When you take up playing the flute, you'll most likely have opted for a beginner-level instrument, unless you had lots of spare money to throw away. And, while that's fine for a while, there will come a point when you'll start thinking about upgrading to something better, something that will last through many years of playing music at different levels.
The trouble is, it's not very easy to know exactly when that time comes. Since professional-quality flutes don't come cheap, you'll be understandably reluctant to upgrade too early, but it's well worth doing when the time is right. Here are some tips to help you tell when that is.
When you can hear the lack of quality
Like any layperson, when you're new to playing the flute and during your early stages, you're unlikely to be able to hear a difference between a cheap student model and the most expensive instrument on the market. Over time, however, this is certain to change.
Flutes at the lower end of the price range are normally made from alloys or plated metals, which look nice but don't have the same acoustic qualities as solid silver, gold or even platinum flutes.
When you struggle to fine-tune your tone
As your playing ability begins to reach an advanced stage, you may notice that you can't quite achieve the full control you'd like over your tone. This is often because of the simple, machine-made embouchure hole's limitations. With a professional flute, the embouchure hole is carefully designed to allow much more freedom of expression, which can take your playing to the next level.
When your flute feels limited
The overall build quality of a flute can vastly affect what you can play. When you want to start playing faster pieces, you may find the valves stiff and cumbersome, which makes it difficult to deliver the intricate note changes in the music. Professional-quality flutes are precision built to make these quick changes not only easier but much more satisfying to play.
When you want to experiment with open holes
Cheaper flutes usually have closed holes, which are fine for the beginner, as they make it simpler to get started. In time, you'll want to see how open-holed flutes can increase the possibilities. While they're not necessary for advanced playing, and some professional flute players use closed-hole instruments, open holes allow for many interesting effects and plenty of experimentation.