Choosing Your Band Instrument

I was scouring the internet for information about how band members should choose their instruments and I found this wonderful article by Mr. Williamson from the Jackson Heights Middle School Band. I want to share with you the information that Mr. Williamson has because it is very informative and it gave me information that I had never thought about before.

You will find a supply and demand factor (SDF) for each instrument. The SDF simply tells you whether or not the instrument is in high or low demand. If the instrument is in low demand, the number will be lower. If the instrument is in high demand, it will be higher. The scale ranges from 1 to 10. This number is based on the number of players who audition for All-State Bands, the Seminole County Honor Band, our own bands here at our school, and for college scholarships.  Although these numbers may vary slightly from year to year, the overall SDF tends to remain the same over time. Please be aware that all instruments are important to our band, some are more needed than others. Selecting the right instrument is very important.

Good luck and have fun!

-Mr. Williamson.

The instruments students may normally play in beginning band are: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, Baritone/Euphonium, and Tuba.

brass

Brass Instruments

Euphonium/Baritone 

The beginnings of the euphonium can be traced back to ancient Rome.   The Baritone horn (a close relative of the euphonium) and euphonium were invented in Germany in the 1830’s.   The euphonium is basically a small version of a tuba. However, it is more like a cousin to the Trombone – as it most often plays similar parts and uses the same size mouthpiece. Like the Tuba, it is normally owned by the band program, rented through the band boosters and they purchase their own mouthpiece.

SDF: 8

The reason the euphonium does not have an SDF of 9 or 10 is because it is seldom used in orchestras.   Bands, however depend on the euphonium to fill out the low brass section with its smooth, beautiful sound.   A concert band of 75 will use 4-5 euphoniums.

French Horn  

Hunting horns of the 16th century are the forerunners of the modern horn.   They did not have valves, but they were able to change notes by changing “crooks” (slides).   German horn makers perfected the modern horn with valves around 1818. Like the Tuba, it is normally owned by the band program, rented through the band boosters and they purchase their own mouthpiece.

SDF:   10

Horn players are among the most sought after for orchestras, bands and colleges.   They are among the highest group likely to earn scholarships.   A concert band of 75 will usually

Trombone

The sacbut, a forerunner of the modern trombone, existed in the 15th century.   The shape of today’s trombone is very similar to the sacbut.   There are several kinds of trombones and the tenor (the one you will play) is the most common.   It is unique in the brass section because valves are not used to change notes.   The trombone uses a slide instead.   With the slide, trombonists are able to produce interesting sound effects. Normally, a student model trombone is one of the most inexpensive brass instruments.

SDF: 8

Supply and demand are fairly balanced.   In most situations, a good trombonist will have a 50% chance at a scholarship at most colleges. A concert band of 75 will usually have 10-12 trombones.

Trumpet                                         

Wood, bronze and silver trumpets without valves can be traced back to ancient Egypt, Africa and Greece.   They were used primarily for low sounding notes until the 17 th century.   Heinrich Stolzel introduced a valve trumpet in Berlin in 1814. The modern piston valve was invented by Adolph Sax, who invented the saxophone.

The trumpet and it’s close relative, the cornet, are the highest sounding brass instruments.

SDF:   6

Because the trumpet is a fairly popular instrument, there are plenty of good players to go around.   For that reason, most bands as well as colleges and universities do not have to actively recruit trumpet players.   A concert band of 75 would use 10-12 trumpet players.

Tuba   

Like the euphonium, the tuba can trace it’s roots back to ancient Rome.   The modern tuba was developed in the 1820’s.   The Sousaphone, a relative of the tuba used in marching bands, was invented in 1898 by John Phillip Sousa.   Tuba is normally owned by the school band program and rented through the band boosters, but they purchase their own mouthpiece.

SDF:   10

Tuba players are the most sought after for orchestras, bands and colleges and are the highest group likely to earn scholarships.   A concert band of 75 will usually have 6-7 tubas.   The tuba is the most important instrument in the band because it carries the bass line.

woodwindsWoodwind Instruments

Woodwind instruments are not always made of wood. These instruments can be identified by the many keys (or holes) to be covered by your fingers. With the exception of the flute, woodwind players depend upon reeds to help produce a sound.

Bassoon    

The forerunner of the modern bassoon was the dulcian.   It was a one-piece double-reed instrument that provided the bass line in 16th century music.   Carl Almenrader and A. J. Heckel founded a factory in 1831 which began making the modern German system bassoon. Bassoons, like oboes use a double reed to produce a sound.

There are two members of the bassoon family:   the Bassoon (the one you will play) and the Contrabassoon.

