WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING YOUR CHILD’S FIRST WIND INSTRUMENT.
-by Nat Pollard
Your child has expressed a keen interest in taking up a wind instrument, so how do you choose the right instrument to get them off to a great start?
A good quality student instrument will offer features that assist a learner to progress and enjoy their music making. A sub-standard instrument may result in the opposite experience, and can be a severe road block in a student’s early learning stages.
We’ve put together a handy guide to help you make the right choice for your child!
Most beginner models are made from plastic or ABS resin. This makes the clarinet lighter to hold and means less maintenance than wooden clarinets. Choosing a wooden clarinet is perfectly OK, just be aware it will need extra care to prevent the wood from cracking. Wooden clarinets are usually the preferred instrument of professionals and they do have a richer and darker sound but usually require more technical ability to master.
When inspecting the instrument, the key mechanisms should be smooth and should not rattle. All keys should make a good seal with the tone holes. In addition, a quality clarinet will have undercut tone holes.
Flutes can also come in a few different configurations. The best beginner models of flute should have features like “closed-hole with an offset G; split E mechanism and a C foot joint”. Closed hole refers to the keys having a solid finger pad; pro flutes often have open hole keys for more tone control. The offset G makes it easier for the fingers to reach the G key. The split E mechanism improves the playability and tuning of the high E, and the C foot joint extends the lower range to middle C.
In younger children with smaller hands and shorter arms, it may be beneficial to purchase a flute with a curved or “J” head joint. There are different finishes available, with silver plated being the most popular as it is easier to keep clean. Flutes have intricate parts, which on an inferior quality instrument will easily go out of alignment.
When choosing a child’s first saxophone, the first consideration is size. Most children will begin on the Alto Saxophone, because its the most comfortable size to handle and is slightly easier to play than the next two sizes up, the tenor and baritone. Children can begin on the larger sizes, but that will be dependent on the child having the required height and strength to handle the larger sizes.
The smaller sized Soprano Saxophone should NOT be considered as a learner instrument. Despite it’s smaller size, it is more challenging to play and usually more expensive. It’s generally only recommended for the experienced player or advanced student. Like the flute and clarinet; Saxophones have intricate mechanisms that on inferior quality instruments will be more likely to develop alignment and pad sealing issues.
A beginner trumpet should be easy to blow and have accurate intonation. The bore size of the instrument should be no smaller than “medium-large”. The most important component of the trumpet is the valves and valve housing. Better quality instruments will have monel alloy valves. Valves should not have any lateral movement, no rattle sounds and should go up and down freely. Gold lacquered instruments are easier to clean than silver plate instruments.
Stick to well known brands. Not only are they likely to be better quality, but they are more likely to have readily available spare parts and accessories.
Ask a teacher or experienced player for advice on what to buy. Specialist sales assistants from musical instrument retailers are well trained to advise on the best instrument for your child.
Buying cheap instruments from the internet often leads to disappointment, as these instruments are usually poorly constructed, have no warranty, and cost more to fix than they are worth (if they are fixable at all). Cheap instruments from retailers who are not musical instrument specialists can often lead to similar disappointment.
Consider “Rent to Own” options if you cannot afford the purchase price upfront, or if you would prefer your child to trial the instrument before you make the full financial investment (minimum length of rental and other T’s and C’s apply).