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How To Get Your Child Started Playing Band and Orchestra Instruments (Part I)

Andrew Clark

July 15, 2016

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Public and private school systems are slowly reviving their band and orchestra programs after years of struggling through cutbacks in school funding and a drop in music awareness overall. Here's some ideas on how parents can help their kids have a successful initial experience in band or orchestra. 

To rebuild these programs, school districts are quickly rediscovering what worked best in the past: starting students at the elementary level and developing their interest and abilities in the higher grades. 

Young students usually pick between chorus or joining the band or orchestra. When a child selects chorus, most parents know how to expose their child to popular singers to inspire them. Chances are, their child will have a few favorite singers already.

But, providing the same exposure and inspiration for band and orchestra instruments presents a bit of a challenge. Parents need to be familiar with the instruments that their child has to choose from and then provide exposure to gauge their interest. Then, you have to consider what is the best age to start playing these instruments and getting a decent instrument to play.

How parents can help their kids to select the 'right' instrument and have a great experience in beginning band or orchestra 

1. Learn about the various orchestra and band instruments:

Instruments in the beginning orchestra:

Strings: the violin, viola, cello, and double bass are the instruments found in the beginning student orchestra (woodwinds, brass, and percussion are part of the 'full orchestra,' which typically begins in high school). 

Instruments in the beginning band:

Girl_playing_clarinet.jpgWoodwinds: flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, Bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, and saxophones. Saxophones are not technically considered as orchestra members but the rest of these woodwind instruments are found in both orchestra and band.

Brass: trumpet, French Horn, trombone, and tuba.

Percussion: arguably the biggest family of them all, percussion instruments can be divided into two basic subsets: instruments that play pitches and those that don’t. Snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals are examples of percussion instruments that don’t play notes. The chimes, timpani, Glockenspiel, xylophone, and marimba are all capable of playing notes and most can play several notes at once.

Keyboard instruments include the piano, pipe organ, harpsichord, and celesta. Keyboard instruments are sometimes found in a high school 'full' orchestra (if called for in the orchestration), but are more commonly found in a professional or semi-professional orchestra. 

2. Listen to different instruments 

As you can see, there are many instruments to choose from! But which one is right for your child and how soon can they start? Now that you have a list of the available instruments, you'll need to find a way to introduce them to your child and see what they might be interested in.

When I was ten years old, my school district took care of this part by bringing the high school band down to recruit us. They demonstrated each instrument alone and then played as a group. From that one experience my entire life was changed. I picked up a saxophone and eventually became a professional musician. If your school district doesn’t do this (or if you want to start earlier than your school does), there are many ways to get some exposure and inspiration.

Check out YouTube 

On YouTube you can find countless hours of videos covering every instrument on the planet. You can find demonstrations, performances, how to videos, and even buying and repairing tips. That is probably the quickest way to get some exposure right at your fingertips.

Go hear live music Buffalo_Philharmonic_Orchestra.jpg

But in my opinion, the best exposure for a child is to see and hear the instruments played live. Take your child to a concert band or orchestra performance. There are performances in virtually every city in our country where you can go for free or very little money. If they like pop music, try to find an artist or group with more than just the usual rock band instruments. There are popular groups that use horns, percussion and strings when they are on tour. If a child hears something they like and they see someone that is successful doing it they have a better chance of getting motivated to try it themselves.

Sporting events, parades, and streaming audio 

Does your child like sports? Take them to a college or high school game where there might be a band playing pep songs and marching on the field. You might also see one of these school ensembles marching in a local parade. And don’t forget that you can search your favorite digital streaming service to get more opportunities to experience the sounds of these instruments. I searched for flute on Pandora and got a wide range of results from all styles of music.

You’ve sorted through the lists above, listened to several sources, and finally it is time to choose. What is the best choice and how soon can they start? Tune into Part II to learn more!