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Choosing a Musical Instrument On your Child - A Parents' Self-help guide to Woodwinds

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Many people find themselves thrown to the world of musical instruments they know nothing about when their kids first begin music in school. Knowing the basics of proper instrument construction, materials, deciding on a good store in which to rent or purchase these instruments is extremely important. Precisely what process should a parent follow to make the best choices for their child?

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Clearly the initial step is to choose an instrument. Let your child their very own choice. Kids don't make very many big decisions with regards to their life, and this is a major one that can be very empowering. I can also say from personal experience that kids have a natural intuition as to what is good for them. Ultimately, my strongest advice is to put a child in to a room to try at most 3-5 different choices, and let them make their choice based on the sound they like best.

This post is intended to broaden your horizons, never to create a preference, or to put you in a position to nit-pick from the store! Most instruments are incredibly well made these days, picking a respected retailer will allow you to trust recommendations. Ask your school and/or private music teacher where to shop.

Woodwind instruments are made all over the world, but primarily in america, Germany, France, and China. When we talk about Woodwind instruments, we are referring to members of the Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Oboe, and Bassoon families.


All Woodwinds involve a reasonably complex, interconnected mechanism that you will find regulated so that the keys all move and seal the holes in the instrument when they are supposed to. Your trusted local retailer will likely be sure to get you a device that is 'set up', although many new instruments come all set out of the box. When you are getting through a brand new instrument, you should bring it back to the store for a check-up after about A few months, or sooner should there be any issues. Because all the materials are new and tight, they might come out of regulation because the instrument is broken in. This really is normal. You should trust this kind of regulation every 12-18 months, or sooner when the instrument is played a good deal.

Woodwinds also have pads. Pads are the part of the instrument that seal within the holes in the body of the instrument (toneholes). A perfect seal is needed to produce the correct note. Tuning and sound quality are affected by a correctly 'seated' pad. These also occasionally need replacing, as part of your regular maintenance, although rarely all at once. When all pads must be replaced (once every 8-10 years), this is done as part of a comprehensive 'overhaul' in the instrument which includes taking it all apart, cleaning it, refitting and tightening loose parts, and replacing springs and corks as necessary. This is a rare procedure, and usually reserved for professionals. The maintenance repair is the most common one for moms and dads.

Because of the many rods and key-cups (these support the pads), there are a lot of very sensitive, an easy task to bend parts of these instruments. Understanding how to assemble them properly is vital to avoiding unwanted repair costs. Be sure to ask your local retailer for your proper way to assemble your instrument. This could be the cause of the most common repairs, followed by bumping into things.


Interestingly, not all woodwinds are made from wood. Flutes and saxophones are created primarily of metals; Nickel-silver and silver for Flutes, and usually Brass for Saxophones. We'll follow these materials of these instruments for simplicity's sake, since there are increasingly more choices available.

Throughout the Woodwind instruments, wood is actually employed for the main construction of the instruments.

Flutes & Saxophones

Student Flutes are produced from Nickel-Silver, then plated in silver. Nickel-Silver can be a combination of brass with Nickel, that includes a similar look to Silver when polished, hence its name. Among its primary advantages is that it is stronger than brass or silver on their own. As you progress to improve instruments more Silver is employed, starting with the headjoint (the most important factor in a good quality of sound). More about headjoints later.

Saxophones are generally made from brass. Try to find a device that has 'ribbing' on the body; extra plates of brass that supply structural support over an area where multiple posts affix to the body. This provides strength for the occasional and unavoidable bumps that your particular young students are bound to have. Some student Saxes have keywork created from Nickel-Silver, which is a good strategy for strength in a vulnerable area.

Clarinets and Oboes

Clarinet and Oboe bodies are typically made of ABS plastic for student instruments. This is a good strategy for bumps, and also against the maintenance habits and climate changes that students face. Intermediate and professional instruments are made of Grenadilla wood (which is changing as Grenadilla edges towards the endangered list). Because they are made of wood they should be protected against cracking. In case a student doesn't swab their instrument out after playing, the moisture can cause the wood to be expanded and crack. Likewise, bringing your instrument university on a cold day and playing it without and can come to room temperature will cause it to crack, or perhaps rupture. This is caused a pressure differential from the warm air column within the instrument, as opposed to the cold temperature outside of the instrument. If you choose to get a wood instrument, be certain your student is prepared and able to look after it properly.

Keys on Clarinets and Oboes are generally made from Nickel-Silver, but can be generated with Silver plating, or another materials.


Student Bassoons are made of ABS plastic, but there are some new makers in the market that offer Hard Rubber, as well as Maple (used in professional instruments). A downside for Hard Rubber Bassoons is that they are quite heavy. If you can get a good wood Bassoon for a reasonable price, then choose this place. Wood offers the best acoustics for Bassoon, and will make the difference between a noticeable sound, and one that is rich and interesting.

Keywork on Bassoons is evenly made from Nickel-Silver, often silver plated.


