Here at McNeela Instruments we’re inundated daily with questions about flutes – our loyal customers really like to keep us on our toes and we appreciate the challenge! I thought it might be helpful however to put together this simple FAQ to help answer some key questions.
This quick and easy guide has plenty of information to help you on your way, so whether you’re looking for a flute for sale or just want to know more about this iconic instrument, keep reading.
1. What is an Irish Flute?
The term Irish flute most commonly refers to the traditional Irish wooden flute.
Irish wooden flutes fall into two categories – keyless wooden flutes and simple system keyed flutes with three to eight keys.
2. What is the Difference Between a Classical Flute and an Irish Flute?
The standard classical flute is a metal, keyed flute which is typically made of silver. It features a tapered headjoint and cylindrical body. Each tone hole is covered by metal keys that are designed to operate using the Boehm system, making it fully chromatic. The headjoint on a classical flute has a raised lip plate to help the player achieve a comfortable embouchure.
Traditional Irish flutes are typically made from wood (African blackwood is an incredibly popular tonewood amongst traditional Irish musicians) and feature larger tone holes, with a conical bore and a larger embouchure.
Keyless Irish flutes are incredibly popular, and feature six open tone holes which are covered by the fingers. Simple system keyed Irish flutes will only feature up to eight keys max, which are added alongside the open tone holes.
To learn more about the difference between the silver flute and Irish flute, check out my blog post: Switching From Classical Flute to Traditional Irish Flute
3. Is The Flute Hard to Play?
It can take a while to master the breathing technique and tone required to play the flute. So, yes, I would say that it is a difficult instrument to play.
It can often be a struggle for beginner flute players to produce their first sound. The breath control and lung capacity, combined with the finger movement and fine motor skills required to play the flute to a high standard can also be challenging.
Like any instrument however, with a little hard work, patience and perseverance you can easily learn how to play.
4. Is the Irish Flute Hard to Play?
The Irish flute is no more difficult to play than the classical flute. Like the silver flute however it can be a challenging (but fun!) instrument to learn to play.
Learning to play any style of music is an incredibly rewarding experience however, so in my opinion it’s worth the effort. The rich tradition of Irish flute playing has so much to offer.
5. What Type of Flute is Used in Irish Music?
As we’ve learned, the most commonly played flute in Irish music is the Irish wooden flute.
6. Can I Play Irish Music On a Classical Flute?
Absolutely! There are many high profile musicians – including the iconic Joanie Madden for example – who play traditional Irish music on a classical Boehm system flute to a very high standard.
Joanie’s instrument of choice is a silver Miyazawa flute:
‘When I tried the Miyazawa – that was it, there was no turning back! The tone, the action and the feel of the flute was the best and although I have tried all different kinds of flutes, I have been playing and loving my Miya’s ever since!’- Joanie Madden
7. Is It Difficult To Switch From Classical Flute to Irish Flute?
There are some differences in the playing styles for both instruments but overall it is not difficult to switch from one style of playing to the other. Breathing and tone are two of the most important aspects of flute playing and these skills will easily transfer.
To learn more about the difference in playing styles, check out my blog post: Switching From Classical Flute to Traditional Irish Flute
8. Are Wooden Flutes Better Than Metal Flutes?
Now that’s a tough question indeed! As a traditional Irish flute player, I am incredibly biased towards the unique sound of wooden flutes. They are truly magical instruments.
Objectively speaking however, the answer is no. Neither wooden flutes nor metal flutes are better than one another. The material from which a flute is made will affect the tone it produces, and preference will usually come down to individual taste.
Is one style of flute better suited for a particular style of music however? Absolutely. Silver Boehm system flutes have been designed to meet the demands of classical music performance while Irish wooden flutes have developed to cater to the needs of traditional Irish flautists.
9. What Is the Best Tone Wood for a Flute?
African Blackwood is the tone wood of choice for Irish flute makers. Not only does this dense, dark wood look good – it produces a beautiful rich tone to match. It’s this tonewood that gives the Irish flute its distinctive voice.
Other popular choices include cocuswood, rosewood, boxwood, and mopane.
Learn more about the qualities of different tonewoods from Irish flutemaker Martin Doyle.
10. How Much Does a Flute Usually Cost?
The cost of a new flute will vary depending on whether you are buying a classical flute or an Irish wooden flute as well as the quality of the instrument you are buying.
Classical Flute Price Guide
Beginners (Preliminary Grades – Grade 1/Grade 2)
Beginner flute prices can start as low as $250/€250 and vary accordingly depending on quality. If you know the flute is the right instrument for you it’s always beneficial to start out on a more expensive, better quality instrument.
Intermediate (Grade 3 – Grade 7)
A good quality intermediate flute will start at around $850/€850. If you can afford it in the early stages it will really make a difference to your playing to start on a higher quality instrument.
