What is a Flugel Horn and Do I need to own one?


The flugelhorn, also spelled fluegelhorn, flugel horn or flugelhorn has a long history in European countries but is relatively new to ours. Its popularity in the states probably dates back to the fifties through the use of such well known names in jazz as Shorty Rogers, Kenny Baker, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Nat Adderley and Art Farmer.

The purpose of the flugel was to give the player an alternative to the edgy, powerful trumpet sound. During the Bebop period (1945-1960) the trumpet was king, but when cool jazz started to gain a following in the music scene, the flugel was just the instrument to give the performance a less edgy tone. The flugel and cool jazz were meant for each other. If you have not listed to the flugel in the hands of an artist, I recommend that you listen to the examples listed at the end of this post.

The acoustical design of the flugel is basically a conical construction and the trumpet is based on a cylindrical design. When comparing the two, you will find that the trumpet has the same tube diameter throughout most of its length which is the reason its tone is more focused than its closest cousin, the cornet. The cornet is in between the trumpet and flugel which is the reason the cornet is more mellow than the trumpet and the flugel is more mellow than the cornet. Conical instruments such as the cornet and flugel have increasing tube diameters from the lead pipe to the bell which makes the tone in each more mellow than that of the trumpet. This is the reason that the flugel is so popular with jazz musicians for it gives them an additional timbre to utilize during their performances.

Inherent in most flugel horns is the problem of intonation. Much time and expense has been given to the improvements in trumpets but because of less volume of sales, the flugel has continuously been lacking in improvements. This situation will improve only if the demand increases or we have a super star surface to bring back national recognition to the instrument as was demonstrated by the increase in popularity of the flugel shortly after Chuck Mangione, in the 1970’s. led the charts with his recording of Feels So Good.

If you are contemplating the purchase of a flugel horn, my first suggestion would be to find someone who has one and would let you play theirs or visit a music store which has one on display. Buying a flugel horn without trying it would be a very bad move for even though everyone seems to be interested in playing one, not everyone would have a use for one. Playing a flugel is different than playing your trumpet and many times players are disappointed with the tonal differences. The trumpet is generally bright as stated before and it takes some time to get used to the darker tone of the flugel. Where you plan to play the instrument should also be considered. If you are not a jazz musician, your use is more limited. I’m not saying that the flugel will not fit into the same circles where your trumpet is currently serving but if you plan to play lead in a jazz band, rock band or similar ensembles, the flugel will not do the job. As an inner ensemble instrument, it is ideal. To give you an example of where the flugel is best suited, listen to this arrangement of Over The Rainbow which was recorded with four flugels. Notice that even when the melody goes up to a written A above the staff, the tone is still rich and warn with none of the edgy qualities that a trumpet would exhibit in the same register.
The flugel is a very flexible instrument in an ensemble because of its conical character. When used with trumpets, the flugel takes on a character all its own as in this example of Begin the Beguine. The first and seconds parts are written for trumpets and the third and fourth parts are played on flugels. The trumpets carry the melody as the flugels play the repeated bass figure as well as filling in the harmony.

Here is another arrangement for two trumpets and two flugels- The Beer Barrel Polka. The fourth flugel plays the tuba’s roll as the third flugel is used to represent a French Horn which leaves trumpets one and two available for the upper two parts.

As I have shown, there are many areas the flugel can enhance a performance. It works well as a solo instrument as well as a harmonic instrument. If you are interested in hearing some of the best in flugel horn playing, visit the examples listed below.
In my next post I will assume that you have access to a flugel horn and would like more information on how to play it and that will be covered in my next post. Stay tuned for more information on the wonderful instrument called the flugel horn…

Here are a couple examples of some fine flugel horn playing-

Ed Trujillo

Which Comes First, Technique or Musicality?


This question is much like the chicken or the egg issue. Which should be taught first? One camp believes that without technique, nothing can be played and the other camp asks the question “what good is technique if it isn’t musical”. Both have their cases and in this post I will try to bring the two sides to a happy mid point.

