Helping your child choose an instrument

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You should begin at this page to get an overview of the instrumental music program: |INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC OVERVIEW|

Sign-ups for instrumental music for the 2017-18 school year are coming. Please wait before getting an instrument for your incoming 4th grader until you hear from Mr. Pendergrass in the fall. Feel free to read through these pages and get some ideas about our instrumental music program at Fairmount Park.

Choosing an instrument for your 4th grade or 5th grade student can be a daunting task, but  you can use this page to help you and also download this Instrument Choice Sheet to fill-out with you child. Here are the instruments offered at Fairmount Park:

BAND

  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Alto Sax
  • Trumpet
  • Trombone
  • Baritone/Euphonium
  • Percussion

ORCHESTRA

  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Cello

I will spend time with each 4th and 5th grade music talking about each of the instruments, how they make sounds and some of the unique characteristics for each. Please don’t rent or buy an instrument until you register and get a confirmation email from Mr. Pendergrass. Helpful information about getting an instrument for your child is available at this LINK.

Here are some thoughts about each instrument as you consider your choice on a musical journey that will last a lifetime!

FLUTE flute

The flute is the highest sounding of the woodwind instruments taught at Fairmount Park. When considering the flute, students should be able to make an initial sound on the head joint with Mr. Pendergrass in class. This is the first step to making sound on the instrument. If a child cannot after repeated attempts create a sound with Mr. Pendergrass’s help, another instrument should be considered. Here are some other factors when considering the flute:

  1. Arms long enough to hold the flute to the mouth and still cover the keys correctly without using a shoulder to balance the instrument.
  2. Closed teeth meet evenly.
  3. A clear tone is easily produced on the head joint (as mentioned above).
  4. Eye-hand coordination is good.
  5. Reading skills are above average.
  6. Work habits are strong and achievement is high. Fingerings can be a bit tricky at first on the flute, so perseverance is key.
  7. Don’t choose the flute because it’s the smallest and easiest instrument to carry.

CLARINET clarinet.jpg

The clarinet is a woodwind that uses a reed attached to a mouthpiece to create a sound that can be mellow or strident. Some factors when considering the clarinet:

  1. Hands are large enough to reach all keys (and fingertips are large enough to cover the tone holes on the clarinet). Mr. Pendergrass or a local music store that sells instruments can evaluate this for you.
  2. Thumbs are not double-jointed or should be able to stay perpendicular to the instrument when holding it.
  3. Eye-hand coordination is good.
  4. Reading skills are above average.

alto saxALTO SAXOPHONE

The alto saxophone is  a woodwind that also uses a reed attached to the mouthpiece to create a sound. The saxophone is a very loud instrument, especially for beginners learning to control their breath during the first few weeks. This instrument more than any other requires students to have hands big enough hands to reach around the saxophone so as to press the right keys without squeezing other inadvertently. Mr. Pendergrass or a local music store that sells instruments can evaluate this for you. Some other factors when considering the alto saxophone:

  1. Hands are large enough to reach all keys as mentioned above.
  2. Thumbs are not double-jointed or should be able stay perpendicular to the instrument when holding it.
  3. Student’s orthodontist approves of him or her playing clarinet or saxophone.
  4. Eye-hand coordination is good.
  5. Reading skills are above average.

trumpetTRUMPET

The trumpet requires a student to be able to buzz into a mouthpiece. This is the initial sound for any brass instrument. Students will learn how to manipulate their lips along with proper breathing to create notes of high and low pitch on the trumpet. Many students think that by just pressing one of the 3 valves, pitches are changed. Unlike the flute, clarinet, or saxophone, where pitches are made by pressing the right keys, trumpet players must learn how to press the right combination of valves in coordination with proper lip muscles that must be tight for higher pitches and loose for lower ones. Other factors when considering the trumpet:

  1. Front teeth are relatively straight and even. Closed teeth meet evenly.
  2. Student is able to sing a common folk song or have a good sense of pitch i.e. knowing when a pitch is high or low.
  3. Level of confidence is high.
  4. Work habits are strong and achievement is high.
  5. Parental support is strong.

tromboneTROMBONE

The mighty trombone is the only brass instruments that looks almost exactly the same today as it did when it was first invented in the 15th century. It also requires a student to be able to buzz into a mouthpiece. It requires students to learn how to manipulate their lips along with proper breathing to create notes of high and low pitch, and the added skill of moving a slide in one of 7 positions to play notes of high and low pitch. And it’s the only brass instrument that can play a true glissando:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jjvKDWMsiI?rel=0&w=260&h=115]

(While I can play and teach all of the above instruments, the trombone was the instrument I played all throughout college and continue to play professionally today…) Some other considerations for choosing the excellent trombone:

  1. Student is able to sing a common folk song or have a good sense of pitch i.e. knowing when a pitch is high or low.
  2. Don’t be discouraged by it’s size. Many trombones come in cases that are like backpacks or have straps for easier transport.

