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What instrument might my child play?

Beginning band students typically play one of six instruments:
Alto Saxophone
Percussion (Snare Drum and/or Bells)

The selection is limited for several reasons. One, these are the easiest instruments on which kids can learn. Two, there is strength in numbers. And three, band compositions are written for these instruments but not necessarily for others.

Let's talk about strength in numbers for a minute. Learning an instrument is not always the easiest thing ever. When a lot of kids start, the sounds that come from their instruments are not always musical. If a kid is alone on an instrument, he may not realize that the sounds he's making are actually pretty common and normal for a beginner. But if the kid next to him is also making a non-musical racket, well, in a way it's a confidence builder. Also, when it comes to playing in a full band, being the only person on a horn can be nerve-wracking. A song may feature the flute section, but if there's just one flutist, all eyes are on her. This sometimes is why a band director may nudge a child in a certain direction--if there are too many trumpets but not enough trombones, the band director will prefer another trombone player. It will bolster the section as well as not make the other section overpowering.

By the way, "horn" is meant as a generic term for instruments.

This is not to say that the instrument a child picks as a beginner will be the sole instrument he will play for the rest of his life. In fact, after the first year or two, it is common for some kids to switch horns to start filling out the band's overall sound. Most of your typical beginner instruments, with the exception of trombone, tend to be melodic--they get to play the main line of a song. As bands get older and more experienced, they tend to play music that has more depth, requiring music that is more harmonic--involving chords and a bass line and what have you. It makes the music more interesting for the listener.

Here are some of the instruments that can become available based on one's starting instrument:
Flute - Piccolo
Clarinet - Bass Clarinet, Oboe, Alto Saxophone
Alto Saxophone - Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
Trumpet - French Horn, Baritone Horn (treble clef), Tuba

The trombone, because it has a slide and not valves or keys, doesn't really "translate" to another instrument. That's not to say trombone players never switch instruments; in fact, it is common for brass players to pick up different horns as they get older. I'll probably talk about this in a later entry, but the brass mouthpiece is basically the same for all the horns; it just gets bigger or smaller depending on the instrument. Being able to make a sound is half the battle, and once a brass player has figured that out, all they need to do is figure out the fingerings and they're set.

As for percussion, by the end of the first year in band it's very likely that they've already been exposed to multiple instruments. The kids start out with a snare--the basic drum--and may also have bells. No, those aren't little hand-held bells you might use to summon a butler; orchestra bells are basically a little xylophone. Mallet instruments, like bells, are used to help percussionists read standard music. Percussion music is written in a different manner than for woodwind and brass instruments. While the kids may not be able to take them home, they will be able to play cymbals and bass drum, and during the holidays sleigh bells may be employed. That is just a portion of what percussionists may experience even in just the first year.

You may have noticed that clarinetists can switch to saxophone. I know of a school district that starts kids on clarinet and then switches them to alto sax after a year or so. This is because so many of their students wanted to play saxophone that the band was not balanced. Also, other districts may start beginners on oboe or baritone horn. The baritone is similar to trombone--in fact, they often play the same music--but the fingering is the same as the trumpet. Since it has a lower tone, some schools save it for older students. The oboe is a delicate, expensive instrument that requires a careful child, not to mention the ability to handle the pressure it creates in the head. For that same reason, French horn typically is saved for an older student.

In future entries I plan to delve deeper into the various instruments.
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How does my child join band?

In some parts of the country, the ramp-up to summer band is just starting. For brand-new beginners, this is their first chance to play an instrument in a group. For older students, this is a way to keep playing their instruments over the summer--a move that is highly recommended. However, let's focus on the beginners, since that's why we're here.

Depending on your school/district, band may begin anywhere from fourth grade to high school. In my area, beginners start in fourth or fifth grade. Every child in that beginner grade has the opportunity to start band that year. There are special band nights where the kids can try out different instruments to get a feel for them, and afterward the parents sign a contract to rent out a particular instrument. On the first day of band, the instruments and paraphernalia, such as music and stands, are delivered to the band area and the kids start learning how to play.

What is nice about starting band over the summer is that the kids get a good idea of what it takes to be in band without having to worry about schoolwork as well. Also, if a child doesn't like a particular instrument, it is possible to start a different one in the fall. Realize that while a number of children will start over the summer, a portion will not have been able to, so there is the traditional back-to-school start to band as well.

Perhaps your child is older but would still like to give band a try. Older kids probably won't be invited to band night, but that doesn't mean there is no hope. The school should have a way to contact the band director, and he or she can give you the date for band night and what to bring and expect. For elementary schools that go up to eighth grade, having an older child in beginner band is easier to manage; with a separate middle or junior high school, parents may have to start their students with private lessons until they catch up. The good news with private lessons is that, since they're one-on-one, some kids will catch up quickly.
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Article: Hall uses music to educate kids

I came across this article the other day, and it shows how important music education and music therapy are even to littler kids.

