I have owned my Yamaha 311 since I was 14 years old when I was at approximately a grade 5 standard. Around grade 5 is often a point where people upgrade from a basic instrument to an intermediate level of instrument.
The 311 is a model higher than the 211 which is often one of the basic flutes that you would begin to learn to play on. I upgraded from my rented 211 to purchasing my own 311. I saved my pocket money fastidiously for approximately a year, when my dad decided to take matters into his own hands and we set up an IOU arrangement instead of a savings arrangement! I was familiar with Yamaha flutes, as I had played one previously. I tried some other makes and made a difficult choice between a Pearl and a Yamaha. Eventually, I settled on the Yamaha 311. I still have it and use it on an almost daily basis and absolutely love it.
For those who are unaware, a flute comprises of 3 sections: the head joint, the body and the foot joint. The 311 is a step up from the more basic model of a 211 as it has a silver head joint and a silver plated body and foot joint; whereas the 211 is entirely silver plated. I think the point where you upgrade to a silver head joint really improves the sound of the flute. The tone production improves drastically, which is a key consideration for progressing after approximately grade 4! It has a gorgeous, warm tone which really adds an element of professionalism to your playing. I have found the tone to be superb in the lowest register, which can often be a breathy area to be in. The most important part of a flute is the head joint, so if you are compromising somewhere, don't let it be the head joint. A 311 is much better in this respect as the head joint is far superior than that of lower models.
This model of flute has covered keys rather than the open holed keys often found on a professional level of instrument. Having open holed keys was not a consideration of mine and having tried an open holed flute previously, I didn't feel much of a difference, although I have been told by an advocate for open holed keys that they produce a much clearer and projected sound. I don't think that the 311 suffers for having closed keys. Quite the contrary, I think that the closed holed keys are much better for intermediate students as it allows for the student to become comfortable with their instrument and to develop technique and tone etc without ensuring that the hole is fully covered. I think it's easier to relax your hand allowing for greater fluidity of movement with a closed hole flute.
One key consideration of this flute is the offset G key, particularly if this model is being purchased for a younger or smaller student which allows for easier movement. If you are smaller, the offset G is necessary, again for fluidity of movement and relaxation. Personally, it hasn't made much difference to me as I'm average height and have never really been on the small side! The 311 also has a split E mechanism which really improves the tone produced for a high E (i.e. the one above the stave). I like the sound produced in the upper register and it is clear and makes the note much cleaner. In the 11 years that I have owned this flute, I can honestly say I have not had a single screw or spring issue. Albeit, I have my flute serviced and treat it to a complete strip down once a year, I know people who have other flute models where the spring preventing the B key from becoming a Bb is forever just popping off it's rest! I'm also careful with the pads and I've not needed to change one yet. I do use the rizzla paper method for removing any excess damp from the pads under the keys (insert rizzla paper and press down) and I've not had to change one yet, which clearly shows the quality.
This flute has a standard C foot joint, which means that its lowest note is the C below the stave (i.e. middle C) and doesn't have a B foot joint. This certainly does not hold any intermediate players back at this stage. Upgrading to a B foot joint, giving your flute one extra semitone would typically be done when upgrading to a more advanced instrument, such as an open holed flute, if you required. The low C on a flute (middle C to pianists!) is often a breathy note when you are learning. Naturally a B foot joint would improve this as once you are used to a low B, a low C would then be a doddle! As I've said above, I don't think that the 311 has tone issues in the lower register.
Yamaha flutes as a brand (not specifically the 311) are often slightly sharp. The 311 is no exception, but when being accompanied or playing in an ensemble, it's easily remedied by flattening the sound by extending the flute as well as supporting the air stream.
The 311 comes with the usual equipment - a hard, protective case and a cleaning rod with an split at the end with space to insert a cloth. My 311 also came with the Yamaha faux leather case with handles, although I also purchased a case with a fluffy inside to go around the hard case.
I brought this flute for £711 in 2002; however a quick search online tells me that if you are looking to buy online, you may spend around £850; or in store as much as £1,125. I personally wouldn't purchase an instrument without testing it out adequately and comparing it to other models; however, if you are purchasing online, I would strongly recommend at least popping into a store to test so that you can find out what suits you. Any instrument is a complex piece of kit, so by ensuring that you are looking after your instrument, you will most certainly prolong it's life.
Overall, this is an awesome flute. I really love my flute and being an amateur player, I don't feel like I need to upgrade as this model is great for my needs. If you are looking for a flute for a student, this will easily take them up to grade 8 and maybe beyond! I will most certainly be keeping this flute for the long term (well, I've had it 11 already, so more like the longER term!).
***Some enjoyable pieces to think about***
I absolutely love my flute and I think that some of the most gorgeous music comes from a flute. Subjective I know. I am of course, slightly biased.
Entr'acte and Menuet from Carmen - Bizet
An absolutely gorgeous piece of music, whether you are accompanied by a piano or a harp. Also, it's not too technically challenging and I believe it has been listed as a grade 6 piece in previous syllabi.
Suite in B minor - JS Bach
I think this is a fab suite, with some 'recognisable classical' movements such as the last movement. Also, movements such as Bouree 1 and 2 are not technically challenging in the slightest, giving less experienced players opportunity to begin to learn a whole suite. I love the contrast in this suite as well, between the playful Bourees and the haunting Sarabande.
Suite Antique - Rutter
Also an ideal opportunity for students to begin to learn a whole suite, with a variety of pieces, some more challenging than others.