Image result for baritoneBARITONE/EUPHONIUM

The baritone (pictured above with the bell facing forward) or euphonium (pictured above with the bell pointing up) is a member of the low brass family. It has the same size mouthpiece as the trombone and also requires a student to be able to buzz into a mouthpiece.  It requires students to learn how to manipulate their lips along with proper breathing to create notes of high and low pitch, but unlike the trombone, it uses valves like a trumpet to create different pitch combinations. The baritone and euphonium players will have a lesson at the same time as the trombone players since they both play in the bass clef, but the baritone, due to it’s shape, has a much warmer tone than the trombone.

Some other considerations for choosing the baritone or euphonium:

  1. Student is able to sing a common folk song or have a good sense of pitch i.e. knowing when a pitch is high or low.
  2. Don’t be discouraged by it’s size. Many baritones and euphoniums come in cases that are like backpacks or have straps for easier transport.

percussion.jpgPERCUSSION

There will be a limited number of beginning drum students this year.  Students wishing to learn drums will be considered percussion students and will learn the fundamental rudiments on snare drum, auxiliary percussion and mallet percussion. Extra practice in these three areas will be required. Students who want to play percussion as their first choice need to purchase a pair of drum sticks and a practice pad. A concert snare drum owned by the school will be used during lessons and concerts as well as a set of bells that can be checked out for practice at home. Instruction on the drumset or drumkit will not be offered.

ORCHESTRA

Unlike the wind and percussion instruments above, the string instruments (violin, viola, cello) come in various sizes to accommodate each player. Violins and cellos, come in 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 sizes; violas come in similar sizes but are often measured by inches (confusing I know, but this chart can help you if needed):

ViolinViolaSizeGuide

It is important that these instruments be fitted to each player by a professional at a music store or a private teacher. You can also watch this short video to give you an idea of how to size an instrument for your child:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou3XQgMJ14g?rel=0&w=460&h=215]

Every string instrument will come with a bow, but instruction begins without the bow initially to keep the coordination of the right hand and left hand separate. Also, it requires some strength to press down the string on the fingerboard with the left hand, creating sore finger tips at first. To help students place their fingers in the correct spot on the fingerboard, we use tapes as a guide to help students place their first 3 or 4 fingers in the correct spot similar to a guitar that uses frets:

violintapes

 

violinVIOLIN/VIOLA CONSIDERATIONS

To the untrained eye, a violin and viola look the same size, but the viola is in fact a bit bigger and has a deeper tone. The violin reads music in the treble clef on the staff, but the viola uses the alto clef which may be a bit of a learning curve for students used to reading pitches on the treble clef. Some thoughts for these instruments:

  1. Student is able to sing a common folk song or have a good sense of pitch i.e. knowing when a pitch is high or low.
  2. Level of confidence is high.
  3. Adequate strength and endurance to hold and press down strings.
  4. Work habits are strong and achievement is high.
  5. Parental support is strong.

celloCELLO CONSIDERATIONS

The cello is played in a seated position and is the lowest of the string instruments taught at Fairmount Park. Cello considerations include:

  1. Student is able to sing a common folk song or have a good sense of pitch i.e. knowing when a pitch is high or low.
  2. Level of confidence is high.
  3. Adequate strength and power to hold and press down strings and support instrument.
  4. Work habits are strong and achievement is high.
  5. Parental support is strong.
  6. Don’t be discouraged by it’s size. Many cellos come in cases that are like backpacks or have straps for easier transport.

Links to other pages about the instrumental program:

Instrumental Music-Sign Up: on-line registration (not live yet…) and helpful FAQ for parents.

How to get an instrument for your child: information on how to rent, purchase or borrow an instrument

Band: information about Beginning and Intermediate Band

Orchestra: information about Beginning Orchestra, Intermediate Strings and Advanced Strings