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.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.