Students who play Bassoon are asked to sign up with a private Bassoon teacher. Without private lessons, Bassoon is a difficult instrument to play because of it’s many keys, unusual fingerings, and specific technique.

SDF: 10

Good bassoonists are highly sought after by bands, orchestras and universities.   They are among the highest group likely to earn scholarships.   This is because there are few good bassoonists.   A concert band of 75 typically uses 3 to 4 bassoonists.

Clarinet     

The clarinet was created in 1690 by Johann Denner. The word clarinet comes from the Italian word, clarino, an old type of trumpet. The clarinet family includes the B-flat Clarinet (the one you will play), Bass Clarinet, and others. Fingerings are almost the same on all clarinets.Clarinet uses a piece of cane known as a “single reed” to make a tone which must be replaced on a regular basis.

SDF: 6

Even though many people play the clarinet, many are needed in bands. For that reason, supply and demand are closer in balance. A concert band of 75 will typically use 14 to 16

Flute 

Flutes date back to ancient civilizations and have been made of wood or metal. Early flutes, such as recorders, are played pointing forward like the clarinet. The transverse flute, the type played in band, is played to the side. Theobald Boehm designed the modern transverse flute. His design allowed for better sound and intonation. The flute family includes the C Flute (the one you will play), Piccolo, Alto and Bass Flutes. The flute is the highest sounding instrument of the band.

SDF: 3

The flute is a very popular instrument to play. For that reason, most colleges and universities do not have to actively recruit flutists. Large scholarships are rarely given. A concert band of 75 will typically use 8 to 10 flutists.

Oboe 

A family of double-reed instruments known as Shawms were used in music from the year 500 to about 1430.   These were the forerunner of the modern oboe which was invented by Jean Hotterre in 1660.   The name “oboe” is a mispronunciation of the French word “hautbois,” which means “high wood” shawm instrument.   The modern fingering system for the oboe was adapted in the mid 1800’s.

The oboe family includes the Oboe in C (the one you will play), Oboe d’Amore in A and the English Horn in F.

Students who play Oboe are asked to sign up with a private Oboe teacher. Without private lessons, Oboe is a difficult instrument to play because of it’s many keys, unusual fingerings, and specific technique.

SDF:   9

Good Oboists are highly sought after by bands, orchestras and universities.   They are among the highest group likely to earn scholarships.   This is because there are few good oboists.   A concert band of 75 typically uses 2  oboists.

Saxophone        

Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone family in the mid-1800’s.   Included in the family are the B-flat Soprano, E-flat Alto (the one you will play), B-flat Tenor, E-flat Baritone, and B-flat Bass. Saxophone uses a piece of cane known as a “single reed” to make a tone which must be replaced on a regular basis. Saxophone is normally rented or purchased outside the band program.

Saxophones are seldom used in orchestral compositions, but are very popular jazz instruments.

SDF:   1

Because of the recent popularity of the saxophone, there has been an explosion of players.   A concert band of 75 members will typically use only 4 saxophonists.   In addition, colleges and universities do not actively recruit them.  However, there are still plenty of students who continue to study saxophone and receive scholarships, most being less than other wind instruments. Saxophone can also be an expensive instrument in the band family.

As a beginning band member – students normally do not begin on saxophone. Students who are interested in playing saxophone usually begin on clarinet. This is why saxophone is not listed as an instrument for beginning band. At the end of the first year of band, the best clarinet students may audition for any available saxophone slots in symphonic or concert bands.

percussionPercussion Instruments

Percussion instruments can trace their roots back to prehistoric times.   Percussion instruments are played by striking them with a stick, mallet, or hand.   Students who wish to play percussion need to start on another band instrument first.   Those students can then switch to percussion after 6 months to a year.   Beginning percussionists will be performing on a bell set and xylophone for a large portion of the first year.   A bell set and xylophone play melodies like the wind instruments of the band. A common confusion about band is that students play “drums” – whereas student percussionists will learn how to play most of the instruments in the family, not just one.

Students who play Percussion are asked to sign up for a private percussion teacher. Without a private teacher, percussion may be a difficult instrument family to be in since percussionists have so many instruments to play, must learn to read both treble and bass clef notation, complicated rhythm patterns, and be able to pick up on new music very quickly and independently.

SDF:   2

Although a few percussionists receive large college scholarships and placement in honors ensembles, it is still one of the most popular family of instruments to play.   Because there are so many percussionists, only the very best are selected for top honors and scholarships.  A concert band of 75 will use 4-5 percussionists.

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Music Lessons California specializes in woodwind instruction for band students. I offer a Fast Track for band students!

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