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Instrument Selection

“How do we know which band instrument my child will play?  Do I need to make that decision when I go to the music store?”  The director will “test” your child on the different mouthpieces (that’s just the part you blow into) or the sometimes the entire instrument.  The purpose of this is to see if the child has the physical ability to produce a sound on a particular instrument.  A few children can produce a characteristic sound on all of the instruments, but most children will find that one or two instruments are their best.  It is important that your child plays the instrument he/she likes best.  How do you know?  Ask your child to tell you which one he/she likes the sound of the best.  Most of the time, they will be able to produce a sound on their favorite instrument.  However, sometimes they will need to try a second or third choice if the first instrument proves difficult for the child.

So, how does the band director know which is the best instrument for my child and how does that fit into getting the right number of all the instruments to form a band? Several factors are considered in making the best band instrument choice for your child.  Here are some below:
• Child’s preference of a particular instrument sound
• Child’s ability to produce a sound on the mouthpiece of their instrument choice
•  Mouth and teeth structure
•  Length of arms and structure of hands.
•  Ability to produce a sound without puffing out of cheeks.
•  Balance of instruments in the band
For example:  The instrument numbers for a 64 member band for example would look approximately like this:
                       12 Flutes
                       18 Clarinets
                         6 Saxophones
                       14 Trumpets
                       10 Trombones
                         4 Percussion
You may ask: “Why so fewer saxophones and drums than all the other instruments?”  The answer: Saxophones and percussion (drums) are, by nature, the two loudest instruments in the band.  If there are an equal number of saxophones and drums as the other instruments, they would drown them out.  The numbers above represent a good “balance” in the band. Balance in band means that all instruments are the same loudness when played together. This is not a strict number and there is often a variation from year to year depending on instrument preferences of the children, however this is the goal that a band director will try to achieve.   They are setting the instrumentation for the future - through the intermediate and advanced bands for home school students and through middle and high school in the public schools.  When this year’s beginners become seniors in high school, the goal is to have a “balanced” band at that point as well. Also, there are more students who start on flute, clarinet and trumpet so that some of those students will switch to the "color" instruments in middle school or the intermediate/advanced band for home school students.  These "color" instruments include the oboe, bassoon, bass and contra-bass clarinet, tenor and bari saxophone, french horn, baritone and tuba.  But, you do not have to worry about that now.  The "basic six" instruments (flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and percussion) are the starting point for all beginning students.

Most students will be able to play their first instrument choice, however we may discover that a second or third choice may be better after the interview and trial on the mouthpieces or instruments.  It is from many years of experience band directors have found that students are most successful on the instrument easiest for them to produce a sound at first.  If a child can produce a sound on two or three of his/her choices AND the child states that it really doesn't have strong feelings about their first choice of instrument, the director may ask if that student would consider a second or third choice if  they are “short” on a particular instrument group.  The director often asks: “Are you sure you are OK with this choice?”  The purpose of this question is to convey to the child that this is his/her choice.  Please encourage your child to be honest with the band teacher and tell his or her preference rather than “seeking to please the teacher” and the band teachers will do the same.

As parents, the temptation is to want for our children to play the same instrument we did in school or the one grandpa or grandma played.  You may have never played an instrument before but still have one in mind for your child.  This is one of the times in your child’s life that the choice must be theirs, not yours.  They are the ones who must practice it every day.  Their mouth formation and teeth structure may be different from yours.  As you already know, some children may be indecisive at this age (surely not!) and it may be difficult to come to a decision about an instrument.  Even if this is true for your child, please be a guide and facilitator instead of making the decision for him/her.

Now, if your child has always wanted to play a particular instrument (or at least for the last few years) and has expressed he or she really likes the way it sounds, then every effort will be made to match that desire with the instrument of choice.  If your child’s “heart is set on” playing a particular instrument, the director will most often do everything to match your child with that instrument.  Provided, however, that the child is able to produce a good (for a beginner) sound on that “heartfelt” instrument.

The ultimate goal is to select an instrument for your child that gives the best chance of success.  So, with the combination of you, the parent as the facilitator, us, the band teachers as the experts, and your child as the final decision maker, your child will most likely end up with playing the best choice of instrument for his or her success and enjoyment!