For the aspiring flautist, the first step is to set a budget before beginning to browse the wide variety of flutes you'll encounter in the marketplace. If you're able, you should allow yourself more money instead of less; the better the quality of the instrument you invest in, the fewer problems you will have with it down the road.
While it is possible to get a good deal on both new and used instruments by shopping online, the best way to ensure you purchase a quality flute is to select a trusted brand from a reputable dealer. These professionals can give you more information about the various flute makers, and will remain available to address any issues that might arise in person. Often, the cheap flutes you'll find online are Chinese flutes; many of these instruments are crafted with tawdry workmanship and can't be counted on to last a long time. Good secondhand flutes can found, but it's always a good idea to have an experienced musician evaluate the instrument, if possible. If you'd rather avoid making a large up-front investment, renting a flute is also an option.
Whether you're renting, buying or borrowing, choosing the right flute will make learning this instrument much easier. Stick with a well-known brand, such as a Yamaha flute, to ensure you get a high-quality product. While the soprano flute (also known as a band flute) is the most familiar, you'll have several other variations to choose from. The alto flute, for example, has a lower pitch and requires a little more air to produce sound. In this regard, the flute is similar to the saxophone.
When choosing a flute, always check the pads to make sure they are in good shape, and look out for dents and scratches that may affect the sound. Dents and scratches can be difficult or impossible to repair, so you should definitely avoid any instruments with this type of damage. If classical flutes don't appeal to you, there are alternatives; for example, wooden flutes like the Native American flute produce beautiful, distinctive music.
While it is possible, with a little research and a lot of dedication, to teach yourself how to play a musical instrument, finding a qualified local teacher is the key to learning to play flute music. Teachers have the patience and experience to help you master even the most basic playing techniques. However, if you choose to go it alone, visit your local music shop to find a beginners' method book and some easy flute sheet music to help you get started.