Choosing a Band Instrument Help Please.

Updated on February 14, 2013
S.M. asks from Elcho, WI
21 answers

I never had to opportunity to play in band so I'm not sure how to help my son decide what he wants to play in band next Fall. They have to make the decision by next week for some reason. How did your child decide what to play or you if you were in band?

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answers from St. Louis on

My daughter plays the flute because I do.

My older son tried the saxophone, in part because he loves jazz and also because I know how to play them too.

Really the easiest way to pick out an instrument is to let him get his hands on them. They usually have a band night where you can. See what moves him and go with that.

Oh, not flute! there was one guy who played the flute, is he hadn't been easy on the eye we would have teased him. Guys don't play flute

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answers from Wichita Falls on

Take him to a instrument store and have him try out the options. The store should have experts who know what questions to ask. Most schools will start with cornet (prelude to all brass), clarinet (intro to reeds), flute (winds), and drums. Don't fear the drums, he will start with drum sticks and practice pads, not nearly as loud as you would expect.

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answers from Jacksonville on

Well, some of it is what "expectations" are. And some of it is cost. And some of it is the desire of the student and also what the parents are willing to "put up with".

Many of the woodwinds end up being girls. The flutes, clarinets, oboes, etc, are almost always exclusively girls. There is no rule that says it must be so, but generally, that is how it shakes out. Most of the brass ends up being boys--again, there is no rule, and you will have some girls in the brass, but the majority will be boys. These are the tubas, the trumpets or cornets, the french horn, the trombone, etc.

Saxophones are actually woodwind instruments. But, typically, for whatever reason (size maybe?) there are a lot of boys who play them. Both the alto and the tenor sax.

By and large the brass instruments cost more than the woodwind instruments do. But pretty much any instrument will be available through a rental program (usually somehow through the school or the school will subcontract out with a particular music store), but the prices for rental are going to follow the cost of the instrument.

Both boys and girls play percussion. Which isn't JUST drums. But a snare drum is going to be a basic fundamental part of it. Drums aren't cheap either. And they are loud. Most schools have their own drum sets that they keep at the school for the kids to use at school. Providing something at home to practice on is something you have to check out space/cost wise. All the other instruments the student will have to carry back and forth between home and school, so that they can practice daily at home and also have it at school each day during class time.

It isn't nearly as much of a hassle as it sounds. I promise. It is just something that becomes part of "what they do". But it is a reality, and if your child rides a bus, it is something to consider when he is asking to play the tuba instead of the trumpet.

If your child isn't happy, he can ALWAYS change the instrument.
Most of the time, schools will have an open house type 'event' where the students can come in and give several different instruments "a try". If not, call a local music/instrument store and ask them what they can offer/suggest to you in the way of testing out what he likes. I'm sure they've heard the question before.

Good luck. Music is a wonderful addition to any education. :)

ETA: For those calling out my references to what sex plays what instrument, get a grip. I did not say anything that is not the truth. In MOST cases, that is how it shakes out. I explicitly stated that THERE IS NO RULE, but what I said is TYPICAL. My own SIL played just about every brass instrument there is. We had A boy play the oboe in my high school band. And one boy played the clarinet. Out of about 30 clarinets. For some kids, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. But for other kids, it is a HUGE deal for them. I don't know the original poster, or her child. But it may be part of what they will want to consider depending upon the child's personality. For example, if I had a son who was constantly getting teased and had been a target for bullies in the past or something, I would NOT encourage him to play an instrument that IN MOST CASES is played by girls in the school bands (like the flute). It would just be another glaring thing that other kids COULD use to be mean to him. I would want to know what is typical, and what might be atypical. That is ALL I was pointing out. Geesh!

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answers from Honolulu on

Let him choose.
band instruments are different than symphony instruments.
At the middle school in our district, they have band and symphony. 2 different groups.

But let your son choose.
Just look online at instruments and look at it and hear it.
With, your son.

They need to know what instruments the kids choose, because they need to know what instruments they need against what inventory they have. Or if they will have enough kids enrolled. If all kids choose trumpets for example, that is not a balanced band. etc.

I took band when I was a kid, and played the Oboe.
I chose it. None of my family ever played it. But that was my interest as a kid.

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answers from Cincinnati on

Let your son try out different instruments. If there is a shop that sells them near you, you can go there and explain that your son is interested in joining band. I rented an instrument until I was in middle school. In seventh grade, I decided to buy my own instrument with birthday and Christmas gift money I had received. I was in band starting from fourth grade and went all the way through highschool. As far as some of the comments go about specific instruments for a specific gender, that is not always the case. In high school there were plenty of boys in our band who played clarinet, flute, and oboe. The oboe players always got put with the percussion playing symbols or base drum during marching season though. I had many female friends who played the trumpet, drums, french horn, and saxophone. I will say that the oboe, trombone, and flute tended to be the less popular ones overall. We even had two people who played the bassoon, both male. They also did something different during marching season. You can't march with instruments requiring a double reed. I played clarinet. My female cousin played trumpet. One male cousin played saxophone and another played trombone. All of those instruments sound awful when you first learn how to play. We were usually sent outside to practice until we were able to get past that first stage of learning. Band is so much fun and the lessons I learned from being a member of band have helped me a lot in my life. My only regret is that my hearing suffered a little. But you could always wear earplugs, I guess. Let him decide.