Most of my early teaching was geared to the technical approach but as I increase candles on my birthday cake I must admit, all technique can have its disadvantages. One student who stands out as the most gifted technician on his instrument was without doubt the least musical that I have ever worked with. When assigned an extremely difficult solo or etude, this student would go home and the next week would come back and perform it perfectly. It didn’t matter how difficult the material was, within the week he would have it down. Unfortunately it would also be one of the most technically perfect and unmusical performances you would ever hear. On the other hand, I have had students who could bring tears to your eyes with the most heart wrenching performance of an assignment and miss half the notes. Could there be a happy middle ground in our quest for the perfect approach to musical playing? I do hope so and from what I have recently discovered, the answer may be within reach.

Last week I decided to arrange a composition which was far from the norm for my trumpet quartet. I decided to try to arrange the Second Study from the Clarke Technical Studies for Cornet book. This most recognized collection of finger busting patterns is one which proved to be a challenge. I found the repeated pattern to have a Baroque feel and that is how I decided to portray it. By the end of the day, it was arranged, printed and recorded. I was very pleased with the way it sounded. After recording and listening to the playback, I noticed that it began to have a life of its own. After many years playing these notes, I finally started to think of the melody as a melody rather than a finger exercise. Musical articulation and a new approach to the dynamics began to replace the boredom which I usually encounter while dutifully banging down my valves. Shorter phrases within the four measure melody began to surface. This perked my enthusiasm so I began to arrange other studies.

Shortly after posting the second study, I began to receive E-Mails of support from my readers. One such comment stated, “That….was….incredibly…beautiful”
This comment was an inspiration to me for my thinking was now substantiated by others. The technical can also be musical. After several orders for the Second Study arrived, I began writing arrangements for other studies. When considering the Fourth Study I was reminded of one of the comments which described my previous attempts as being beautiful. I had never considered Clarke’s book to be beautiful but after reading through the Fourth Study, I began to see the beauty in this pattern also. I then set out to arrange an even more musical version of Clarke’s material. I have included this arrangement for you and hope this will give you some thought as to the value of a more musical approach to the technical side of trumpet playing.

In closing, I must say that arranging Clarke’s Fourth Study changed my approach to technical practice. I have discovered another level of musicianship which is also reflected in my performances. Some may say this revelation was a religious experience, some may say that I finally got smart. I do know that each time I listen to my quartet arrangement of the Fourth Study; I ask myself, “Where did that come from”?

Listen to example-

The Clarke Technical Exercises written for a trumpet quartet are availabe as a set of #’s 1 through 5 at….

trumpetensemblemusic.com

The Perfect Lesson Plan #1 “Absolute Beginner”


When first beginning to play trumpet, your expectations are usually high and the amount of energy spent also indicates your desire to succeed. Unfortunately ones desires and expectations sometimes are higher than ones ability. Too many times we are told, “You can do anything if you try hard enough”, which unfortunately many times is inaccurate. I could try the remainder of my life to be able to fly but “it ain’t going to happen”! Before we begin on your lesson plan, I wanted to say that if you are interested in playing trumpet, I encourage you to begin, and with practice, you will improve. But, if you expect to be an accomplished musician in a short period of time without practicing, you will find that it also “ain’t possible”.

If you are in a school program where you are expected to use a certain book or method, by all means get the material and stay with the assignments your director assigns. Your first responsibility is to your local instructor and any and everything assigned must be practiced and accomplished first before you do any of my assignments.

The best book for beginners I have found is called…….

The Essential Elements For Band, published by Hal Leonard.

The reason I favor this method is that it has an excellent use of assignments augmented with audio files which give the student a fine example to emulate. Following the material within its pages will help you to become an accomplished player. If this is not the same method that you are using in your school, I suggest that you buy a copy of the method listed above and begin working in that one as well as your schools required method book.

The reason I am suggesting that you work out of both methods is that you will always need to follow your band director’s instruction, but working in two methods will only improve your playing. Just remember that your director will be expecting you to learn that material he/she has assigned.

Practicing

You will be expected to practice regularly and there has never been a pill which would eliminate this chore. Notice that I am neither excited nor overjoyed with practicing. I find it boring and uninteresting, but without this quality time dedicated to my instrument, my ability as a performer is lessened. In other words- “there is no other way to accomplish your goal without practicing”!

