How to Choose the Right Instrument in Beginning Band


At the beginning of this school year (April 2016), we launched a compulsory band program for all students in grades 5 and 6.

During our planning phase we decided that we wanted a smaller selection of instruments for the students to choose from than what is usually seen in traditional concert bands. 

We also decided that we would prevent a potential balance issue by choosing the instruments for our students and only ordering the number of instruments that we wanted in our band. 

Here's what we ordered:
  • 4 Alto Saxophones
  • 4 Tenor Saxophones
  • 4 Cornets
  • 4 Trumpets
  • 4 Trombones
  • 2 Euphoniums
  • 2 Tubas

The First Day of School

On the first day of school I introduced the new program to the students. My students are used to playing instruments in music class, so this was not a significant transition for them. 

The students had a chance to see the different instruments that they would have to choose from and we talked to them about the costs that they would be responsible for. 

I reminded the students that they would give me their instrument preference, but ultimately, the teacher would select the instrument for the students.

Student Costs

Before letting the kids get too excited about choosing an instrument, we communicated that there would be purchases they would have to make. 
Different instruments have different costs, so students and parents needed to agree on how much they were willing to invest. 

Here's a portion of the information letter that parents received. 
(Prices are in Japanese Yen because I teach in Okinawa)

The Second Day of School

The students got an opportunity to play all of the instruments. 
We used plastic reeds for the saxophones (easy to wash) and plastic mouthpieces for all of the brass instruments. 

While each student played the sax we looked for the following:

  • Size of the instrument compared to the size of the student
  • Student's ability to make a sound
  • Student's hand size - can the reach around the side keys of the saxophone?
  • Student's arm length - can the reach 7th position on trombone?
  • Student's lip size - we were observant of children with big lips playing on tiny mouthpieces like the trumpet and cornet.
  • Instrument weight - can the student easily carry and hold the instrument?

After trying all of the instruments, the students filled out the following preference survey:

    Instrument Selection: After Student Trials

    Using the results from the survey and my notes from lesson 2 and 3 I allocated students to the instruments. I considered the student's size, their character, and their behavioral concerns.

    For example, I had student #5 and student #6 both select the cornet as their first choice. I thought that both students were excellent with the cornet during their trial lesson, so our opinions matched. In the end, student #5 was assigned to cornet and student #6 was assigned to his second choice, the trumpet.

    Why? Because students #5 and #6 distract each other. In the past they have not done well when they sat together, and I wanted to ensure their success.


    For the most part, parents will agree and be very supportive of their children in band, but sometimes there are parents who are unhappy that their child wasn't assigned the "beautiful saxophone" or the "bold trumpet."

    What do you do in these cases?

    One parent offered to buy their child an instrument thinking this would ensure that their child would end up playing the instrument they wanted. We kindly reminded this parent that every student's instrument was assigned with their musical abilities in mind. 


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