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answers from Tyler on

Great Advice!! Love this site!

If you can go to a instrument rental/repair store in your area, let you son try out different instruments. I can't believe the band director at his school doesn't handle this, our schools are so strapped for time and resources...smh.

My daughter was so set on the flute, but after trying out several instruments she was placed on the clarinet. She played for 3 years and became pretty good. When it came to High School, she choose athletics over band and we've sold the clarinet. But, you do need to know in advance what the costs are associated with your instrument. We purchased a used one from a local retailer and since we purchased directly from that store, they serviced it free of charge. I sold it to a friend when we were finished for 1/2 of the cost we paid. For 3 yrs of use, that isn't a bad deal.

Good luck!

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answers from Norfolk on

The summer before middle school started, everyone who was going into band met with one of the band instructors for about 20 minutes.
They tried various mouth pieces (washed off/sanitized every time) and tried a basic finger dexterity test.
Based on that (and they knew what sort of balance they needed for their band - how many of each instrument), they made an instrument recommendation.
For percussion - they had to play a different instrument for the 1st half of 6th grade and then there were try outs.
They like people who have a sense of rhythm and a LOT of hyper kids do very well.
I know a Mom who's son plays snare drum - she says none of the pictures in her house hang straight - when he's practicing the whole house vibrates.
Our son plays clarinet (a reed instrument) and it's a great instrument!
It's light weight, easy to carry and sounds pretty good.
Everyone in the band practices 20 min 5 days a week (percussion is 30 min).
Band is a lot of fun!

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answers from Chicago on

I sure hope all they really need to know is how many kids are interested in joining band by next week. Then, I would think the students would have an opportunity to play the instruments before deciding.

In my children's district, all elementary schools had a certain Saturday morning that they could show up at the middle school to try out the instruments and meet the band teacher. She was really nice, and help my children decide what instrument they would be good at playing. They both picked the trombone, but a few months later when band was about to start, my daughter changed her mind. She decided to join the group of girls who were playing the flute. I kind of wish she would of gone with her first choice, but she really didn't want to join the trombone group since she was the only girl in it.
I think kids should try the instruments out first. I'd call and ask the band teacher if there's an opportunity like this for students.

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answers from Washington DC on

Our middle school band director had the kids try the different instruments and mouthpieces. He also tested them for pitch recognition (higher vs lower). You can't play a brass instrument if you can't hear what note you are supposed to be playing...
My daughter plays trumpet and my son plays sax. Originally, she wanted to play sax, but once she put her lips on that trumpet mouthpiece, it was obvious that trumpet was her thing.
My children are both excellent musicians, but they both practiced a lot and had private lessons when they were in middle school. At this point, my daughter - a high school senior - plays almost every day at school (and the homework load is beyond impressive) so practice at home is limited and private lessons are impossible to schedule.
I would contact your band director and ask him or her to test your student.
There is no point in selecting an instrument that will not be a good fit.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Our school let the kids try out different instruments they were interested in before making a final decision. My older daughter chose the violin, and 3 yrs later is still playing it in the middle school orchestra. My younger daughter chose flute...and complained throughout that she *should* have chosen trumpet! She now plays neither, having chosen to stick with piano lessons only.

Is there any particular instrument your son has shown any interest in? Start from there. Smaller, lighter instruments are easier to transport to and from school (and usually cheaper to rent, too). Aside from percussion, most *band* instruments involve blowing of some sort. Blowing a brass instrument is different from a reed instrument and some kids are better at one than the other. There's really no way to tell unless he has the chance to try some of them.

I played clarinet (a reed instrument) for a couple of years (all my friends were playing clarinet and I just wanted to do the same) then switched to trumpet when I realized I HATED clarinet, even though my friends liked it. I found that the trumpet was a lot easier to play (and more fun, too!) But that's my personal experience. I had friends who LOVED the clarinet.

See what your son says and go from there.

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answers from Colorado Springs on

Does your child have a preference? Are his fingers short or long?

My granddaughter is playing cello because her teacher said, "Hey, we need cello players - why don't you try it out?" And she likes it.

That doesn't sound very dramatic or romantic, but many fine musicians have started that way!

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answers from St. Louis on

in our school, the children are allowed to play around with the entire selection of instruments.....I love that they're given the opportunity to find their groove!

