish flute called?
- 13 Is the Irish flute hard to play?
- 14 What is the best flute for beginner?
- 15 How many types of flute are there?
- 16 How much do flutes cost?
About the Irish or Celtic Flute
Simple system flutes like the ones made by McNeela, Arie de Keyser or Sam Murray can be classed as Irish flutes or Celtic flutes. These flutes and more can be found in our Irish flute store.
These are usually wooden flutes made from tone woods such as African blackwood, cocuswood, mopane, rosewood, boxwood, or a wood-like plastic composite, polymer.
These Irish flutes are based on Pratten’s Perfected model dating back to the early to mid 18th century.
A standard Irish wooden flute generally features 8 tone holes – on keyless models the bottom two holes are decorative although the foot joint on a Celtic or Irish flute is important for tuning and must remain as part of the design regardless of whether tone holes are used.
The standard keyless Irish flute will usually be in the key of D with the fingering more or less the same as a standard tin whistle or penny whistle or indeed recorder.
Happily most traditional Irish music can be played on a keyless key of D wooden flute.
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.
If a beginner buys a low quality flute, it can produce a low quality sound and playability may be poor.
This 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.
Reviews and Research
Customer reviews are also a really good way to get an insight into a product.
Get on Google, visit music shops which have Irish flutes for sale and talk to flute players or music teachers.
You’ll also find many online forums which can be really helpful.
Chiff and Fipple is a popular forum for Irish flute players.
Budget Beginner Flutes under €100
Useful for young learners or if you have a low budget
One Piece Polymer Practice Flute by Tony Dixon
The volume on the plastic Tony Dixon practice flute, tuneable and non tuneable is not that high.
They are, however, very popular with school teachers who want to help children learn how to blow and “fill” the flute with air.
Because they are not expensive, music teachers tend to go for them so they can teach the flute without complaints from the parents for spending too much!
Tuneable Polymer Practice Flute By Tony Dixon
This tuneable polymer practice flute is also made by Tony Dixon. It’s a fantastic flute for beginners and at only €94 for the tuneable version, it’s a bargain.
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.
Beginner Irish Wooden Flutes for under €250
Useful for beginners of the Irish flute or Celtic flute or for students starting out on the Wooden Flute
The Cygnet Irish Rosewood Flute
The Cygnet is currently our most popular flute. It’s designed for traditional Irish music and is rated by music teachers as their preferred Irish flute for students, it’s priced at just €225.
The Cygnet is for adults who are interested in learning the wooden flute or the Celtic flute style.
It’s also for kids who are getting more serious about learning and want to progress from the plastic flute to the wooden flute.
This wooden flute is still relatively inexpensive yet provides the benefits of a real Irish wooden flute. It’s made from rosewood, one of the most popular tonewoods.
Rosewood flutes produce a softer sound than other wooden flutes.
It’s got a lovely tone, is nice to play and easy to get a sound from. Remember, when something is nice to play you tend to practice more.
You will 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 likely never use them because you would need keys to be able to reach them.
They are really only there for tuning and decoration.
Aperture or Embouchure
The aperture (or embouchure hole) that you blow into on this flute, like all the flutes in the McNeela flute range is slightly smaller than standard Irish flutes.
It has been designed this way so beginners can fill the flute more easily.
Beginner Irish Flutes under €300
Better for getting good tone and volume
The McNeela Cocuswood Irish Flute
Advantages of the McNeela Cocuswood Irish Flute
It’s particularly easy to get volume, easy to fill and easy to get a good tone from it.
Cocuswood is one of the original tonewoods and produces a bright, rich tone.
Cocuswood is even more dense than Rosewood so this flute will have a higher volume than the Cygnet.
Value for Money
The McNeela Cocuswood Irish flute is probably one of the best value wooden flutes on the market today.
The Best Irish Flutes For Intermediate Players
The Lon Dubh Irish Polymer Flute – (Under €350)
Key Features of the Lon Dubh Irish Polymer Flute
This flute produces a strong clear tone and is ideal for a traditional Irish music session. It’s highly durable and is made using a very strong polymer resin.
Polymer Irish Flute
The Lon Dubh polymer flute is made with polymer resin, one of the strongest plastics, so it’s a flute that can be passed down from generation to generation.
Unlike its wooden flute counterparts it’s never affected by climatic conditions and is virtually indestructible.
