It’s the beginning of the school year, the band and orchestra teachers are pushing for students to join their groups, and your child comes home from school asking to join the band. Or the orchestra. Or maybe all your child’s friends are starting instruments and your child doesn’t want to be left out of the fun. So, which musical instrument should he play? Here are five things that will help you with that decision.
Which musical instrument does he/she want to play?
Always start there! If your child shows an interest in a particular instrument, there is a better chance of her sticking with it. Ask questions. Why that instrument? Who else is playing that instrument? What do you like about it? Get your child’s opinion! You can offer some guidance, or limits, but let your child have a say in the matter.
How old is your child?
What difference does that make? Does it really matter? For some instruments, yes. Band instruments require a certain amount of muscle development around the mouth in order to produce a good sound. (Did you know that there were muscles all around your lips?) Is your child old enough for the responsibilities that go with playing an instrument? Like putting it together? Cleaning it? Not dropping it or sitting on it? And doing all this without you watching over him like a hawk? (Just a suggestion – Check to see if your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will cover damage and repairs to instruments!)
What physical limitations will affect your child’s ability to play his instrument of choice?
Does your child have the physical strength and stamina to hold the instrument properly? String instruments come in different sizes for younger children; band instruments do not! (for the most part) Will your child’s arms and fingers be able to reach the keys on his chosen instrument? Can your small child reach far enough to get the trombone slide to 6th or 7th position? Sometimes compromises work – Encourage your child to start on a similar instrument and then switch to the desired instrument when they are older/stronger/bigger.
Example: Your child wants to play trombone but can’t reach to the far positions. Start with a baritone (bass clef). Note reading will be the same as it will for trombone. Sound production is very similar. Then, when his arms are longer, a switch to trombone will not be difficult at all. Same idea with tuba (baritone), bass clarinet (clarinet), baritone saxophone (tenor sax), etc. Ask the music teacher at school for compromise suggestions.
Which musical instrument does the group need? (Or, does the school band really need 27 trumpets?)
If 20 kids sign up to learn violin, and only 2 want to play viola, which instrument has the potential for greater (faster) advancement? The competition is almost always less in the viola section! Same idea for flute and oboe. For every 15-20 kids who want to play the flute, there is probably only 1 or 2 asking to play the oboe. Again, talk to the music director at school for more suggestions. Maybe he/she has some incentive to offer for kids willing to play the less popular instruments!
What if your child really wants to play an instrument but isn’t ready for the traditional band or orchestra program at school?
In this case, you have a couple options. One would be to start your child on his instrument privately, with a teacher outside the school. Usually this is primarily an option for string instruments. If you (parent) are willing to invest the time (and it will take a lot of your time) and resources, children as young as 3 or 4 can successfully start on violin.
The other option is to have your child start with piano (keyboard) lessons. Again, children often start piano lessons at early ages with great success. Those children who do start music lessons on piano have a great advantage when it comes to starting other instruments later in school. They already know how to read notes and rhythms so they can concentrate more on learning good tone production, fingerings, etc.
You might also like to read our blog about whether or not your child should take music lessons. Check it out here.
So, what instrument will your child be learning this fall? Let me know in the comments!
And check back next week for our Beginner Music Lesson Survival Guide for Parents!