I got an email from my cousin today, who has a son in fifth grade who is trying to decide which instrument to play in school. His favorite, and one that he received a high score on when he tried out all of the instruments that he was interested in at school, is the violin. Unfortunately, he has to choose between orchestra and band. Because his friends are going for band instruments, he is considering saxophone instead.
As school music budgets are being cut, instrumental programs are starting later, which makes the instrument decision come at a difficult time in a child’s life. My cousin’s son is a very sensible and cool kid, and it’s sad to think that he is even considering giving up the opportunity to play an instrument that he really likes and feels drawn to out of fear of being made fun of or not fitting in with his friends.
There are so many factors that can be considered in choosing an instrument. I played violin because the orchestra teacher said that I was too small to play cello. I started playing flute because my dad played flute. But the easiest way to make this decision well is to just stop thinking of all of these logical considerations. I believe that everyone is naturally more compatible with certain instruments than others. Although I enjoyed playing violin and flute, it is very apparent that I’m just more compatible with bassoon. Bassoon is too big for me, I had never seen one in real life before I started playing it, there were no other bassoonists in my whole school district to socialize with, and I quickly learned that I hate making reeds. Logically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to have made the choice to play that instrument. Except that I love bassoon. I felt drawn to it. Even when it’s hard to make a bassoon do what I want it to do, it doesn’t act as an obstruction to my musicality as less compatible instruments do. And that’s why it continues to be an enjoyable and fulfilling part of my life in a way that other instruments are not.
During college, I worked as a musical instrument tester at schools. I would help students try playing all of the band instruments and determine which one they would play in school. It shocked me when a boy would show natural talent producing a sound on flute and obvious enjoyment in playing it, only to be told by his parent that he should chose something else because only girls play that instrument. I hope I shocked those parents just as much when I would tell them that my father is a flute player. The fact is, lasting decisions are rarely made based on what friends are doing or what is considered cool at the moment. Kids who choose an instrument that they get a personal satisfaction from playing will continue playing, enjoying, and learning with that instrument. Kids who choose an instrument based solely on it being what their friends play will drop out of band as soon as their friends do. This is one of many examples of how music can be a vehicle for teaching valuable life lessons.
Please help an awesome kid make the best decision he can about what instrument he should play in school. Share your story of how you and your instrument met!