Great Travel Flute
It’s also a handy flute for throwing into your suitcase and whipping it out when you want to play. Remember, because it’s made of polymer this flute doesn’t need to warm up and needs little to no maintenance.
The Surprising Tone of the Lon Dubh
The Lon Dubh polymer flute’s most surprising quality is the beautiful woody tone it produces – particularly suited to Irish flute and Celtic flute music. It also looks like an African Blackwood flute from a distance! Just perfect for an impromptu session.
Value for Money
This flute is priced at only €329 and is definitely a worthy long term investment.
McNeela African Blackwood Flute – (Under €500)
Key Features of the McNeela African Blackwood Flute
African Blackwood is the tone wood of choice amongst top traditional Irish flute players and once you hear it you can see why.
This wooden Irish flute has a full bodied resonance and produces a strong timbre tone with just the right amount of chiff.
Irish Session Flute
The big sound the McNeela African Blackwood Flute produces makes it a great session flute when you need to be heard. Its powerful low D is a stand out feature of this wooden flute.
African blackwood is a very dense hardwood, dense enough to sink in water. It’s finely textured and has a beautiful smooth finish when polished.
Switching from the Boehm or Classical Flute to the Irish Flute
If you’re a classically trained flute player wishing to switch to a keyless wooden flute or you want to explore the Celtic flute style the McNeela African Blackwood Irish flute is the perfect crossover flute.
I highly recommend it as providing a great introduction to the world of traditional Irish flute music.
Value for Money
The McNeela African Blackwood flute is highly comparable to more expensive blackwood flutes and at its current price of €465 it beats all other premium intermediate flutes hands down.
It’s also a best-seller in my Irish Flute Store
Des Seery Flute – (Under €500)
Des makes flutes which are known to produce exceptional tone and intonation.
Constructed from a highly durable polymer composite they are powerful in character and suitable for any weather condition.
Due to this they have virtually no maintenance costs.
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 very well priced at €485.
The Best Irish Flutes For Advanced Players
Arie de Keyser African Blackwood Flute – (Under €700)
The Arie de Keyser African Blackwood flute is a professional Irish flute. It’s extremely durable and handcrafted with top quality African blackwood.
You may also upgrade it with keys at a later stage.
His range is extremely popular within the Irish traditional music community and his instruments are always in demand.
This beautiful handcrafted Irish flute is priced at €695.
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.
The McNeela Music Irish Flute Store are exclusive stockists of Sam Murray flutes.
More General Information on Irish Flutes
What exactly is an Irish Flute?
Origins of the 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.
Also known as Boehm flutes 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.
How Classical Flutes became Irish Flutes
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 in the mid 1800s, 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 transverse flute) is in the key of D. If it has keys mounted onto it, it can be played in other keys such as C, A etc.
For those of you who don’t know, the key of C is slightly lower than the key of D. Traditional Irish music is usually played in the key of D. You can still play in different keys in Irish music on a regular keyless flute, such as the key of D, G, A using different fingering methods.
Tips for buying a beginner Irish flute
Ensure you buy a flute suitable for beginners
When buying your first beginner flute it’s a good idea to buy one that is designed 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 in value and when buying a well known brand you know the instrument is reputable.
In some cases the flute is actually worth more a few years after purchase!
Don’t buy a flute on the spur of the 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 Irish 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.
Different Parts of the Irish Flute
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 (if the flute has one), 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. On a keyless Irish flute these tone holes not used.
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.
What is an Irish flute called?
An Irish flute is known as a féadóg mhór (big whistle) in the Irish language.
In English it’s known as a simple system conical bore flute or an 18th century pre-Boehm concert flute.
Is the Irish flute hard to play?
Yes, the Irish flute can be difficult to play even for classically trained flute players. This is due to the large size of the Irish flute and the larger than standard tone holes.
Intonation is achieved by fingering rather than the classical technique of tonguing.
What is the best flute for beginner?
The best flute for a beginner is the McNeela Cygnet rosewood flute. It’s been specially designed with a smaller embouchure to aid the student with breath control and is the best value wooden flute on the market.
How many types of flute are there?
There are 3 main types of flutes:
– harmony flutes
Further reading on the many types of flutes
How much do flutes cost?
A good starter Irish wooden flute will cost between €200 and €400.
An intermediate Irish wooden flute or Delrin flute will cost between €400 and €800.
An advanced wooden flute will cost upwards of €900.