How much time should I practice each day?

I would suggest that a beginner practice no more or less than 30 minutes six days a week. Having one day off your instrument is needed in order to keep your interest going and missing one day will not effect your improvement. In fact setting your instrument aside one day a week will help improve your embouchure (lip muscles). Which day you rest is not as important as keeping the same schedule every week. It is much better to rest the same day each week for the consistency of your practice will be better if the resting day is the same each week.
Where should I practice?

Being able to practice in an area where you will not be interrupted or distracted is very important. If you practice in your bedroom, be sure to shut the door to help eliminate disturbances. Your family will appreciate the isolation also.

How should I practice?

Your sitting position is more important than most people think for good posture while you practice will improve many things in your playing. The best advice I can give you is to sit on a straight-backed chair and sit far forward on its seat. This position will automatically position you in a way that will improve your breathing as well as your tone quality.

Be sure to have your music well lit and by all means, use a music stand. Propping your music up on your trumpet case sitting on your bed is not the way to get things done. Use a music stand at all times.

Many students believe that you should practice until you get tired. This is incorrect for you should feel good at all times when you practice as well as when you perform. I have advocated the “Rest As Much As You Play” concept most of my life and still continue to practice it myself. By resting as much as you play, you will be able to cover more material and improve your playing much faster than If you play till it hurts.

If you follow the material in the book which I suggested, you should be able to accomplish a great deal of improvement by the time you complete the method and at that point you will be ready for our next post which covers players at the Junior High level.

I have many posts which will be helpful to you as a beginner on this site and I strongly encourage you to read the following-

The Different Parts of Your Trumpet

Practice- Why

Trumpet Hand Playing Position

Wet or Dry- That is a Question

Good News For Beginning Trumpet Players

Trumpet Fingering Chart

Basic Maintenance Information For Your Trumpet

Trumpet Mouthpiece Placement

Lesson Plans For Those Without An Instructor- Part 1

Finding the Correct Mouthpiece Placement

How A Trumpet Is Made

Start at the top of the list and read one post a day.

How To Place Your Mouthpiece In Your Horn

Have you ever heard or read something that does not make any sense to you at all and then you set out to prove it wrong only to find that it is actually true? This happened to me this past week and even though it is an embarrassment, I will swallow my pride for the betterment of the brass world.

This past week I read a post on one of the brass bulletin boards which stated that this person claimed that the rotation of the mouthpiece could actually change how the instrument responded when played. Just the thought of someone claiming this conclusion made me want to grab them by the neck and shout, ARE YOU SERIOUS? What a stupid assumption, and to make my point, I proceeded to try to prove this person wrong, only to find that I was wrong and they were correct.

The assumption- “By rotating the position of the mouthpiece in the mouthpiece receiver, you will affect the response of the instrument”.

The author of this information (unfortunately I have not been able to find this post in order to give due credit to it’s original author) stated that some days when we play our brass instrument, it is our friend and other days, even though we feel the same and have been practicing the same material, we can not get the instrument to be consistent in its performance. I have experienced this many times and have not been able to explain why this happens. The assumption made by this person sounded interesting even though I had a strong predigested opinion even before trying to prove the assumption false.

My test to prove it wrong

We all assume that the mouthpiece is consistent in all respects- summitry, dimensions, tapers, material, mass, weight and because of these assumptions, we would seriously doubt that the amount of rotation, no matter how little or how much, could affect the response of the instrument when played. My friends, after completing my tests, I was amazed and I was forced to eat my doubting words.

I marked my mouthpiece on the shank and the mouthpiece receiver with lines indicating the original position. Around the entire mouthpiece receiver I added lines every 1/8 of an inch and began to play a series of exercises and consciously evaluated the sound, ease of response and feel of the instrument. As I continued to play and rotate my mouthpiece, I first noticed that there was indeed a difference in some of the positions of the mouthpiece. My first thought was that I may be inserting the mouthpiece with different tension in the mouthpiece receiver. I inserted the mouthpiece with the same force each time and still I felt and heard a different response at some positions. After completing the 360 degree rotation, I redid the exercise and this time I indicated where the best sound and response was located on my horn. After this test I concluded that at every eighth of a turn, I was pleased with the feel and sound and at the other positions, the horn felt stuffy and unresponsive. It was at this point that I began to mentally apologize to my original poster of the article.

