6th Grade Band Instrument Choices
Finding a good match between student and instrument is important. Since music is all about sound, choosing an instrument based on its tone quality, or sound, is a good place to start. Beyond this are physical considerations — factors such as hand size, dental structure, and mouth shape can have a big impact on playing success. Band teachers or specialists at local music stores can help determine if a student is physically compatible with a certain instrument. Any instrument can be played equally well by girls or boys.
There are practical considerations as well. If your family drives a compact car, it would be impossible to transport a string bass. There are also restrictions on carrying certain instruments on ASD buses.
Don’t feel that you need to rush out and get an instrument right when school begins in the fall. In fact, students should not acquire instruments before checking with a band teacher; instruments are not needed in class for the first two to three weeks of the school year.
Most sixth-graders choose one of the following instruments:
- alto saxophone
- percussion (bells, drums, cymbals, etc.)
Other Less Common Instruments:
These instruments are somewhat more difficult to start on than the ones listed above. They may not be a good choice for elementary band unless one or more of the following conditions are met: 1. The student shows an immediate high aptitude for music (good ear, practice habits, enthusiasm); 2. The student can take weekly private lessons on the instrument; 3. The student has a strong background in classical piano.
- bass clarinet
- tenor saxophone
Guitar and piano (keyboard) are not taught in band.
This is a small instrument that plays high pitched notes and plays the tune, or melody, in most band music. More than any other instrument, it requires a careful match with the student. Very few students are mediocre flute players — most can either play the flute very well or simply cannot play it at all, due to lip shape. Your band teacher will help determine if flute is a good choice. It is important for your child to have a strong second choice if they wish to play the flute.
This instrument is also small. Like the flute, it often plays the tune in band music. It is an easy instrument to start on, although like all instruments it has its own difficulties later on. It also requires a constantly replenished supply of reeds, which must be purchased and are fragile. The clarinet is also an excellent choice if the student wishes to eventually switch to oboe, bassoon, or saxophone.
This instrument is large, heavy, and expensive. It uses reeds, like the clarinet. To successfully play the sax, a student must have large hands. Although it is rather easy to play if the student is big enough, it is sometimes a better idea to play for the first year on the much lighter and less expensive clarinet, and change to sax in junior high school. A few taller, large-handed students can play the tenor saxophone.
These two brass instruments are so close to being identical that a choice between them is not very important. The trumpet is small and high pitched. It sometimes plays the tune, especially if the tune needs to be loud. The trumpet mouthpiece puts great demand on face and lip muscles and requires a great deal of practice time. Braces on the teeth make trumpet playing difficult. If the student is a casual band student, and not diligent in their practice, the trumpet is not a very good choice. On the other hand, if they want to play the melody and really be heard, the trumpet is a fine choice.
These two related “low brass” instruments are really quite similar. They use the same mouthpiece, and can play from the same music. The main difference is that the baritone has valves (it’s like a big trumpet) while the trombone has a slide. These instruments with their low sounds play the very important bass line in band music, like an electric bass in a rock band. They are both easier to blow than the trumpet. The trombone’s slide is capable of some great special effects.
Percussion is more than just drums! It includes struck instruments such as the triangle, cymbals, wood block, claves, as well as melodic instruments such as bells and marimba. All percussion students start on bells and drum practice pad, and are tested on both drum rhythms and bell melodies. They begin using actual drums later in the school year. Percussion requires excellent rhythm skills, and much practice. Students are encouraged to use a “percussion kit.”