School is starting soon, and some kids will be picking out the instrument that they will play in the school band. If you know someone in this situation and they are interested in a woodwind instrument—flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, or saxophone—here are some factors that might come under consideration.
Bad reasons to choose an instrument
- Gender. Some outdated attitudes and pedagogical materials suggest, for example, that the flute is particularly suited to girls.
- Facial anatomy. Some outdated or ill-informed ideas exist, for example, that certain sizes or shapes of lips are better suited to certain instruments. For woodwinds, this is not an actual issue, except perhaps in cases of significantly unusual morphology.
- Physical size or hand/finger size. This is not a significant issue for middle school or larger kids with any of the typical beginning band woodwinds, unless they are very significantly smaller than average, or perhaps significantly larger than an average adult.
- Blowing “strength” or “lung capacity.” Anyone with normal respiratory function has the “strength” and “capacity” to play any of the woodwinds.
- Success in “aptitude” testing. Some educators like to give some kind of test or trial to see which instruments individual students will be good at. These tests are, at best, mildly entertaining experiments in beginners’ luck.
- Previous experience. For someone who is switching to a new instrument (or adding one), there is generally no reason to be concerned about any specific combination of instruments, and perceived similarities are not necessarily an advantage.
A sad-but-true reason to choose an instrument
- Expense. Unfortunately, woodwind instruments can be expensive to purchase, equip, and maintain, and some of them more so than others. It’s wise to be aware of the costs up front. (Generally speaking, beginner-model woodwinds go from least to most expensive in this order, assuming equivalent quality: flute or clarinet, saxophone, oboe, bassoon.)
The best reason to choose an instrument
- Motivation. A beginner’s interest in playing a certain instrument is the best predictor of enjoyment and success, and, whenever possible, should be the primary deciding factor.