Conclusion-

From my exercises, I found that the position of each mouthpiece did in fact have a noticeable affect of the sound and response of all of my horns.

I had been proven wrong and if you ask my wife she would not have been surprised, for she experiences that situation on a daily basis. This finding is very important and again I would like to thank the original author. We have all found during our daily practice that some days it works, and other days it doesn’t. There is only one way for you to decide whether your mouthpiece rotation makes a difference and that is to do the experiment yourself. It only takes about thirty minutes but the possible outcome may change the way you approach your instrument each day. For me, I have marked my horn and mouthpiece so that they will line up the same way every day. After a week of doing this routine, I have not had one of those, “it doesn’t feel right days”. That’s enough proof for a skeptic like me.

The Trumpet Player’s Octave Key

Have you ever watched enviously as woodwind players sail up and down through their wide range by only depressing their octave key? With the slightest movement of the thumb of their left hand, clarinet players are able to jump octaves with ease and sax players effortlessly negotiate eight and sixteen note intervals with no additional effort while we brass players continue to struggle to perform the same skips. Well fellow tube buzzers, there is hope. We will also soar with the eagles for we now have an octave key and we should use it proudly. It is located just below the little finger of our right hand and it is called “the hook”!

The previous message is an attempt at humor for the hook has been given the name the octave key for a reason and the reason is not good. The hook,  located on your lead pipe, has been given the name octave key because of its misuse when playing in the high register. When we struggle to play our high notes, the hook is many times used to squeeze out more pressure on the lip to get these notes. The excessive pressure applied to the embouchure will increase high notes but at a cost. Excessive mouthpiece pressure will thin the tone quality of these notes as well as limit blood flow to the embouchure which in turn will decrease the player’s endurance. I have seen extreme cases where the player using excessive pressure has literally split the lip open and permanently damaged the nerves of the embouchure.

What is the purpose of the hook on my horn?

There are reasons the hook has been attached to your instrument and here are some of them.

  • The hook is useful when playing with one hand.
  • If you need to insert a mute or turn a page of your music, it is useful.
  • You will find the hook helpful when placing your instrument in its case.

How will I know if I am using the hook to incorrectly get my high notes?

To find out if you are using too much mouthpiece pressure to get your high notes, simply take your little finger out of the hook and play the same high notes. If you are unable to get them to speak, the chance is very good that you are using too much pressure and the cause of the added pressure is coming from your misuse of the hook.

The amount of excessive pressure will vary among the many playing styles of trumpet players but the worst case I have personally witnessed happened while playing the Circus. One of my good friends was playing the third cornet part and used so much pressure that we had to find a mouthpiece puller to get his mouthpiece removed from his horn. In another case, I witnessed another player use so much pressure that he actually pulled the hook off the lead pipe. Obviously the solder joint was defective but it was originally attached with enough strength to pass inspection at the factory.

How can I break the habit of misusing the hook?

If you are convinced that the pressure is being generated from the little finger of your right hand and you are determined to break yourself of this habit, try the following-

  • Tape some Scotch Tape around the hook.
  • Each time you place your finger in the hook, you will be reminded to refrain from using it.
  • After a few days of rewrapping the tape, you will be less dependent on the hook.

I have worked with students at band camps who, after one week, were able to change their habit of using too much mouthpiece pressure because of the tape on the hook trick. One student shared with me the fact that their band director had been yelling at him/her for two years to “get the finger out of the hook”, and in two days with the tape, they had broken the habit.

Don’t go to extremes when trying to break the habit.

One of my students was using too much pressure and when I told him of the tape trick, he understood and left his lesson encouraged that he would solve his pressure problem by the next lesson. When he returned the next week, he had indeed corrected the habit, but when I asked him the reason for the bandage on his right hand, little finger, he told me the reason. After leaving his lesson the week previous, he thought he would improve on my instructions and taped a thumb tack on the inside of the hook to more effectively remind himself of the exercise. You need not go to extremes to get the job done, a simple piece of tape will be enough. You will find that you will be replacing the tape often the first few days for we are creatures of habit and it is surprising how many times we use the hook.

