The NEMC Parents Guide to joining School Band & Orchestra

Learning to play a musical instrument in school provides a lifetime of benefits.
NEMC can help parents and students get started.

Why enroll your child in school band or orchestra?

  • Data collected by the National Association for Music Education indicates music students are less likely to be truant, less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol, more likely to graduate on time and more likely to go to college. Music students outperform their peers on the SAT, scoring on average 57 points higher (verbal) and 43 points higher (math) according to reports by the College Entrance Exam Board.
  • Music provides a platform for constructive self-expression and a creative outlet the whole family can enjoy. Some recent studies have shown that playing and listening to music can trigger the brain to release pain and reduce stress. In children, learning to play an instrument promotes the development of the parts of the brain associated with sensory and motor function, and research demonstrates that musically trained children have better fine motor function than non-musically trained children.
  • Being a part of a well-structured school music program can help your child build their social skills. It can help shape self-confidence, gives a sense of self-accomplishment, fosters teamwork and provides children a safe social setting to make long lasting friendships and a feeling of belonging.

Watch what kids have to say about being in the BAND

Watch what kids have to say about being in the ORCHESTRA

Is playing an instrument safe?

Although singing has been implicated in several outbreaks of COVID19 (Hong Kong Karaoke 2020; Skagit Choir 2020), according to investigations compiled by University of Colorado, there have been no reports yet implicating the playing of musical instruments. This makes sense in the case of instruments that are struck, plucked or bowed….think drums, guitars and violins…but what about instruments like French horns and clarinets that require a lot of air to produce a sound? The answer may be related to the principles of acoustics inherent in the design of these instruments. While it’s true that considerable airflow is directed into these instruments, the design of the mouthpiece and tubing that serves to modify and amplify the sound waves severely constricts the airflow exiting the instrument. This suggests that playing a wind or brass instrument in a properly social-distanced environment may not pose a greater risk to others than similar activities. The United States Army Band and West Point states “there is agreement between all of the research collected, that wind instrument playing seems to present about the same risk as normal breathing and talking”. Schools around the country are planning to resume band programs based on this assumption while a research study currently underway at University of Colorado is attempting to provide greater insight into the issue.

What about the risks to the player? For stringed and percussion instruments, the risk is low. Proper hand sanitization before and after playing and periodic cleaning of the instrument surfaces will help mitigate the risk of potential cross contamination. Our Instrument Cleaning Guide can help you choose the products and techniques for your particular instrument. Wind instruments with a mouthpiece require an added level of care. In addition to regular cleaning, it is recommended that mouthpieces be washed and disinfected after each use and wind instruments not be shared without first being professionally cleaned and disinfected.

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How to choose the right instrument for your child?

One of the first questions most parents ask is, which instrument is the hardest or easiest to play? The simple answer is... none of the instruments offered to beginners in school band or orchestra is fundamentally harder or easier to play and with lessons and practice any instrument will get easier over time.

Your child’s physical attributes can be a consideration. A smaller child may struggle with larger instruments such as the trombone or baritone, as they need to be able to have the range of motion to fully engage the instrument in order to play all the notes. A child with hands that are small for their age will have initial challenges with clarinet and shorter than average arms create challenges for flute and trombone but not trumpet or saxophone. Fortunately, the stringed family: violin, viola, cello and string bass, come in different sizes which can be fit to your child and exchanged as they grow.

When thinking about brass or woodwind instruments that have a mouthpiece (embouchure), lip size and shape can be important. Children with fuller lips find it initially easier to play trombone than trumpet. And although it’s a good idea to consult with your orthodontist, many students with braces play a variety of wind instruments successfully.

But one of the most important things parents can do to help ensure success in their child’s musical journey is to let them choose the instrument which resonates most with them. If they don’t enjoy playing the instrument, it can become a challenge to keep them engaged in lessons as well as practicing. Most musicians play with “feeling”. The music emanates from inside them... their soul so to speak, and the instrument they play is their tool – an extension of their body. So being passionate about the instrument will avail them a means in which to make this happen. Maybe your child will be drawn to the way an instrument looks, the timbre of the sound, or how it’s played. Each instrument has something that makes it different and special. Your child might also ask their friends who are already involved in the music programs at their school, what instruments they play and why they like them – sometimes their peers can help them make a great choice based on their experience.

Often times your school will afford your child the chance to see, hear and sometimes try instruments up close. Your music educator will help direct your child towards instruments that are physically appropriate. If a child does pick one they are not physically suited for, your music teacher can usually determine so in the first few lessons and will suggest an alternative. If an in-school demonstration is not possible, you can watch the videos below or view instrument performance videos on the Internet or TV with your child. You can also visit our Instrument Selection Guide to learn more about each of the instruments offered in school band or orchestra.

Watch Demonstrations of Woodwind, Brass & Percussion Instruments featuring the The United States Army Field Band.

Watch Demonstrations of the Stringed Instruments from Lindsey Butcher, String & Orchestra Teacher from Drexel Avenue School.

Should you rent or buy an instrument?

Obtaining an instrument for use in school band or orchestra generally comes down to renting vs. buying. The majority of parents choose to rent at first but there are advantages to both.

Purchasing a name brand musical instrument designed for school use from a reputable online or brick and mortar music dealer can provide the lowest total cost of ownership. Owning can be a source of pride for students, providing extra motivation to practice and new instruments come with warranties that cover manufacturing defects. But the upfront cost can be intimidating especially when a student’s interest is unproven. Buying a used instrument can provide considerable savings and be a great value. Just be sure the instrument’s condition is evaluated by someone knowledgeable prior to purchase. The cost to repair or refurbish an instrument that has been used heavily or stored for a long time can easily exceed the original purchase price. Most educators strongly urge parents to avoid instruments available on-line at “too good to be true” prices. Reviews can be bogus or solicited when the instrument is brand new; before issues with durability, ability to hold an adjustment and general playability surface. Its challenging enough to learn to play any musical instrument. Those that are difficult to manage, not properly set up or of low quality will frustrate even the most talented and determined beginner.

Renting from a school music dealer affords parents a convenient opportunity to determine what talents and interests the student may have without a large financial commitment. Most often the instruments rented are the same name brands available for purchase and approved or endorsed by local music teachers. Renting also provides flexibility…the option to return if the child loses interest or switch to another instrument if the first one proves excessively challenging. Many rental programs also allow for some or all of the rental paid to be applied to purchase. Additionally, most rental plans come with or offer coverage for maintenance and repair, an important consideration when putting an expensive item in the hands of a fifth or sixth grader. Renting is particularly appealing to parents of students who choose violin, viola or cello. These instruments come in various sizes and most rental plans allow for automatic upgrades as the student grows. However, all this convenience and flexibility does come at a cost. Rental fees paid over the course of many years add up and even if you select a rent to own plan the cost to purchase by making rental payments over time will always be higher than an outright purchase. But for most families the flexibility is worth it.

To learn more about the EasyRent rental program, review our RENTAL FAQs.

If your child is all set and already knows what instrument they want to play, then let’s get started!

NEMC proudly represents these and other fine brands:Please note that as part of our ongoing commitment to these companies, not all brands are available at each of our independently owned dealer rental locations.
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