Advanced (Grade 8+)
Flutes suitable for the needs of advanced players will cost upwards of $1,000/€1,000 (minimum), but more realistically will sit around the $2,000/€2,000 to $3,000/€3,000 mark.
How long is a piece of string? The sky’s the limit when you reach this level of playing. Professional standard flutes can cost tens of thousands (or more!).
Irish Wooden Flute Price Guide
Beginner flutes: $300 – $400/€300 – €400
Intermediate flutes: $400 – $950/€400 – €950
Advanced flutes: $1,000+/€1,000+
Professional flutes: $3,500+/€3,500+
Remember, a keyed flute will cost more than a keyless wooden flute due to the additional cost of the materials used to make it.
Vintage Flute Price Guide
Disclaimer regarding vintage wooden flutes: just because a flute is old, that does not mean it is valuable. It’s important to fully assess the condition of a vintage instrument before you buy it.
Make sure to check for cracks in the bore, and to test that the keys (if there are any) are all in working and the pads are covering the tone holes fully and not worn away. If you need help assessing an instrument please feel free to contact us here at McNeela Instruments and we can offer our expert advice.
11. What is a Good Brand of Flute to Buy?
When looking for the perfect flute for sale there are many reliable brands to choose from including our own Irish flute store! And here is a list of some of my other favourites:
Irish Wooden Flutes
Arie De Keyser
Michael Grinter (sadly deceased, but worth seeking second hand)
12. Where Can I Find a Quality Flute For Sale?
If you’re looking for a quality flute for sale then look no further. The McNeela Flute Store stocks a wide range of flutes from classical flutes to Irish wooden flutes, suitable for beginner to advanced musicians alike. So whatever stage of music making you may be at, we have something for you.
We offer a wide variety of musical instruments and accessories so why not take a look at our shop and see if something catches your eye? If you’re looking for more information on any of our instruments simply get in touch – our expert team is standing by to answer any questions you may have and help you in your search for the perfect instrument.
We’re based in Ireland but ship all over the world so nothing, not even distance, is standing between you and your dream flute.
Thanks for a very informative blog post. I do have a follow-up question: is there any safe way to disinfect an Irish wood flute if one were to suspect it had gotten mold/mildew/etc. in it? I've read that one should never submerge a wooden flute in water or a sterilizing agent as that would cause damage.
What's a poor lad to do when his flute gets sick?
You’ll know your flute has mould/mildew if you can see it growing inside the bore. There’s no need to disinfect however. You can simply take a soft damp cloth (make sure to really squeeze out that excess moisture) and run it through the flute, followed by a dry cotton cloth to quickly remove any excess moisture. Then follow the same process with oil. A cotton bud soaked in oil will help you clean the embouchure and tone holes. Rubbing alcohol or disinfectants that can be safely used on metal flutes will dry out a wooden flute, staining and damaging the wood. To prevent this buildup or growth of mould in the first place make sure to use a dry cloth to wipe down your flute after playing (inside and out).
i was surprised you didn't mention Gilles lehart or any of the breton makers. I have two flutes from Gilles and they are fantastic.
Absolutely – we’re blessed with an abundance of fantastic wooden flute makers throughout the world, especially in the Breton tradition. I’d be here all day if I named them all to be honest, and I’ve definitely left more than a few names off the list above!
Interested in your opinion re. McGee wooden flute
Terry McGee is a very well respected flute maker who makes some fine flutes indeed. He’s also a font of knowledge on wooden flutes and flutemaking!
I enjoyed your post about Irish flutes. I've struggled to learn the play the (end blown) Japanese shakuhachi with only meager success. Is the side blown Irish flute an easier instrument to play?
In my experience it is Brian! I’ve attempted the shakuhachi myself and have a few colleagues who play it, and it’s a different playing style entirely. The embouchure on an Irish wooden flute is much larger due to its rounded shape, so it’s much easier to get a sound from.
Great info, Thanks! Regarding its difficulty, can someone compare the Irish transverse flute to blowing a Japanese shakuhachi in difficulty (the most challenging – and, frankly, frustrating – instrument I've ever – struggled – tried to play)? I'd like to give the Irish wooden flute a try, but concerned I might find it overwhelming. (I do play pennywhistle, Native American Flute, plus various fretted string instruments.)
Hi Brian, I’m not familiar with the Japanese shakuhachi but it looks like you need to develop an embouchure (a proper mouth shape) to get a sound. Which is similar for the Irish flute. However, with proper flute lessons (which we include free with most of our flutes) you’ll find it easy to get a sound from from the Irish flute. Whether it’s easier than the Shakuhachi is hard to say but I hope this gives you some idea.
What is the difference between an Irish keyless flute and a low D whistle with a flute mouthpiece?