We all use some pressure while playing, but if you are using the minimum amount; you will be a better player.

Selecting An Instrument To Study- Part 4: Social, Economic And Political Influences

You may wonder what social, economic and political influences have to do with the selection of our children’s instruments but you must realize that our surroundings have a great impact on many decisions in our lives. This posting addresses all three influences from an historic standpoint and it was written to share information relating to our changing views of the most popular instruments at the time.

1900

During this period in our history, our musical taste leaned heavily toward a new music called Ragtime. The well known composer Scott Joplin led the way to this early example of jazz and the recordings of his famous Maple Leaf Rag was distributed worldwide through the medium of the piano roll. The piano was very popular at that time and many homes expected their young daughters to learn piano as well as perform for friends in the evening after dinner. This had a lasting effect on the selection of the piano as the most popular instrument of this decade. It is interesting to note also that the men and young boys of this period were not expected or even encouraged to study the piano for it was considered too feminine at that point in history. After the popularity of the piano rags began to spread, so did the acceptance of young men playing the piano.

1910

The piano remained the most often played instrument through this decade and with the gaining popularity of Operettas such as Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, the combination of the piano and voice led in the public’s choice of entertainment.

1920

Instrumental preferences began to change at this time and one of the most important changes came about when the Carl Fischer Music Company published the first full band score in our country. When the newly published band music began to circulate, along with it spread the band movement. The piano was now beginning to lose its prominence as the most popular instrument in the public’s eyes. Band instruments brought from Europe would now get a foothold in the market place.

1930

Jazz had started to become more popular and one of the earliest big bands was Bennie Moten’s. Big Bands became established in the Kansas City area and with them came the required instruments for the ensembles. No longer were the community band instruments the only hot items in stores for the trumpet, sax, trombone, drums, and upright bass were also added to the list of sought after instruments. Important during this decade was the formation of Playboys led by Bob Wills. In 1935 Wills had added horns, reed players and drums to his Western Swing ensemble.

1940

Popular music had hit the news stand when Billboard magazine began publishing music charts which documented the best-selling recordings in the various categories. The first song at number one was Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra’s recording of “I’ll Never Smile Again”. The instruments of the big band continued as the public’s choice of instruments to play.

1950

Although the instruments of the big bands continued to hold strong as instruments of favor for most of the public, the musical taste was now beginning to shift to the new music. Rockabilly was first made popular by Bill Haley and the Comet’s recording of “Rock Around the Clock”. The original comets used acoustic bass, accordion, drums, tenor sax, guitar and steel guitar. The popularity of combos was beginning to replace the big bands.

1960

A very important development during this period was the establishment of an easily recognized electric guitar sound called Surf Guitar which was originated by Dick Dale, a local surfer from California. With this sound also came volume, and acoustic instruments were beginning to be drowned out. Another reason the old school band instruments were being left on the music store shelves was the fact that the young musicians were able to produce loudly impressive chords (usually only two or three) with only minutes of instruction. Thus began the first phase of the decline in sales of band instruments. Interest in the acoustical guitar had increased at this time through the popularity of Folk music as performed by such artists as Bob Dylan and others during this decade.

1970

Wide spread rock and roll was in full swing and few bands made use of horns with the exception of bands such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone which used horns for added effect even though the main focus was the driving guitars.

1980

Some popular bands continued with horns but during this period most popular music interest were directed to country music.

1990

Along with Grunge and alternative rock came an unknown singer with a voice very similar to Frank Sinatra- Harry Connick, Jr. We all hoped that through his use of a big band backing we would once again establish the swing era and even though he is still popular today, the big bands are losing ground and thus the exposure to band instruments.

2000

Financial dilemmas caused continued cutbacks in music program funding throughout our school systems. Although this is not new, the degree to which these changes were implemented has made significant changes in many areas of our country. Sports programs continue to be funded but the arts have suffered greatly.

We were still losing ground and now we have the “boy bands”.

