If your student is having trouble selecting an instrument, please consider the following about each. These aren’t rules, only guidelines, but they are food for thought.
Flute – This is the smallest and highest-sounding instrument in the band. Flute personality: Conscientious
PROS – Small, easy to carry when in case. Relatively inexpensive to rent.
CONS – This is the most difficult instrument to start on in beginning band. Students with a tear-drop shape to their upper lip will have a difficult time with flute. Challenging to hold, especially with small hands or short arms. Many students play flute, so more competition to get into advanced groups, honor bands, youth orchestras, etc. in the future.
Clarinet – A single reed instrument, similar in size to flute & oboe when assembled. Clarinet personality: Focused
PROS – Small, easy to carry when in case. Relatively inexpensive to rent, but monthly reed purchases are required. Easily transferable to other instruments (bass clarinet, oboe, bassoon, saxophone).
CONS – Extreme overbite can be problematic for tone production. Students must have large enough hands to cover tone holes with all fingers.
Bass Clarinet – Same as the clarinet, but larger and lower. Small fingers not an issue, since it has no holes to cover. Case is about 3 feet long.
Alto/Tenor Saxophone – This is a single reed instrument (similar to clarinet), made of brass. Tenor is larger than alto. Saxophone personality: Mellow
PROS – Relatively easy to learn (although easy to learn “badly”). Easily transferable to other instruments (other saxophones, oboe, bassoon, bass clarinet). Jazz band instrument.
CONS – Larger, heavier instrument. Difficult to manage for small students, especially with small hands. More expensive instrument to rent than smaller instruments and monthly reed purchases are required. Many students play saxophone, so much more competition to get into advanced groups, honor bands, etc. in the future.
Oboe – A double reed instrument, about the same size as a clarinet when assembled. Oboe personality: Studious
PROS – Small, easy to carry when in case. Not many students play oboe, so more opportunities to play in groups.
CONS – Profound over or under-bites are a big problem in making a good sound. Instruments & reeds are expensive. Limited number of oboe spots in groups in high school and beyond.
Bassoon – A double reed instrument, about 5 feet long, but fits in a much smaller case. Bassoon personality: Serious
PROS – Very unique sound and a wide range! Not many students play bassoon, so more opportunities to play in groups.
CONS – Profound under-bites are a big problem in making a good sound. Instruments & reeds are expensive. Spacing of the holes not suitable for small hands.
Trumpet – The smallest of the brass instruments. It is the highest and “brightest” sounding of the brass instruments. Trumpet personality: Confident
PROS – Smallest of brass instruments. Relatively inexpensive to rent. Few supplies needed for purchase. Easily transferable to other brass instruments (French horn, trombone, baritone, tuba). Jazz Band instrument.
CONS – Difficult for some students to hold/play. Has a lot of resistance when blowing through. Most difficult of brass instruments to play well. Braces make it difficult, but can be overcome. An underbite can be a problem. Many people play trumpet, so there is competition for spots in advanced groups.
French Horn – A mid-range brass instrument with a more mellow sound. French horn personality: Academic
PROS – Wonderful, warm sound. This is a very important instrument to the success of bands and orchestras at all levels. Not many students play French horn, leading to many opportunities for performances in different types of advanced level groups. Good French horn players are always in high demand at every level of music!
CONS – More difficult instrument to play and control (but Mr. Davidson knows this and will cut you some slack!). Expensive instrument to rent/purchase.
Trombone – A “low brass” instrument. Low brass instruments are THE MOST IMPORTANT instruments in a band! Trombone personality: Analytical or Good Ear for Music
PROS – The smallest of the low brass instruments. Easily transferable to other low brass instruments later on (baritone & tuba). Relatively inexpensive to rent and maintain. Jazz band instrument. Very important to the success of a band, making players in high demand at every level. One of the easiest instruments to produce a sound on for most students.
CONS – Because there are no keys or valves on a trombone, it is challenging to play fast moving notes.
Euphonium – A “low brass” instrument. It is similar to trombone, except with valves. Low brass instruments are THE MOST IMPORTANT instruments in a band! Jazz band instrument. Euphonium personality: Artistic
PROS – One of the easiest instruments to produce a sound on for almost all students. Few supplies to buy. Easily transferable to other low brass instruments later on (trombone & tuba). Very important to the success of a band, making players in high demand at every level.
CONS – More expensive to rent/purchase. Somewhat large and bulky.
Tuba – A “low brass” instrument. It is similar to euphonium, but larger. Low brass instruments are THE MOST IMPORTANT instruments in a band! Tuba personality: Unique
PROS – Makes deep, beautiful sounds. Few supplies to buy. Forms the musical foundation of the band. Very important to the success of a band, making players in high demand at every level.
CONS – Thin lips can make it challenging to produce a quality sound. Expensive to rent/purchase. Large and bulky, but students only have to bring mouthpiece to school and our ¾ size tubas are manageable for 6th graders.
Percussion – A collection of instruments that involves the use of sticks or beaters. Students studying percussion MUST learn both drums & keyboard instruments. Percussion requires constant focus, concentration and organization at very high levels all the time – much more so than ANY other band instrument. Students who have a hard time focusing should NOT play percussion! Percussion personality: Coordinated and Organized
PROS – Does not involve “blowing”. Very important to the success of a band/orchestra. Somewhat inexpensive to rent/purchase equipment in middle school (costs increase later).
CONS – Challenging to learn all of the different instruments (especially if no piano experience). Requires a lot of “musical independence”, since there is generally only one person playing each percussion instrument at a time. A lot of students play percussion, leading to more competition to get into advanced groups, youth orchestras, honor bands, etc.
Final Note from Mr. Davidson – This guide is to assist in instrument selection through general descriptions and common characteristics found in a “successful” band member. But the most important characteristics of playing any instrument is the DESIRE to learn the chosen instrument and parental support. "Talent" has very little to do with it. Playing a musical instrument is fun and very rewarding, but also hard work. Band members are expected to regularly practice at home; private lessons are encouraged, but not required.