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What orchestral instrument to learn?

(80 Posts)
tricot39 Wed 09-Jan-13 22:29:04

Any suggestions for a primary school DS?

No idea if he is musical, but if he liked it it would be nice to have started on an orchestral instrument.

Are any better than others to learn? ie are there rarer ones that make it more likely that you get a place? Or do they tend to be more difficult to learn?

I am clueless as I was drilled for piano grades and got fed up after a few years, but learning to read music has been handy at times.

flowery Fri 11-Jan-13 10:40:42

The trouble with hardboiled's list is they are not needed orchestrally very often, so most schools/youth orchestras don't need them for their repertoire, or rarely, so can do without very well.

When I was in orchestras on the occasions we needed a harp or celeste or whatever, we'd get a local freelancer in if there was no one in the orchestra who could do it.

mistlethrush Fri 11-Jan-13 11:02:44

cor anglais - you're actually an oboe player who has managed to scrape enough money together to get another instrument that you'll play rarely.
alto flute - see above
contrabassoon - see above, with knobs on, and need a forklift (not really, but still....)
harp - a good one to fit in the car - no, you need to fit the car to the harp actually, or buy a van. And then you normally need help from someone else to get it in. Then you spend 30 mins before the concert tuning up. Then you spend most of the interval (when the rest of the orchestra's having a drink and a wee) tuning up again. And you're only needed for one concert in every 20.
organ - great if you want to play in church, but you need to get very good at that before you'll be asked to play with an orchestra as organ and orchestra is used even less than harp and orchestra.
euphonium - good for a brass band, certainly.

celeste - percussionist - or someone else that plays the piano well and is already playing a different instrument in the orchestra. Very limited repertoire, even if it is very obvious when its playing

flowery Fri 11-Jan-13 11:07:40

If you play the celeste you'll spend most of your time being a Sugar Plum Fairy at Christmas time... grin

Sympathique Fri 11-Jan-13 14:22:04

Agree with Mistlethrush's wise words - v sound. Another thing you might want to factor in is cost. Something like a bassoon or a double bass will set you back ££££££££££££s, oboes don't come cheap, but flutes/clarinets are more affordable and so are starter viledins etc. [Is it a coincidence that rare instruments are also expensive?] You can hire to start with in case he gives up. but eventually he will need his own instrument. I hope that woudln't stop him fulfilling his dream, but you can at least be prepared. (New car, new bassoon? Guess which won?)

Also I would second all above who've said that orchestras always need violins and cellos (and violas of course - yay). In general choosing something just because it's 'rare' is not in my opinion a good thing but I've said that before and in the end folks make their own choice. (Is euphonium rare? Kids at DC's school tended to start on that and switch to horn, trombone etc. as they grew, but maybe that's a local phenomenon. A bit like the glut of bassoonists round here, but I digress...)

FigaroHere Fri 11-Jan-13 15:50:05

No idea if he is musical, but if he liked it it would be nice to have started on an orchestral instrument. - re-reading the OP again. I wonder if the best start is to find out if he IS musical before deciding on an exotic instrument smile.
Personally I think piano is the best one to start with.

Sympathique Fri 11-Jan-13 16:00:41

FigaroHere I get what you are saying but piano is also very difficult to start with - with the caveat that some kids have natural aptitude. If they don't it can be a long hard haul and they may get put off music.

Agree, find out if he is interested in music first (!) but then start him on something he has affinity with unless there's an overriding reason for it to be piano. It's possible to over-think, and doing piano so he'll find it easier to add (say) violin in treble clef, bassoon in alto, and so on, is crossing bridges that aren't yet under construction and may be on a road he doesn't take.

FionaJT Fri 11-Jan-13 17:01:38

I advised my dd against the flute for the same reasons expressed earlier in the thread. I played to Grade 8, and really wasn't bad, but could never get into the higher level youth orchestras as there were so many flautists and only 2 needed per orchestra. Whereas all my string playing friends never had any trouble. DD had a choice of violin, flute or guitar at school this year (Yr 3) and went for violin.

flowery Fri 11-Jan-13 17:23:30

"I advised my dd against the flute for the same reasons expressed earlier in the thread. I played to Grade 8, and really wasn't bad, but could never get into the higher level youth orchestras as there were so many flautists and only 2 needed per orchestra. Whereas all my string playing friends never had any trouble"

Absolutely. The flautists in the couple of orchestras I was in, especially in the one that was a partially high standard, had to be absolutely outstanding to get in. Way above my league as a bog standard Grade 8 viola player.

I got so much out of my youth orchestra experience that I would guide my two away from flute/clarinet unless they had an real passion for one of them. Same as my clarinet playing mum did for me.

tricot39 Fri 11-Jan-13 20:21:47

Gosh this is all very interesting!
I had picked up the rare idea from a post on an old thread - which seems entirely daft after the good advice here.

We will just see how things go with some concerts and have a go sessions. Then see what he fancies.

A friend suggested mucianship classes before taking the plunge too which seems terribly sensible.

I was grilled for grades on piano and just got bored. So i am wary of the piano unless he is particularly keen. I was biased against violin as i may struggle to listen through the learning curve! But if he fancies that then i shall just have to get over it and buy some ear defenders!