2010

Michael Bublé has continued to help stimulate interest in big band vocal backing but this interest is limited only to his dedicated followers. One interesting phenomenon today is the live contests each week such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Skating with the Stars. Through these programs, the viewer is again exposed to real musicians playing traditional instruments. Also continuing to entertain us are the musicians on the late night programs such as David Letterman, the Tonight Show as well as others.

Tribute must be made to the individual musicians who have brought interest to their chosen instrument and in order to recognize them, I have put together a “dream band” for your entertainment. The chance that you agree with my selection is doubtful and for that reason, I include this disclaimer: All individuals listed have been selected for this ensemble by one criteria  and one criteria alone, “these are my choices and if yours differ, I’m sorry”. I have also included numbers which they were most well known.

Sax section-

Alto- Paul Desmond, “Take Five” / Charlie Parker, “Yardbird Suite

Tenor- John Coltrane, “Blue Train” / Stan Getz, “The Girl from Ipanema”

Baritone- Jerry Mulligan, “Birdhouse”

Trumpet section-

Miles Davis, “Birth of the Cool”

Marvin Stamm, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Maynard Ferguson, “MacArthur Park”

Al Hirt, “Java”

Louis Armstrong, “Hello Dolly”

Trombone section-

Glenn Miller, “In The Mood”

Tommy” Dorsey, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”

Kay Winding, “More”

J. J. Johnson, “Take The A Train”

Rhythm section-

Piano- Dave” Brubeck, “Take Five”

Accoustic Bass- Charles Mingus, “Changes One”

Electric Bass- Jaco Pastorius, “Birdland”

Drums- Buddy Rich, “West Side Story”

Guitar- Jimmy Hendricks, “Purple Haze”

Vibes-  Lionel Hampton, Anything with Benny Goodman

Please realize that the members of this ensemble were selected for only one reason: each had a profound effect on promoting interest for their particular instrument. If this organization had ever performed, it would have been a disaster.

Selecting An Instrument To Study Part 3- Late Bloomers

Whether you have played an instrument before or you are a first timer, learning or relearning an instrument can be exciting and fun. There are many advantages to being in the twilight years of your life. One advantage is that no one expects much out of you. I celebrated my sixty-ninth birthday while playing a seven day a week show in Branson. The trombone player asked me how old I was and when I told him, he stared intensely at me and said, “That’s amazing”. I’m not sure what he really meant but I took it as a compliment to my playing not the fact that I was still playing. As an older musician, I enjoy performing because you have nothing to prove and you have already done more than most of the younger players will ever accomplish.

If you are now interested in learning a new instrument or returning to your old, retired instrument, I would like to encourage you to do so. Learning a new instrument can be easier if you select an instrument written in the same clef that you previously used. Learning the notes in a different clef can sometimes be confusing and the added time necessary to convert would be better spent on your playing techniques. If you have had experience playing the piano, this might not be a stretch for you. Conversions from a valve instrument to another valve instrument are also easier than to a slide as in the case of the trombone.  The transition from trumpet/cornet to treble clef baritone is a very easy switch for most comeback musicians. If you once played on a larger mouthpiece such as a baritone/euphonium/tuba, the smaller mouthpiece used in a trumpet may be more difficult.

Another advantage an older person will have when returning or starting a new instrument is the fact that older people have more time to practice. If you have decided on your new or returning to you previous instrument, you should be aware of a few issues you may encounter.

  • Don’t expect to be as good as you used to be, you won’t.
  • Even though you may have the desire and the time to practice you still are using old muscles and you will need to do your practicing for shorter periods.
  • Endurance and range are your two greatest challenges.
  • When first coming back to regular playing, expect your range to be good and your flexibility to be strong but your endurance very short.
  • As your endurance starts to increase, don’t be surprised that your range decreases and you lose your flexibility.
  • Try to stay away from four hour dance jobs until you have gained a lot of strength.
  • Start performing on very easy solos and lower ensemble parts.
  • Begin your solo performances in your own church, everyone will tell you how great you were even if you weren’t.

