Considerations 6 and 7
BY MEGHAN VANCE • JULY 17, 2023
If you want to learn music and are trying to decide which instrument to choose, there are seven things to consider. In part one, we considered personality, space, and transportation. In part two, we considered availability and budget. In this third part, we’ll look at the final two considerations: the student’s body, and preparatory instruments.
NUMBER 6: BODY
Music Parents’ Guide writes, “For some, the huge size of a double bass makes the instrument more attractive. For others, the idea of playing the flute and carrying it in a backpack is a much cooler idea.” We’ve already noted that a student’s body can affect transportation. But it can also affect how easily a student is able to play an instrument, or even whether they’re able to do so. A small student, for instance, may be unable to hold the weight of a large accordion or tuba. A short student may be unable to reach far enough to play a bass or trombone.
For wind and brass players, the mouth is the most important body part to consider, as it determines how easily a student can form the correct embouchure. Wikipedia states, “Embouchure or lipping is the use of lips, facial muscles, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument. This includes shaping the lips to the mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument or the mouthpiece of a brass instrument…. Proper embouchure allows instrumentalists to play their instrument at its full range with a full, clear tone and without strain or damage to their muscles.”
In general, students with full lips will often be steered towards flute or low brass instruments; students with thin lips can more easily play high brass and reed instruments, where lips are curled inwards. Students with overbites, underbites, or major teeth issues may find it difficult to form the correct embouchure for their instrument. Unfortunately, corrective measures such as braces can also be a problem.
The Online Metronome reports, “Braces dramatically impact your ability and the way it feels to play a wind instrument. It is not impossible, but it can be unpleasant.” Students studying voice or wind or brass instruments often need to curl their lips in to form the correct embouchure. This naturally brings skin over the teeth into closer contact with braces, which can be uncomfortable; added pressure against the teeth from a mouthpiece can become painful. If your student needs braces but is determined to play a wind or brass instrument, talk to your orthodontist about which kinds of braces are least likely to cause lacerations.
For string instruments, fingers are the most important body part to consider. Long fingers are helpful for all string players. Students with skinny fingers will find it easy to put their fingers close together on high string instruments such as violin, viola, ukulele, and mandolin. Students with wide fingers will find it easy to apply pressure to the thicker strings on low string instruments, such as cello, bass, and guitar. The reach of the hand can be a consideration as well, although many string instruments come in smaller sizes to accommodate smaller hands.
NUMBER 7: PREPARATORY INSTRUMENTS
Still not sure what instrument to try? Consider a preparatory instrument. These instruments prepare a student to play another instrument by developing easily-transferable skills on a smaller (and usually less expensive) instrument. Note that both easy instruments (piano, ukulele) and hard instruments (oboe) can be preparatory instruments, so whether you’re looking for an instrument that isn’t a struggle, or looking for a real challenge, there’s a preparatory instrument that may fit your personality.
Preparatory instruments are great for the following kinds of students:
- Very young students, who may not yet have developed a strong personality
- Students who are too small to play a larger instrument
- Students who need a small instrument to transport or store
- Students looking for an instrument that is budget-friendly
Below are six instruments that can be used as preparatory instruments:
Ukulele to Guitar
Piano to Any Instrument
Recorder to Flute
Trumpet to Low Brass Instruments
Clarinet to Saxophone
Oboe to Bassoon
Next week, we’ll continue on to part four to learn why piano is the ultimate preparatory instrument.