FigaroHere Fri 11-Jan-13 21:16:28

Good luck with violin smile. It does take a year or two before you can just about tolerate it smile. That's why piano is my first choice - at least you can't get it out of tune easily. Somehow I think parents can tolerate any kind of music if it is produced by their DC - a natural instinct. Call it music "only a mother can love" - just think of these music concerts in primary school - they always sound so much better if your own darling is in it grin.

Happypiglet Fri 11-Jan-13 21:20:26

Just to add that I played double bass as a kid and was always in high demand! And they are not actually that expensive if you compare to wind instruments. My DB (I had to learn from 13 on a full size as mini basses were not then around) always sat on the passenger seat of my mums standard saloon car strapped in with a seat belt! Mini basses are easier still to transport. DB was and still is I think a bit cool... But then I am biased! We used to play jazz etc in our section tutorials at Youth Orchestra!!
My DSs play piano and a string instrument each. Piano is certainly harder to move quickly in and they have both got on quicker in the string instrument, altho how much of that is because they could already read music from piano I have no idea!
Another thing to consider is that at the earlier stages (and certainly at DSs lower school) there are mainly string players in the school. This means that get to play in ensembles earlier. Both my boys love group playing and it has certainly spurred them on.

mistlethrush Fri 11-Jan-13 21:43:49

Yes, my son has just started violin lessons (formally at least) and he's in a string group at school.

I started on piano at 6, then violin at 10. I took Grade 4 violin after a year and a half. Violin has always felt 'friendly', piano has always felt like something that I poke and it produces a note....

Happypiglet Fri 11-Jan-13 21:56:56

I agree mistle I love playing piano but it took me 7 years of slog to achieve grade six whereas I mastered grade six bass in less than three! I also think because ensemble playing in school orchestras etc means you play more it's easier to progress. Piano is such a solitary instrument....that being said I still play piano for fun(spent an hour today massacring Beethoven!) but do not currently play bass as I can't get childcare to attend evening orchestras....

mistlethrush Fri 11-Jan-13 22:35:26

I play the piano a bit - but viola (and occasionally violin) much more - I regularly play quartets, I play regularly in an orchestra doing concerts in London and other locations (just the weekend before for rehearsals) and I also sometimes play in local orchestras at short notice - but I actually sing much more than either, despite not studying it at all!

weblette Fri 11-Jan-13 22:43:55

Three of my four took up new wind instruments last year, I now have two bassoonists and an oboeist. Bassoons are hired from the county music service at £25 a term, dd (12) plays a short-reach bassoon, ds2 (8) a mini bassoon.

Dd started in June and will take Grade 1 in March, ds1 started oboe in October and will do his Grade 1 then as well.

Dd is the only child in her school of 1500 who plays it so everything said about rarity value is completely true, ds2 is one of two in his 450-strong prep. Both have already been asked to join orchestra.

You get used to the noise v quickly, it's a hell of a lot better than when she screeched her violin...

nickelbabe Fri 11-Jan-13 22:46:18

I love the violin
I spent abut 10 years wishing to be allowed to learn it.
I took it up at 6th form and loved it.

I had very supportive parents whin went to great lengths to naked sure i wouldn't practise regularly (constant piss-taking and then complained that they wanted all that money on an instrument i gave up playing!)
My point is that any instrument is with learning but you must never ever complain about the noise when they're just learning.
It's taken me years to get over that and get the courage to practise music again

nickelbabe Fri 11-Jan-13 22:48:26

Bloody autocorrect.

make sure
basically my parents were gits

nickelbabe Fri 11-Jan-13 22:49:04


nickelbabe Fri 11-Jan-13 22:49:53

Worth learning

TotallyBS Fri 11-Jan-13 22:50:32

Ditto the viola comments. However the viola player is always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Because of this, it is not a popular instrument with students which in turn makes a good viola player very sought after.

However, it is a big instrument relatively speaking. A young child isn't going to be able to play it for long. My DD started off as a violinist and at the age of 10, when she was big enough, she took on the viola as a secondary instrument (the cross over isn't that difficult - it only took her 2 years to go from newbie to Grade 5)

My advice is to follow the same path ie start DC off as a violinist (always room for another one in any orchestra) and later on take on the viola as a second instrument.

weblette Fri 11-Jan-13 22:54:09

I played viola at school, my granny's old fiddle was re-strung for me until I was tall enough to manage a proper viola. The tone is so beautiful.

That autocorrect could get you into trouble nickelbabe grin

OliviaPeacein2013Mumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 11-Jan-13 22:55:04

I have no orchestral experience, whatsoever, as was one of those who could not make a lovely sound with my violin and have posted this before but it still makes me laugh:
Beware the cello grin
Usual HQ disclaimers apply.

Happypiglet Sat 12-Jan-13 07:27:09


tricot39 Sat 12-Jan-13 07:47:40


Lonecatwithkitten Sat 12-Jan-13 08:41:42

My DD had a long chat with her grandpa who is a professional musician (accordian - really rare), piano and organ. In the end they choose they clarinet as she already played the recorder and it lead to so many other instruments. Interestingly at her school there is only one other clarinet player, but her teacher is busy for two full days teaching sax. She was invited to join orchestra after 4 lesson due to the lack of any wind instruments apart from flute.

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