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OP, you mentioned "doubling opportunities".

Alto flute won't offer you these. C flute will, to some extent. Frankly, I think it's about even whether clarinet or C flute would be more called for as a double for a sax player.

Of course the above does not address whether the alto flute voice is the thing that appeals to you. Personally, I would be fine just playing alto and never playing C flute. (This is the same opinion as Theobald Boehm the inventor of the modern flute and inventor of the alto flute; who rarely played anything but alto flute after middle age).

Having started on C flute almost 50 years ago, I really have no idea whether you NEED to start there before moving to alto flute or if it's possible to be successful starting out from the beginning on alto flute.
 

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For the price of any decent alto flute you could get a good C flute.
I'm partial to the old closed hole "Cmmercial" Haynes solid silver flutes.
I found one completely factory overhauled for $800 a few years ago. Maybe some of the Asian flutes are easier to play but they don't have the warmth or depth of sound for me.
Well of course you can get a good C flute for less money than a good alto, but if you want to play alto not C, it's largely irrelevant.
 

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The OP:

Maybe we need to define "doubling opportunities" here.

If we assume it to mean "playing a second instrument in a big band", then I agree that opportunities are few - although I did use my alto flute with big band. It is actually quite good to use alto flute when the written parts are voiced so low as to not have much volume.

On the other hand, if you are the wind player in a small ensemble, you are not constrained in your selection.

Alto flute - It's the tenor sax of the flute world.
True;

I did assume "doubling" as in big band or pit work.

In my experience it's really hard to hear the alto except in a quiet ensemble. In other words, if you've got a grand piano, electric bass, drums, two trumpets and a tenor sax, the alto flute is going to disappear without significant amplification. If you have two acoustic guitars and upright bass playing bossa nova, there will be nothing more beautiful than alto flute. (In fact, just writing that makes me want to find a couple guitar players and get started.)

OP, another issue is that you have to decide between curved and straight head. Personally as a long time flute player, male, of average stature with long arms, the straight is workable and seemed to sound a bit better; but if you have short arms or bad shoulders you may want to consider the curved head.

As I noted above, I'm not sure whether it's possible or advisable to start on alto flute. I'm sure it's quite rare to do so, given how many flute players there are and how few alto flutes there are; but I don't think that means you HAVE to start on alto flute. It might be worth going to one of the flute message boards ("Fluteland"?) and asking that question. We have had, here on the saxophone forum, questions like "can I start out on baritone sax" and the consensus seems to be that if you're physically big enough to do it, there's no real good reason you can't start out on baritone sax. So I'm not convinced you would NEED to start out on C flute.
 

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So true! Recently I had a gig with bossas with vocals, guitar, bass, a good drummer and me on tenor sax and alto flute. So nice!
My problem with alto flute is this:

The music (bossas etc.) I'd like to play with altoflute is mostly too complex to be played only by ear - and since there are no sheets (and I propably got no time to make them) I play the music with concert flute, knowing that it would sound much better with alto ....Or I take my bassflute
You have to learn the alto flute transposition, up a fourth. As with any transposing at sight, it takes a while to get comfortable, and the skill goes away if you don't do it frequently, but it's really not that difficult.

Anyway, getting used to playing on different instruments from concert key lead sheets is one of those skills that I would recommend for anyone who reads at all. It also applies to changing keys for a singer. Don't get the wrong idea; I'm not a fantastic sight reader or transposer, but I am better at it than a lot of people I play with. When a singer is struggling with notes that are too high or too low, or when there's only a concert key lead sheet available, it's a great stress reducer simply to be able to ask "what key would you like it in, then? Shall we try G instead of D? How about Bb?" Again, you don't have to be the greatest at this (and I certainly am NOT), but even modest transposing skills can help you be a full-function musician more than you might imagine.
 

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Alto flute:

- Roughly 3 times the price (for similar quality) of a soprano flute.

Agree. Maybe even more than 3X.

- More often badly made mechanically.

The old Armstrong, Emerson, and Gemeinhardt ones that I ever played were pretty terrible but Jupiters, De Medici, etc., are well built in my opinion.

- Adjustments are generally more challenging and more precarious.

Certainly if the mechanism design is bad, this will be the case. My di Medici (Jupiter derived) has a good strong mechanism and I have no indication that this would be the case.

- Intonation is often dodgy.

See my note about older American altos vs. current Taiwan/Japan ones.

- Heavier. More troublesome if you have shoulder or neck problems.

True, though the curved head helps a lot.

- Quite a lot softer.

True, thus my notes above about limited applications.

- Used very little in pit playing. In 150 shows I think I used mine three times. (Wonderful for the intro for "Send In The Clowns"! - that's why I bought mine.)

Agree. Can't hear it except with a very light background. Didn't get my alto for this purpose.

- Uses a lot more air. The player, especially if inexperienced (hence likely to waste air), could have much greater dizziness issues.