This freedom has allowed the children to cross mis-perceived boundaries & assumptions. Both sexes play ALL instruments, & it's a wonderful honor & freedom. Please do not fall into stereotypes by trying to pigeonhole the sexes!

Check with the director & get some feedback. He/she should know what's working & what's not working for your child. Hope this helps.

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answers from Grand Forks on

Our school has auditions. The students try out every instrument in the band and go with the instrument that they show an interest for and ability to play.


answers from Austin on

Usually the band director will have the kids try out different instruments, unless the student has their heart already set on something.

They take different things in mind. Braces no braces. Over bite, Size of mouth, length of fingers, height.

I also know percussion instruments, the parents MUST give permission.. hee, hee.



answers from Denver on

Depending on grade, instrumental options may be limited - for instance, French horn and bassoon are probably not options for most 3rd graders. I'd find out what the options are and take steps to introduce him to those instruments.

If he's older, Peter and the Wolf is a good intro to orchestral instruments, but it would stink if he fell in love with the bassoon and the school didn't offer that. Once you work out his options, let him hear them all. He should pick the one he likes best - or he'll nevere practice. Good luck!



answers from Oklahoma City on

I know that most of the boys in band usually play a brass instrument. Most of the girls played woodwinds BUT there were some cross overs. I think if he wants to be in band he probably has some ideas of what he might want to try out. He can always switch.

If he starts out on Sax or Clarinet he can easily swith over to Oboe, Bassoon, or to the other woodwinds quite easily if he finds he likes one of them better.

If he starts out on Trumpet he can always do French Horn, Tuba, or other valved brass instruments. Trombone is one that is just memory of where to slide it.

Percussion is always fun too. He can do so many different instruments, tympani, chimes, triangle, bass, snare, and so forth. And really, who doesn't love a drummer. I know we always enjoy watching the move Drumline.

SO, depending on his music likes and dislikes, how strong he is, if he wants to blow and instrument or hit it, he has a world of choices ahead of him.

I'd let him watch some performers on youtube who are playing different instruments and see what he thinks is interesting.

I played clarinet from 7th grade and still play today. I played sax in stage band. I also picked up a flute and taught myself how to play it. I love playing instruments.



answers from New London on

I was in band for years in elementary school and middle school. I will try not to repeat what was said...

The band teacher let me try a few instruments. I had a hard time with the flute. It is not all that easy to play. I tried trumpet, too. I ended up playing clarinet.

Most of the boys in band played drums/percussion, trumpet and saxophone. One boy played the clarinet. One boy played the french horn. None of the boys played the flute. The rest of the boys played the trombone. One girl played the oboe.

We either had to rent or buy the instrument.



answers from Minneapolis on

In our school district each child selects their top three choices and then the band instructors spend time with them going over the instruments and helping them choose. Generally, playing percussion requires a background in piano. Costs of instruments varies quite a bit. Do you want to rent or buy? Have you looked into costs? Other factors can come into play too. My oldest son was interested in the saxophone, but at the time his fingers were too small to be able to cover all of the keys. Convenience of carrying the instrument back and forth to school can be a factor, although with some of the larger brass instruments they often have an instrument for home and school and you only need to transport the mouthpiece. Do gender patterns or stereotypes matter to your son? It's pretty rare to see a male flute player and the clarinets are often primarily girls too. It's too bad, but that's just the way it is. Boys often select trumpet/coronet or trombone. What about other opportunities down the road--does he want to be able to play in a jazz band or some other type of ensemble? I would contact your band instructors for more information; they are in the best position to help your son make this decision. (I have two boys, both play piano, one plays trombone and one plays the French horn. The French horn is difficult and I don't recommend it unless your son has a music background already or is willing to make a big committment to practicing.) Band is a great activity; I hope your son finds an instrument he enjoys.



answers from Houston on

If your child is clumsy, don't get a reed instrument or else you'll be paying $10-20 a week replacing them.

How old is your son? The boys in my jr high and high school band seemed to fight over percussion. Yes, they can get heavy in marching band but then again, they also get most of the attention.

I think the 2nd and 3rd most popular instruments for the boys were trumpet and saxaphone (reed instrument).



answers from Dallas on

Our kids went to a day at the middle school where they got to try out the instruments. They had music teachers with everyone telling them if they had talent I that area. I can't imagine othwise. Try a music store. They have experts there too. FYI, some are more expensive to maintain than others. Tubas are a pain to tote around. Percussion has many instruments to play that require practicing at school because they have the expensive $20,000 marimbas. Flutes are easy to carry!
Go play on something. My red heads would turn purple blowing on the horns! Percussion is very LOUD. But they can play piano, too.


answers from Chicago on

I always wanted to play the trumpet, however because I would be getting braces it was not reccomended. Apparently you could cut your gums/lips badly, so I decided to play the flute. My mother played it, it sounded pretty and I was not interested in a "reed" instrument or percussions. The bottom line is you have to think about what you (he) finds pleasing to the ears.

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