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Does Your Child Really Need Band?

Does your child really need band

By the time the "Band, Orchestra and Instrumental Music Lessons" form comes home from school (most school band programs begin in the third or fourth grades, orchestra programs in the fourth or fifth grades), you may feel that you and your child are already stretched beyond your limits. Most parents find themselves asking, "Does my child really need to join the band?" The surprising answer is: Yes, your child may need band! This may come as an enormous surprise. Every child who begins an instrument will not continue, but trying it is a little like insisting that he or she try a new vegetable. 

Playing an instrument may even be good for one's health.

​Holding up a trumpet is like lifting arm weights. Little is better for small motor coordination than playing the violin, or any instrument for that matter. Marching and playing at the same time takes an incredible amount of coordination, as does tapping your foot and playing a complicated passage on the flute simultaneously. Playing an instrument requires that all parts of the body move in synchronous motion, with the brain at the helm.

Band is being part of a team and builds instant friendships.

It takes the young person beyond the common meeting grounds (same age, same class, same neighborhood, same new brand of sneakers, etc.) and gives him or her an immediate new common bond. He or she shares a stand with another young person, shares a piece of music, discusses how to finger that high note or count that complicated rhythm. The star of the basketball team may play third trombone, and the one who has sat on the bench all season may play first trombone. Both will learn something from the experience. For some young people this is where they will be the star player; this will be their team sport. They will learn all the lessons of sportsmanship by listening to the coach (the conductor), being a team player (not playing faster than everybody else), helping to carry the equipment (stands, chairs, timpani), and being responsible (remembering the music and showing up on time for rehearsal). This may be the only team experience that some young people enjoy and, oddly enough, it is one of the very few team experiences which can stay with them and continue to be used throughout their lives. Few people are still playing basketball at sixty, but many amateur musicians are still going strong at eight-five.

Now, you're probably asking yourself these common questions:

  • How do I choose which instrument?

  • Do I allow my child to choose?

  • How much influence should I exert?

  • How do I increase chances for success, which is measured by how long he/she continues to play?

Some children will have strong feelings. For instance, "the saxophone or nothing!" The saxophone is probably the most popular instrument for boys at this time, but often young people have little idea of the possibilities which are available. Most know what the flute, trumpet, and saxophone are. Many will know what the trombone and tuba are. But what about baritone horns (they are like small tubas), glockenspiels (portable xylophones), oboes and bass clarinets? Those who play these instruments are often highly prized by their band directors and thought of as very special by their classmates. Perhaps your child would like to play one of these unusual instruments; if so, talk to your band director immediately and see what is possible. Go to the library or bookstore and find a book on musical instruments and thumb through it with your child to see if a particular one appeals to him or her.

a tuba player at school band practice

Here is my short list of recorded music for band instruments, which you might listen to together to see what sound appeals to your child.


  • Mozart: Concerto in D

  • J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

  • Jazz: Bolling: Suite for Flute, Piano, Bass & Drums


  • Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (beginning)

  • C.M.von Weber: Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra

  • Jazz: recordings with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Jimmy Giuffre


  • Haydn: Trumpet Concerto

  • Jazz: recordings with Chet Baker, Synton Marsalis, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Severinsen


  • Ibert: Concertina da Camera

  • Jollvet: "Fantasie Impromptu"

  • Jazz: recordings with Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Branford Marsalis


  • Handel: Oboe Concerti

  • R. Strauss: Oboe Concerto


  • Vaughn Williams: Tuba Concerto

  • Jazz: recordings with Stan Kenton

  • For young children: "Tubby, the Tuba"


  • Solos by Arthur Pryor, Henry Filmore

  • Jazz: Tommy Dorsey


  • Chavez: Toccata for Percussion

  • Bartok: Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion

  • Sousa: Marches

  • Jazz: recordings with Stan Kenton, various rock groups


  • Mozart: Grand Serenade for 13 Winds

  • Anton Reicha: Trios, Quintets


  • Gabrielli: Music for multiple brass, choirs, sometimes with chorus


  • Hindemith: Symphony for Band

  • Hoist: Suites for Band

  • Grainger: "Lincolnshire Posy"

  • Sousa: Marches

Once you have selected an instrument, your band director can tell you where you can rent one. I suggest renting because your child may play for three months and announce that he or she wants to quit or change instruments; it really is the flute, not the trumpet which is the perfect instrument for him or her. Be flexible! Few professional musicians began on the instrument by which they are now making their living. If you have made a minor investment, it is much easier to change gracefully.

Be prepared! You will have to make an investment in your child's success. The cost: five minutes a day. If you set a time when you both will always be together (five minutes before breakfast is the very best; or before or right after dinner, or directly after school, but always at the same time every day, because it is easier on everybody's nerves), your child will have a successful year. Do not expect your child to succeed if he or she practices alone for the first year. You will discover that you actually learn something and have fun. You will even discover that he or she will stop complaining about practicing if you and your child practice together.

Probably the most important reason for your adding band to your lives is that you are giving your child a tool for life.

He or she will go off to a new school, take his or her instrument and immediately have a group of friends. Regardless of whether he or she is a fabulous player, or merely adequate, there will be a place for him or her and a welcome from the band director and the group. Your child may busk in a Paris railway station or march in the Yale Precision Marching Band, or just play throughout the high school years. Remember, this is not an attempt to create a professional musician, but an attempt to equip your child with new social skills, a new sense of responsibility towards a group, new tools with which to enjoy life, and a setting in which to have fun.

Bonnie Ward Simon

Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MA, M.Ed, M.Phil.,

President of Maestro Classics

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