If you are returning to your old instrument, be sure that it is in good working condition or if it is beyond repair, plan on replacing it before you begin your comeback. Starting fresh with a new instrument will help speed up your development and the improvements made on newer instruments have been substantial. Plan to spend as much time on the Internet as you spend practicing for the Web can be of great value to you as you begin to have questions. One of the best sites for helpful hints can be found at TPIN. If you have any questions about trumpet playing, you can post them and within minutes, fellow trumpet players will return your post with what they feel is their answer to your questions. As you search the Net for helpful information, you will find hundreds of sites with information from how to breathe to buying used instruments. As with anything on the Internet, be couscous of anything you are not sure of. The TPN site has covered the topic “Comebackers” fully and you will be able to find many posts already in the archive section.

After retiring from fourty-five years of teaching and playing, I sold my horns and turned to fishing. After five years of fishing I was asked to split a concert with a local choral ensemble in Branson. I asked when the concert would take place and found that I had two weeks to get back in shape for the concert, I had been off the trumpet for five years and now I had to be in shape to play a thirty minute recital. I got it done and have continued to play since. I have enjoyed performing with the following organizations since that concert- Lawrence Welk, Bobby Vinton, Les Brown, Jerry Presley, The Rat Pack, Les Elgart and perform regularly with my own chamber group, the Branson Trumpet Ensemble. If I can return to playing after being off five years, you can make a comeback also.

Selecting An Instrument To Study Part 2-Traditional Students

A student is most often faced with the dilemma of instrument selection around the fourth grade and this experience is usually more of a trauma for the parents than it is for the student. Parents are faced with the pressures of guiding their child into an area that will affect their lives (both child and parent) for some time and the thought of the added expense of the instrument, the lessons and the travel to and from the lessons can be intimidating. Fortunately most of us have lived through the experience and are on hand to give the less experienced parent the wisdom of our old age.

If you are about to enroll your child in a music program and are not sure what to expect, you will have ample assistance from the music teachers in your school. Most often your director will announce a meeting of parents interested in starting their child in the school’s instrumental program. At that meeting you will be introduced to the program, informed on how the instruments are supplied and any other information pertinent to the music program. That is the easy part for you and your child will then have to decide what instrument you will be content to invite into your home for the next twelve to  fifteen years. As a parent of a percussionist, let me assure you that all of the jokes about the volume of a drum are highly exaggerated.

Choosing the correct instrument for your child

Your child’s preference should be considered. This might seem obvious but in many cases, parents will choose an instrument they want rather than the instrument their child wants. Your child’s preference can make the difference between a young person starting and continuing their interest in music. The parent will have to decide if the child’s desire for a particular instrument is a “chiseled in stone” desire or just another fad they are going through. If you have learned from past experience that your child’s choices are momentary, then lead them into an educated decision based on your knowledge and their interests.

Often parents are led into choosing a particular instrument by the directors. Just as a baseball coach might anticipate the need for a catcher for his team, sometimes band directors fall into this same practice. If your local high school is graduating the only oboe player next year, there will be a tendency for oboe recruitment to begin at your first meeting. This can be a benefit or it could also be a detriment, depending on whether your child would consider playing an oboe. The advantages would be that your director would be very interested in the new oboe student’s progress as well as the fact that universities pay out fine scholarships for accomplished oboe performers. Do remember the cost of an oboe, the possibility of qualified instruction in your area and again, would your child enjoy playing the oboe?

To give you an example of how far directors will go to fill their sections, I will share my story. While in fourth grade I was asked what instrument I wanted to learn and without hesitation I answered, “trombone”. I have no idea why I was enamored with the trombone at that time but that was my choice. Within ten minutes, the director had convinced my mother that my arms were too short to play the Trombone. So much for freedom of choice! The trombone instructor’s arms at our university are at least three inches shorter than mine, but at that moment there was a need for trumpet players and that’s how I became one.

