With my son entering fifth grade next year, the time has come (so the school tells me) for him to choose an instrument to play for band.
Choosing the right instrument at this stage is more important than it might seem at first because it will determine what he can choose when going into middle school, which determines what he can choose for high school.
Can a child choose their mind about which instrument to play?
A reasonable question to ask–but the answer is apparently not all that simple. When it comes to choosing an instrument to play in a public school band, the answer is yes–and no, according to an elementary school band teacher I spoke with tonight.
Apparently, it’s not too difficult to switch instruments within the same family. So your child could switch from one woodwind to another, from one brass to another, and from one strings to another. (Although some schools will only allow this at the beginning of a new grade.) However, if your child plays the violin in fifth grade but decides they want to play a woodwind in sixth grade, they would likely need private lessons to bring them up to speed.
So the message here is to choose wisely when selecting an instrument to save time, money, and frustration later on.
Questions to Ask When Choosing an Instrument
1. Which instrument makes sounds that your child most enjoys hearing?
With all the time they’ll be spending practicing their instrument, it’s vital that your child likes the sound of their instrument. (At least, when they’re getting the notes right!) The band teachers in the county where I live recommend kids practice their instruments 15 minutes per day starting out, all the way up to 30 minutes per day by the end of the school year.
2. Does your child prefer to make music with their mouth–or with their hands alone?
With woodwinds–instruments like the flute, clarinet, saxophone, and oboe–the mouth and fingers working together is what makes the music. The same is true for the brass instruments such as the trombone, trumpet, and french horn. But with the string instruments such as the viola, violin, and cello, the mouth is never used in the music-making process.
Percussion is similar to the string instruments in that the mouth is not used in the making of the music–but unlike the strings, percussion is focused on rhythm much more than actual notes. Percussion instruments include the drums, xylophones, triangle, and cymbals.
3. How Heavy of an Instrument Does Your Child Want to Handle?
Instruments such as the flute, piccolo, clarinet, violin, and trumpet and pretty lightweight and easy to carry. Other instruments such as the tenor saxophone and the trombone are quite a bit heavier. And some instruments such as the tuba and the cello are extremely heavy and cumbersome to move about.
Beyond the logistics of moving the instrument from one place to another is how the instrument feels, weight-wise, when your child is playing it. Does he or she want to play an instrument that must be braced against the floor during play? How about an instrument that can only be played when seated? Or does your child want an instrument that could be used in a marching band, such as they may consider joining when they reach high school? All these are important things to consider.
4. How Much Does the Instrument Cost?
Personally, I would prefer that cost never be an issue when it comes to something as important as choosing an instrument for a child to learn. But for some families, this may well be a factor.
I hate renting; I always prefer to buy. But renting is easier for many families, and sometimes free repairs and maintenance may be included in the rental price.
To give you an idea of the rental fees for some popular school band instruments, I have compiled a short list of real examples of monthly instrument rental fees:
Tenor Saxophone: $68.95
French Horn: $68.95
Rentals may also require a deposit, down payment, or minimum rental period.
With all these costs considered, it might be a good idea to consider purchasing, instead. To save some money, you could also consider purchasing a used instrument–or ask your relatives to see if any of their kids have played instruments that they are no longer using.