Lighten Up! A Study Of Lightweight Professional Model Flutes For Injury Prevention

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According to a 2011 study[1], 95% of skilled flute players suffered some form of performance-related musculoskeletal disorder.  While many injuries are a result of overuse and muscle imbalances, playing a heavy flute can contribute to additional problems. For many flutists, a lightweight flute can help mitigate these imbalances, lessening the chance of injury severity.   Throughout the past 11 months, Francesca Leo and Angela McCuiston worked with Flute Specialists, Inc. and the Flute Center of New York to test 42 different flutes and headjoints across 14 different brands to compare the differences in weight versus sound quality.

In general, the average weight of all flutes tested was 18.09oz (1.13lb).  The weight comparison between material demonstrated that the silver flutes were the lightest (average of 17.47oz), followed by gold (18.39oz), Platinum-Clad (18.3oz), Gold-Silver Fusion (18.9oz), and wooden flutes being the heaviest (19.84oz).  The lightest flute was the Used Powell Silver Flute 1975 model with no add-on features (14.49oz).  Because there was a drastic difference in weight from other silver models, we can conclude that the addition of extra keys changes the weight significantly.  The lightest gold flute was the Muramatsu 9k Standard Wall Flute (16.72oz), the lightest Platinum-Clad flute was the Burkart Elite 5/95 (18.19oz) and the lightest Gold-Silver Fusion flute was the Powell 14k Aurumite (18.24oz). 

A lot of the weight differences came from the thickness of the metal and the weight of the mechanisms. The split E options weighed more than those without or those that have the “donut” or “high E facilitator” (a small circular ring inserted into the left hand G tone hole that helps stabilize the third octave E.)  If you are set on a heavier flute model or material, you can decrease weight by requesting a model without a C# trill key or a Split E mechanism or changing to a lighter headjoint. There is also a drastic difference in weight between B foot and C foot models and if you don’t need a B footjoint, switching to a C foot can help significantly.

The results of this study highlighted a few common misconceptions:

·       The karat of gold used in different flute models does not always add more weight.   

·       Wooden flutes are not always lighter options, and the weight depends on the brand and the density of wood.  Grenadilla wood is more dense on average than Boxwood, Cocobolo, or Mopani.  

·       Gold-Silver fusion models are not always lighter than gold flutes. 

 Both participants noted the difference in projection between the heavy wall and lightweight models, but there was not a drastic difference in sound overall. Adding a gold riser or lip plate to a lightweight silver flute broadened the depth of the sound and added resistance.  According to the participants, the difference in sound quality between lightweight and heavy wall flutes was not drastic enough to deter the consideration of lightweight flutes.  Since each flute responds differently depending on the player, we encourage all flutists to test a wide variety of flutes.  

Notes on Hand Size and Injury

Angela: “During the play-testing of these flutes, I was suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which caused numbness, tingling, muscle spasms and shooting electrical pains down my right arm. For this reason, I was in the unique position of finding myself NEEDING a lightweight flute.

I have large hands and ergonomically found several flutes challenging to play. I found the Haynes custom models very easy to play, but something about the position of the thumb key made my left hand start to cramp.  On the Powell Aurumite flute, the placement of the G# key prevented me from playing the flute at all: my third finger sat comfortably on the G# key and I could not get my hands to fit on the keys as they should. This could have been a specific serial number issue as I did not have the issue on any other Powell flutes. Overall notes for the grenadilla headjoints were that they felt easier on the wrists, I did not tend to grip the keys as much.

Regarding TOS symptoms, It’s interesting to note that even though both of the Burkarts were the same weight, the 10k felt lighter than the 9k.  While I was experiencing more severe TOS symptoms, I could play the 10k longer with no increase in symptoms. Also the Powell solid grenadilla flute seemed lighter weight, which helped as I was able to play it during a particularly heavy playing schedule and at a particularly painful point in my diagnosis.”

Francesca: “I have also been managing performance-related tendinitis in my shoulder and forearm for the past several years, and I really noticed a difference between different brands and models of flutes and how they felt physically.  I found that I was able to manipulate a good sound on all of the flutes that we play-tested, but the flutes that felt and sounded the best and most comfortable for me personally were the Muramatsu, Brannen and Haynes flutes.  I have very small hands, and the Brannen flute mechanism was among the easiest to navigate because of this factor.  With gold flutes, I felt that the most comfortable playing on the 9k Gold Standard Wall Muramatsu.  This gold model did not aggravate my performance-related injury even when I played on it for a significant amount of time.  I later discovered that this model was actually the lightest gold flute out of all of the gold models that we weighed.

Personally ,I experienced challenges playing the wooden flute models because the tubing size felt a bit larger than silver and gold models, and having small hands it was difficult to reach the keys comfortably.  The grenadilla wood, whether it was a grenadilla flute or just the headjoint, also added a noticeable amount of weight.”

 If you should find yourself needing to find a lighter flute to perform in a variety of settings, consider the following:

1.     Consider adding a denser metal headjoint (platinum, gold, fusion) to a lightweight body.  You can also find lighter headjoints with a denser metal riser or lip plate.  You may consider trying an Arista 14K Rose Gold gold headjoint (3.07oz) on a lightweight silver flute.

2.     Consider removing the split E mechanism and add the E Facilitator instead.  Also try removing the C# trill key or consider switching to a C footjoint if you find yourself seldom using the low B footjoint. 

3.     Look into lightweight pinless mechanism options.  Wm. S. Haynes Co. specifically provides this option on their custom flute models.

4.     Compare the thickness in tubing between different models and look for softer silvers (925) as opposed to 950 or 997 silver.  You may consider trying a Muramatsu GX, a Brannen 725, a Miyazawa 602 or a Sankyo 901 as lightweight silver options.

This study was intended to be as comprehensive as possible, but due to the plethora of options and variations on each model this is not an exhaustive list. We encourage you to utilize the results of this study as a guide to compare general weight differences between brands and models.

Flute Weight Database: https://flutisthealth.wixsite.com/fluteweightdatabase

Project Sponsors:

Special offer from the Flute Center: Use code “LightenUp” for $50 off any order over $500, plus free shipping on your next flute trial! (Discount code may be applied to purchases of flutes or accessories, limit one use per customer.) 

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Special offer from Flute Specialists, Inc.: Mention “flute weight” and receive free shipping on your trial PLUS a cash back offer when you purchase

[1] Ackermann BJ, Kenny DT, Fortune J. Incidence of injury and attitudes to injury management in skilled flute players. Work. 2011;40(3):255‐259. doi:10.3233/WOR-2011-1227

By: Francesca Leo and Angela McCuiston

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