Financial conditions can also play a factor in the selection of instruments for if your young child desires to play harp, take into consideration that not only will a harp need to be added to your budget, but you will also have to add a new station wagon, (boy does that date me) change that to a full sized van in order to transport the Harp to concerts. On the other hand you might be interested in selecting a horn (incorrectly referred to as a French horn). Most band programs have horns available for student use which could cost you nothing or a small rental fee. I have known very talented horn performers who have gone through high school and college without owning their own instrument! Few will believe this story but this actually happened during one of our searches for a new horn instructor at our university. One of the applicants actually applied for the horn position and requested, “If I am being considered for the open position on Horn, please let me know as soon as possible so that I can make arrangements to borrow a Horn for the audition. This is a true story and I share it only to illustrate how far you could get without investing in your own instrument.

With cut backs in music programs, there could be a situation where your school has phased out all instrumental offerings and if this is your case, you can still make arrangements for your child’s instrumental development. If you have a music store in your area, they will be very happy to explain their instrument rental program to you. Instrument rental programs are a benefit to both you and the store for before you pay top dollar for the a “top of the line” instrument for your child, you will have the option of renting a student line instrument to make sure the child’s interest and talents continue.

Helpful check list for selecting an instrument for your child

  • Make sure they truly want to play the instrument they ask for.
  • Make sure you would be content having them play that instrument they ask for.
  • Is there any future in having your daughter become one of the fifty girls in the flute section?
  • Universities are always looking for talented musicians playing the following instrument- horn, harp, oboe, bassoon, piano, clarinet and all string instruments.
  • Every guitar playing teenager will form a rock band and the chances of real financial success are about one in a thousand.
  • Drummers can play any style of music (if they have to).
  • There will always be a need for gifted piano players.

Selecting An Instrument To Study

When my wife first suggested this topic, I was very excited for I realized how important this subject could be. Then, after thinking about the mass of information and the myriad of directions one could approach this post, I realized that an entire book would be needed to touch on all the important issues. After careful consideration I have decided to tackle the topic anyway. I have never been accused of shying away from the imposable so please realize that I will try to structure this topic from several views and in doing so, the number of post will be more numerous than any I have written before. To begin, we first need an outline-

Selecting An Instrument To Study

A.    Early Bloomers

B.     Traditional Students

C.     Late Bloomers

D.    Influences

1.     Social

2.     Economical

3.     Political

Early Bloomers

The youngest entries into this category will be the people who are influenced by friends and family members around them. Examples of this influence can easily be seen in Branson, Missouri. We are currently inundated with family shows and when I say family shows I mean shows which feature members of a family as the entertainers on stage. We currently offer the families of the Haygoods, Six, Jim Stafford, Lowes, Lennon Brothers, Lennon Sisters, Clay Cooper, Rankin Brothers, Hughs Brothers and the Magnificent Variety Show which either began as early bloomers or are currently featuring young musicians in the three to eight year old category. These musicians were guided by family members either through their love of music or the love of commerce.

A more traditional approach to starting very young musicians can also be found through the influences of education. One such method which is popular today is the Suzuki Method for Strings and other instruments.Traditionally reserved for string players, this technique has been expanded to include other instruments as well. There have been many variations on this concept but due to the fact that most instruments cannot be manufactured in the smaller than normal sizes, the inclusion of brass instruments has been impossible. The basic concept of parent involvement in the young players practice routine can be used and is highly encouraged.

If you are determined to start your child’s musical development at a very early age, I would recommend starting them on a keyboard first. With a qualified instructor, your child would be able to play recognizable melodies in a short time and if you feel that the Suzuki method has merit, many keyboards can be found to  fit the small fingers just as the half-size Suzuki violins fit the younger string player’s fingers. Keyboards are inexpensive and you might enjoy playing along with your child at home while they practice. The real challenge will be to find the best teacher for too many piano teachers try to develop prodigies who will make them look important rather than teaching your child to play well and enjoy the experience. An additional benefit your child will experience is the ability to see how notes and harmonies work together. When the young performer sits at the keyboard, everything is laid out in front of him/her. Each note has a position and relates to each note next to it. Melody and harmony is more easily seen on the keyboard than on any other instrument. The relationship of high and low pitches is understood more easily and producing an acceptable musical sound is also a benefit to the youngster, as well as their parent. I strongly suggest that you consider the keyboard as your child’s first instrument and later in their musical career consider an additional instrument. And with that said, we will next discus the traditional student in my next blog.