True, it needs to receive proper woodshedding. Just because an experience C flute player can pick it up and get a pleasing sound on most notes right away doesn't mean they have it under control.

- Fundamentally a less "perfect" instrument acoustically, possibly because the embouchure hole is rather small for the upper end tone hole, used for every note.

I'm not sure of this, really. Mine does really well up to the middle of the third octave both for intonation and tone quality. As noted above, old American altos (at least, the ones I have played) had some really awful playing characteristics - I remember a couple notes I would be totally unable to eke out a non-split tone no matter what, and I mean notes like the middle D or Eb - but the late model Taiwanese/Japanese respond much more like a C flute.

- As others have mentioned, transposing issues.

Only if you choose to define "needing to transpose" as a problem.

Some of these are reasons why I do not see it as the tenor sax of the flute world.
I certainly wouldn't consider it the tenor sax of the flute world, whatever that means. However it does have its own voice and in practiced hands a good alto flute can provide a beautiful flute sound. As noted, I like it for things like quiet bossa nova, or playing fairly low-pitched violin parts without having to break the melodic line at (piano) middle C.

As I noted above, Theobald Boehm rarely played anything but alto flute after middle age. I could go the same way except that these days most of my flute playing is as a sax double in a big band and the alto flute disappears without a trace in that context.
 

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The hardest thing for me going from sax to flute was the embouchure and getting a good sound on flute. The flute is its own animal in this regard. There are many more saxophonists out there who think they can play a flute than actually can.

Alto Flute is tougher than a C Flute. It requires much more air while still being focused into the Alto Flute. The transposition is tough as well. The Alto Sax is in G. When it is three hours into a gig, some one requests a tune on the big flute on the stand, and you have had three or four Guinnesses, then tell me how well you can transpose a lead sheet into the key you need to be successful on Alto Sax. That is the real test of your transposition skills. To reach the expert level of transposition add in the singer who wants to do it a minor sixth higher than the lead sheet as well.

I enjoy playing the Alto Flute, but rarely do on gigs. It tends to be a magnet for every idiot who thinks they know something about music, but are curious about the large shiny flute thing next the funny looking large saxophone with a big loopy section at the top.
I suppose I'm fortunate that flute was my first wind instrument, so even without recent practice the embouchure is deeply ingrained. And you're right, alto flute embouchure is not C flute embouchure. Like you I mostly play baritone sax, and I think that's an easier transition than coming from alto or soprano with their tighter embouchures.

Also like you, I have not found a reliable place for the alto flute in my actual gigs. Back in the days when I did solo flute with backing tracks, alto worked as a nice change of pace from C flute - I probably did about 40% alto flute and 60% C flute on those gigs. But it's not really found a place in my other work. Someday I may have a bossa nova band and start using it again. Or Django-style gypsy jazz?
 

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Your perspective is pit orchestra, yes?

The same does not hold true for all other doubling situations. For swing bands, yes, clarinet is a strong call. For contemporary big band, flute is much more common. I played alto flute on more charts than clarinet.
I am fortunate in not being able to play clarinet. That has made it possible for me to turn down pit jobs all my adult life.

I have played a lot in swing bands and I use soprano for the clarinet double. If there's a part that just really has to have the true clarinet sound, I'll hand that part off to the person in the section that can really play clarinet. I am sure some authenticity-minded bandleaders would disagree, but I've never been given "doesn't play clarinet" as a reason for not getting called back. (They may just not bother to mention why I never got another call...)

In this day and age saxophone players under 40 who can really play clarinet are getting kind of thin on the ground, compared to flute players, so for anything except pit work the clarinet has become much more of a "nice to have" double.

Neither big band nor pit work is relevant to the alto flute as there are few parts in either context, and you wouldn't be able to hear it most of the time anyway. Alto flute's place is a different place.
 

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OK, I agree that one can find big band charts and musical theatre books that include the alto flute. In both cases you're going to have to mike the heck out of it to be heard, and it's generally going to be used for a rare special tone color. In my mind the fact that alto flute is rarely used in those two contexts and you have to work at it to make it work, means that's not its best application. I mean, you can find bassoon, accordion, and 5 string banjo parts in those contexts if you look hard enough, but neither big band nor musical theatre is really the best place to look for repertoire for those instruments either.

Maybe I shouldn't have phrased in the way I did, I didn't mean to be rude or dismissive. But given the number of times I've encountered possible uses for alto flute in big band, I sure wouldn't shed it and get command of it based on that. I suspect the pit orchestra is similar.

I think where the alto flute can give great service is:

- Flute groups
- A bit of chamber music
- Small group jazz especially of quieter styles like bossa nova

In my mind those are the natural habitats of the alto flute (there are probably some others). Just like rock and roll is the natural habitat of the Fender Stratocaster played through a Marshall stack. Sure, you can play Bach violin partitas on that instrumentation if you want to, but it's not really what it's suited for.
 
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