Hall uses music to educate kids
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland offers inner-city preschoolers a unique way to prepare for reading
By Joe Milicia | Associated Press
March 26, 2008

CLEVELAND — Little voices fill the unusually quiet Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on a rare sunny winter morning.

The 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds flock into the hall's cavernous main floor, where cars from U2's Zoo TV tour and Phish's giant hot dog dangle high overhead.

These children don't know Little Richard from Bo Diddley — not yet.

The house that rock built devotes a lot of attention to honoring the Beatles, the Doors and other legendary artists. Its Toddler Rock program helps fulfill an educational mission that, like a steady bass line, is felt but often goes unnoticed.

The award-winning program, which started in 1999, gives inner-city children lessons in music and literacy in an environment that they otherwise wouldn't experience.

Ruthie Brown, the program's creator, knew it was working when she heard about a child who said, "That's my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" one day while passing the building.
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Article: Hints for matching kids with musical instruments

I came across this article on September 13, 2007. I may not agree with everything it says, but it has a lot of good ideas for parents.

Hints for matching kids with musical instruments
By Matthew Erikson
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

Young children love music, as anyone with a passing acquaintance with a 4-year-old knows. Getting that early interest to translate into real musical ability is tougher, though; most school districts don’t start instrumental programs until 5th grade at the earliest. That means kids are missing a golden opportunity to get started earlier—even as young as 4 or 5—when their fertile minds can most benefit from learning how to play an instrument.

But for many parents of kids younger than 10, especially parents who aren’t musically gifted themselves, the search for individual music lessons can be a bewildering maze of choices. Which instrument to choose? Where do you find a good teacher? Which method to pick—the Suzuki program with its emphasis on aural learning, or the more traditional approach of reading music?
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Sidebar: The right fit
Pro: It provides a good music foundation for children. The piano repertoire is enormous, and it ranges beyond classical music to jazz, rock and pop.
Con: Even the cheapest piano will cost hundreds of dollars. And it’s not something you can stick in a closet when not in use.

String instruments
Pro: Children can reach a decent level of proficiency in a relatively short amount of time. It also gives them an opportunity to perform in orchestras.
Con: For a child whose ultimate interest lies in pop or rock music, a violin may not be the best idea.

Pro: Most children gravitate to drums. It is also one of the best ways to teach complex rhythms.
Con: Get out the earplugs—they’re awfully loud for practice at home. Essential music basics such as melody and harmony often are lost in percussion lessons.

Pro: An excellent way to teach harmony to a child. They’re also versatile instruments that can teach a child classical and pop repertoires.
Con: For a child ages 5 to 9, a guitar can be a big instrument to handle. Limited opportunities to play with school bands and orchestras.

Pro: Children are often fond of the silvery tone of the flute. It also makes a good band as well as orchestral instrument.
Con: A flute is often too large for a 5- or 6-year-old, although some smaller flutes are being made for children.

Brass instruments
Pro: A popular choice with many children: Who isn’t impressed by the big, bold sound of a trumpet or horn?
Con: For children under 10, generally not a good idea. Nearly all brass instruments require adult-size lung capacity and big enough lips for the mouthpiece.
—Matthew Erikson
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Article: Creativity helps schools bring in music

From time to time, I'll post articles that are topical and show the importance of music in people's, especially children's, lives. This one originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Creativity helps schools bring in music
By Deanna Martin | Associated Press
February 14, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS - Sixth-grader Camarry Hall adjusted her sheet music, waited for her teacher to give the go-ahead and then started belting out low notes on a bass clarinet nearly as big as she is.

Camarry is one of about a dozen students in an after-school music program at Indianapolis Public School 70, an arts magnet school that has partnered with Butler University to provide more arts instruction to youngsters in one of Indiana's poorest districts.

"We have a lot of fun playing notes and different songs," Camarry said before the group broke into small ensembles with Butler students to rehearse for an upcoming concert.
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Some background

I've long wanted a website where people could ask questions regarding band--how to join, what instrument to choose, how to help your new band student when you, as a parent, can't tell which end of the instrument is up. I've been a new band student, worked in a music store, and taught in a classroom and at a camp. My parents weren't band musicians and didn't know much about getting me into any programs outside of school. Some schools are great--in a large district, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to play in a variety of groups. My grade school was small and my band even smaller. We did what we could, but, as I've gotten older, I realize there was a lot more I could have done had my parents realized what was out there. These days, people realize the importance of music in a child's life, but there certainly are parents who don't realize the various resources that are available to them to further their children's love of music and the instruments they choose. I'd like to help. In addition to posting information about band, instruments, and musicians, I hope to be able to answer questions people might have regarding being in band. I also hope other parents in a similar situation will chime in.
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