I fondly recall the day when I sat on the floor of my elementary school, captivated by the visiting high school jazz ensemble. The glimmering instruments, mesmerizing solos, and the sheer energy of the ensemble left an indelible mark on me. This experience ignited my passion for music, leading me to eagerly join the band program when I transitioned to middle school. My journey began with a rented trumpet, and I still remember opening the case for the first time and making my very first sounds! These are some insights and advice that I've gathered along the way for both new and returning musicians.

What instrument should I play and where do I get one?

This is personal, if you don’t love the sound of your own instrument, you aren’t going to want to practice! If you are truly unsure, go to your local music store and try out several instruments until you find something that you don’t want to put down.

The store will also likely have an instrument rental program, and I recommend you start with a rental. Please, do not buy your instrument online. You need to hold it in your hands, see how it plays, and make sure it’s a good fit for you! Buying it from a reputable music shop will ensure you have a quality instrument and that it can be repaired and maintained for years to come. There are many tempting low-cost instruments online, and unfortunately, these are the instruments breaking/not working properly at the worst times (like right before a concert!) and can be harder to repair.


Want to improve quickly? Get a private teacher!

One of the most important tools to becoming a better musician is having a private teacher. When you have a teacher working with you 1 on 1 for 30-60 minutes a week, they can guide you through different techniques, etude studies, and help you work toward playing solo material with piano accompaniment! This is the difference between navigating an ocean in a big sturdy ship vs holding onto a piece of driftwood. Ask your band director for recommended private teachers, or if that isn’t available, most music instrument stores will be able to recommend a teacher for your chosen instrument.

Listen, listen, listen!

Just as in conversation, listening is critical in music. Let’s say you are working on a piece in band, like Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, how do we practice this? Besides working on your part slowly with a metronome, you should listen to recordings as well.

Go to your most difficult section, listen to a recording and follow along. Ask yourself, is anyone playing this line with me? What instruments are accompanying (or maybe that is your part), who do I need to line up with? Also, what is happening before I enter? I want to know which instruments to listen to, and what they are playing before my entrance so that I can join with the same or correct tempo, style, and dynamic. I also recommend you listen to several different recordings to hear other interpretations and possibilities (don’t just play something the way you hear it in a recording!).

Listening takes practice, and the more you listen critically, the better you will get at picking apart different instruments and lines with your ears while you are also playing.

Playing in band or orchestra is a group effort, we don’t just bury our heads in our individual parts and play exactly as we tried in the practice room. We must react to changing tempos, pitch, and be able to play a line differently when asked. But all the work is worth it as the feeling you get performing music is like none other.

Check out our Classical Breakdown interviews with world-class woodwind and brass players for inspiration!

Filed under: Music education, Band

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