While using word 'mouthpiece' for woodwinds might be confusing. Here are the instruments using the correct names for the corresponding part of the instrument that creates the sound:((Flute: Headjoint
Clarinet: Mouthpiece (with a single reed)
Saxophone: Mouthpiece (having a single reed)
Oboe: Double reed (two reeds tied plus a hole in between)
Bassoon: Double reed (two reeds tied plus a hole in between)

No matter the instrument, this is the part of the whole that makes the maximum impact on the quality of the sound, in conjunction with the player's personal physical attributes. Students generally use whatever they get from their teacher, but below are some tips about how to get the most from your equipment. Obtaining a good mouthpiece can precede, as well as postpone the purchase of a new Clarinet or Sax, so great will be the difference with hard rubber.
(For Flute, be sure that your headjoint cork is properly aligned, and not dried out. Your local retailer will reveal how to do this. In case there are problems, have them fixed right away, or choose a different flute. To get more intermediate flutes, pick a headjoint that is not only made entirely of Silver, but is hand-cut. This may not always be easier to play initially, but the sound quality improvement is definitely worth making the leap. Silver sounds superior to Nickel-Silver, producing a better tone quality, with more room for changing the quality according to the player's needs. You can get headjoints separately, but it can be be extremely expensive, and I advise against this until you reach an expert flute.

Oboe and Bassoon use two opposing, slightly curved reeds tied together that vibrate against each other when air passes between them. Advanced oboists/bassoonists make reeds by themselves, a time-consuming, skill-heavy task. It requires many years to learn to produce reeds for yourself, that work well. Fortunately, you can find ready-made reeds that generally meet the needs of the student player. One key factor you should test is to assure that the reed 'crows' perfectly at the pitch 'C'. Crowing a reed is blowing through it if it's not attached to the instrument. Test the crow using a tuner.

Clarinets and Saxophones use a single reed (small little bit of very well shaped and profiled cane) linked with a mouthpiece (by way of a ring called a 'ligature') that vibrates when air is passed between the two. The combination of these parts is key to a good sound. Most students get a plastic mouthpiece to begin with. Good plastic mouthpieces are made by Yamaha for both Clarinet and Saxophone, using the designation of '4C'. I would recommend a '5C' if it is available. It will be a little harder to experience at first, but a great way to get a bigger be the better choice off the bat. If you'd like to get a better quality of sound with increased room for good loud and soft playing while maintaining and introducing a rich tone, then look at a Hard Rubber Mouthpiece. Hard rubber surpasses plastic acoustically, and must be hand finished, unlike the plastic variety, that's spit out of a mold and polished/tumbled for shine. They are noticeably more expensive, but you should expect to spend in the $100-150 range for a decent Hard Rubber mouthpiece. Good names include: Selmer, Vandoren, Otto Link, Meyer, Yamaha, and Leblanc. Your local retailer should stock a minimum of two of these brands so that you can try - and you ought to try them! Because these are usually hand finished, they can be subtly different.

Why don't you consider sizes?

Clarinet and Saxophone mouthpieces have a diverse range of different sizing areas, but for the sake of simplicity, the most crucial is the 'tip opening'. Tip opening refers to the distance between the tip from the reed and the tip with the mouthpiece. Sadly, there is absolutely no standardized system for measuring tip openings, whilst they are commonly measured in millimetres, or utilizing a numbering system (usually beginning at number 5, each student sizing), or even letters. The metric method usually includes two to three numbers; a job opening of 2.97mm might be listed as 297, or as 97, depending on the maker. The numbering system may be listed as 5, 5*, 6, 6*, 7, etc. The 'star' numbers should be considered half-sizes. Letters work exactly the same as numbers generally; C, C*, D, D*, etc.

To present your student a leg up, aim for a '6', or 'D' sizing. This is bigger than what they are used to, but will pay off having a bigger sound right away. Some notes around the ends of your range, both low and high, will likely suffer, however this is only temporary while you adjust to the new mouthpiece and develop greater strength.

Other things

Oil and Adjust. This procedure needs to be conducted on the student's instrument annually, and up frequently, if there is lots of playing. The mechanics with the interconnected parts is delicate, and arrives of alignment often.

Bore oiling. Annually this will be required on Clarinets and Oboes to assist guard against cracking.

Avoid cheap instruments. With musical instruments you get what you buy. There are a lot of instruments coming from India and China now. Lots of people are excellent, while many others ought not even have been made. Your local, respected dealer must have those that are reliable, and will stand behind them. Your big-box Costco, Wal-Mart, Greatest coupe, and e-Bay has no understanding these matters, and functions for bottom line only. Avoid these places. They cannot possibly offer you the continued assistance, service, or repair that a developing and interested student will require. If you choose this route, request American, European, or Japanese-made instruments. This is a major separator of good from bad. Individuals who make in these places are likely to be very well trained and section of a history of excellent wind instrument making. The local, trusted retailer will assist to guide you in the choices available, and remember that just because it says USA, or Paris into it, does not mean it was made in these places. Manufacturers are now sometimes making these products part of the 'name' of the instrument.((Simply how much should I spend?

This is the big question. Be aware that popular instruments, like Flute and Clarinet, are less costly because they are made in greater quantities. Some instruments, like Oboe and Bassoon, are challenging and time-consuming to create, making them more expensive. Here is a list of acceptable and approximate pricing (at that time that this is being written) for first time student instruments that actually works for both American and Canadian currency.

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