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Choosing a wind instrument


Instruments to choose from:

Flute, Clarinet in B flat, Oboe, Bassoon, French Horn, Trumpet in B flat, Tenor Trombone, Euphonium/Baritone and Tuba are the instruments which are commonly found in wind bands.  Trumpets, Trombones, Alto,Tenor and Baritone Saxophones are found in Big Bands whilst Dixieland Bands have Clarinets, Trumpets, Trombones and Tenor Saxophones.  Flute, Clarinet in B flat, Oboe, Bassoon, French Horn, Trumpet in B flat, Tenor Trombone and Tuba are found in orchestras.

Which instrument?

"So which instrument should I choose?" I hear you asking.  Well, the instrument that you'd really like to play.  This might sound a bit obvious, but if you are being directed towards or persuaded to play a particular instrument, you should ask that person why he/she wants you to play a particular instrument.  Is it because it's good for you, or are there other reasons, like it's the instrument that's needed to make up an ensemble, or the instrument which no-one is currently playing?  You should choose the instrument that you really want to play.

Having said that, there are fewer students who choose the Oboe, Bassoon, French Horn and Tuba, largely because of their cost.  You will be welcome anywhere if you play one of these instruments.  This is not to say that players of other instruments are any the less welcome, but there are simply more of them, so competition for places in orchestras and wind bands will be extremely keen.  The four most popular instruments are Flute, Clarinet in B flat, Trumpet in B flat and Alto Saxophone.

The best way to choose an instrument is to do a little research and then try some for yourself.  Most music shops will allow you to try instruments that you want to play.  If you'd like to know what each instrument looks and sounds like, please visit the outstanding web site of The Philharmonia Orchestra:  http://www.philharmonia.co.uk/thesoundexchange/the_orchestra/instruments/

Physical considerations:

You should also consider the shape of your mouth, the state of your teeth and the length of your arms.  If your top lip has a loop which is below the centre of your top lip, you are going to have difficulty playing a trumpet or a flute.  If you have two front, centre teeth which are not absolutely flat, or if you are going to need orthodontic treatment (which usually involves wearing braces), then it's not going to be easy for you to play a brass instrument.  If your arms are very short, playing the flute or trombone could be troublesome.  For the flute, there are headpieces with a curve in them which will allow small, beginning flautists to be able to play the Flute more easily.  For the trombone, there are slide extensions which help young trombonists reach the 6th and 7th positions.  Basically, if you really want to play a particular instrument and are prepared to overcome any physical difficulties that playing that instrument presents, no-one is going to persuade you differently.

Which brand?  New, second-hand or rent?

Having settled on a choice of instrument, you will now need to choose from a vast range of instrument manufacturers.  You don't necessarily have to buy a new instrument.  Most universities, colleges of music and conservatoires have students who are always seeking to upgrade their instruments and who want to sell their current instrument.  This is a good way to buy a good quality, secondhand instrument.  Some music shops run a warrantied, second-hand musical instrument purchase scheme and if you don't want to buy an instrument outright, why not consider renting or hiring an instrument?  That way, if you don't like the instrument after having played it for a few months, you can always return it to the shop and try another instrument.  If your budget isn't large enough for an outright purchase of the instrument of your choice, or you don't want to take the risk that you may not like it, you could always consider hire-purchase or rent-to-buy.

Yamaha and Conn-Selmer instruments can be found almost everywhere in the world.  Both manufacturers make a wide range of instruments from student to professional instruments.  Their instruments are well-made, reliable and can usually be repaired in the country of purchase by factory trained technicians.  Conn-Selmer is a large instrument manufacturing group which includes these brands:
Please click on any of the brand names to be taken to their respective web sites.

When you buy an instrument, please buy a music stand.  As I say in my iBegin® books:  Please buy an adjustable music stand, as you won’t be able to play properly with your music propped up on a bookshelf or chair.  This is just as an important part of your playing as forming an embouchure, adjusting your airflow and reading the notes.  It is, in fact, just as essential as the instrument itself.

Changing instruments

Once you've become proficient in playing your instrument, you might want to play other instruments.  Easy changes to make are:  Flute to Piccolo; Oboe to Cor Anglais; Clarinet to Bass Clarinet (or Alto Clarinet if you play in a Wind Band); Alto Saxophone to Tenor or Baritone Saxophone; Trumpet to French Horn; Trumpet to Cornet or Flugelhorn; Trombone to Bass Trombone; Euphonium/Baritone to Tuba.  Clarinet to Saxophone is a fairly common combination, as the fingering of the bottom octave of the Clarinet is the same as the Saxophone family.  If you are learning your instrument to play in a brass band, then you'll be able to switch to other brass band instruments with relative ease, with the exception of the trombone.

Which clef should I learn for lower brass instruments?

If you want to play Trombone, Euphonium/Baritone or Tuba in a wind band or orchestra, then learn bass clef.  If you want to play in brass bands only, then learn treble clef.



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