I would like to learn a wind instrument and I am interested by the transverse flute. I have seen and heard the alto flute in concert, which is bigger and has a deeper sound.

It seems that most flute players begin by the C-flute then switch or add the alto flute or the piccolo. So I wonder if I could begin to learn this kind of instrument with the alto size.

  • 3
    Just as a note - really the only differences is a slightly relaxed embrouchure and more air. That being said, learning a C flute first will help you work to the "more air" part more easily.
    – Michael
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 18:42

4 Answers 4


If you are learning a wind instrument for the first time, I would recommend that you start with the C flute. A couple of reasons:

  • Alto flute, as well as piccolo, is typically a doubler instrument. Flautists train and become proficient on C flute first, and then extend out to the piccolo or alto flute when the literature requires it (they don't switch completely).
  • You will be hard-pressed to find a "student" alto flute. Due to the nature of it being a doubler instrument, played by already experienced flautists, the majority of those on the market are not cost-effective instruments to learn on (read: professional quality). You will easily be able to find a C flute to learn on that doesn't costs thousands of dollars.
  • You may have trouble finding a teacher willing to start a student on alto flute.

If you're dead-set on playing alto flute and nothing else, then realize you'll be sinking a few thousand dollars into something that's a bit risky in terms of finding a teacher and playing opportunities. Starting on C flute will be a cheaper initial investment, you'll be able to find a teacher easily, and you'll be able to play in virtually any community band.


I am a new flute student (C-flute) and from what I gather from the books I'm using AND my own personal experience is that it's more difficult for beginners to learn to play low notes on a flute than high ones.

Many/most music stores allow you to test out an instrument before you purchase it. Try and find a store that carries an alto flute and give it a shot.

Playing an instrument that you would enjoy may be more rewarding and fun to learn than an instrument that you have absolutely no interest in. If the idea of having to play a c-flute before an alto absolutely kills it for you, perhaps you could skip the drudgery of the c-flute and go for what you want to play.

However, since more people play the c-flute than the alto flute, if you have any questions, it would be much more difficult to get answers specifically about the alto flute.


I am a slightly advanced amateur flautist and I am happy to own an alto flute (Pearl PFA201). I find its sound more 'meditative' as the sound of a C flute, especially in the low register.

You might want to know about these two differences:

  • As Michael said, an alto flute needs more air. When you are starting to learn to play the flute, you need quite a lot of air; then later you learn to control the embrouchure and you need less of it. The C flute can help you overcome this first stage. If you start directly with an alto flute, don't be surprised with nearly psychedelic effects of holotropic breathing :-)

  • An alto flute is much heavier than a C flute. Together with the asymmetric stance, this may generate significant stress on your spine.


Yes, you can learm any instrument by learning THAT instrument. You may get social pressure to learn C flute first/as well. But that's another matter.

A tuba takes more air than a trumpet. And it's bigger to carry around. Doesn't mean everyone should start on trumpet.

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