My Child Is Starting Music This Fall! What Do I Do?

If your child is starting band or strings this fall, you probably have a lot of questions! Will he/she like it? Will he/she stick with it (after all, he’s quit karate and soccer and guitar and . . .)? What should he/she play? How do we get an instrument? What all will we need?

Relax! We can help you!


Will my child like it?

Your child will love music class – everyone loves music! But only if he does his homework. We all love what we’re good at, but we all get discouraged and disinterested when we don’t make regular progress. The key to progressing and succeeding as a musician is practice – or, as we call it, homework. Most beginning band and string students have twenty minutes or so of homework, at least five days a week.

There’s a lot of muscle development involved in playing an instrument, so even the brightest of students need that time spent, in order for the psychomotor development to take place. And just as with any other homework, you as parent may have to hold the line on this for the first few weeks. After all, this is an academic, credit-bearing class, and your child’s grade will be part of his GPA. But if you and your child will hang in there for the first few weeks, playing will soon be so much fun that your child will love it!


What should my child play?

Of course, if your teacher has assigned an instrument, please follow that advice. But if you’re curious, or not sure, we are happy to help! We have a wonderful process for helping you and your child choose a band or string instrument that will work beautifully for him. This is actually a system we’ve written articles about in national magazines and done sessions about at national education conventions. It’s fast, and fun, and is available in our store free during business hours.

Choosing an instrument is actually a scientific process – it’s not about what looks “cool” or shiny; it’s not about what a friend or relative plays, as each of us has slightly different face, mouth, lips, jaw and teeth. We evaluate what your child likes, along with what suits his God-given physical characteristics. That way, your child has the best chance for enjoyment and success.

For orchestral instruments, it’s all about sound and size.  Choosing a sound (timbre) you like and being measured accurately for the correct size. Most students are able to play any stringed instrument they like, if they are properly sized

With band instruments, it’s a little more involved - a student’s size and God-given face structure may make some instruments easier than others. While it’s rare that a student absolutely can’t plan an instrument he thinks he’d love, mouthpiece testing can give you a lot of insight into what might work best, or what might present a little extra challenge. 

A few tips:

  1. Please keep an open mind. It’s hard to decide what you’d “like” to play if you’ve never played before! Nearly 75% of the students we mouthpiece test leave with something other than what they envisioned – and they leave happy and excited, and confident they can succeed. An Open Letter to Parents, SB&O July 2011

  2. Never test with mouthpiece only. Always have your student hold the instrument to see if it fits in his hands. Many sixth graders are too small to play saxophone comfortably, even if they can make a great sound on the mouthpiece. A student who is on the smaller side can start on clarinet and switch over to sax easily when it’s more comfortable; and he will be a better sax player because of the time spent on clarinet (It’s an easy switch because clarinet and sax have similar mouthpieces, embouchures and fingering). Unfortunately, we see more saxes returned each year than any other instrument, and many of these students are ones that might have done very well on a different instrument.

  3. Consider using your Free Lesson Coupon (comes in every M.I. care kit) before school starts, or consider attending our Start Right! Band or String Camp. Entering class with a head start can give your student enormous confidence ... and can reassure you, the parent, that we’ve all chosen the right path.


How do I get an instrument?

Tempting though it may be, buying an instrument online is not a good option. Many of these do not meet school standards, many do not have parts available should repairs be necessary. Consider this – if your child wanted to race at Daytona, would you buy him a VW Beetle and tell him, “If you like it, and stick with it, I’ll buy you a race car?”  Of course not! You’d be ensuring his discouragement and failure. Quality beginning instruments can be rented from reputable companies for very reasonable rates, and will give your student a much better chance of success. Look for major, national brands; not “stencil” instruments that may not be easily repairable.

Do I rent, lease or buy? Each family’s budget is different, but be sure you understand the type of contract you’re considering. Beware of the “rent to rent” or “lease to learn” options which may not give you credit towards purchase – you could be paying for years and never actually own an instrument. Also look carefully at the length of the contract. A contract that goes on and on for 50, 60 or even 100 months means you’re paying several times more for the instrument than you could elsewhere.

Flexibility is important. Our cash purchase plan offers parents 40-50% off list price and is the least expensive way to get an instrument. But it’s also very flexible – we will buy the instrument back at any time, or if the teacher says another instrument would be better for your child, you get a penny-for-penny swap.

Our Rent to Own is also very flexible. Reasonable monthly payments with a return option any time, up to 36 months (in most cases) to own the instrument, or a huge discount for early payoff.

Whether you rent or purchase from Musical Innovations, 100% of your monthly payments may be applied towards a step-up or professional instrument of any brand we carry, at any time.

For partial sized string instruments, we offer a lease where 100% of the monthly lease fees apply towards purchase of the purchase or rental of the full-size when that time comes. Be sure to ask how much of your monthly fees apply towards purchase as some companies apply only 60% or less! Since young students can change sizes quickly, it’s best to lease these rather than to buy, so that you can continue to get equity all the way through to the full size.


Should I bother with the coverage? Is it worth it!?

Yes! Maintenance coverage should provide for all routine maintenance and accidental damage. It will normally not cover cosmetic damage or accessories, but should include anything necessary to keep the instrument in playing condition. Instruments really need to be seen twice a year for checkup and adjustment; and while you can certainly pay as you go for those visits, it’s usually far more cost-effective to choose coverage. Our MRC coverage includes free pickup and delivery at your school for all repair and warranty work, and also provides a free loaner while your instrument is in our shop.

Instrument Replacement should provide for full replacement of your instrument in case of fire, theft or irreparable loss. Watch out for coverage that only provides a “Waiver of Claim” which only lets you out of the remainder of your contract, but doesn’t replace your student’s instrument.


What else will my child need?

Other than a good-quality, name-brand beginning instrument, there are a few things your student should have. First, the textbook, or method book, of the teacher’s choice. Cleaning items, to keep your instrument free of bacteria and in optimum playing condition; and a folding stand so your student can continue to use proper posture and playing position at home while doing his homework. We offer an Encore Package that has all these items, at a discount price.

Additionally, if your student plays clarinet or saxophone, your teacher will let you know how many reeds you should have – and what brand and what strength he prefers. If your student plays oboe or bassoon, we recommend at least three reeds (double reeds are very weather-reactive and it’s best not to use a reed on a day it just doesn’t want to work well!). We also recommend a reed soaker, as reeds should be soaked in water for a full 5 minutes before playing (This will make them last longer).

For violin and viola, a shoulder rest is required – preferably one that is adjustable and collapsible. Sponges are inexpensive, but don’t really support good playing position. Our shoulder rests have a lifetime warranty and you will also get credit for each time you size up, towards the next size shoulder rest. Cello and bass players will need a rock stop, and there are several different types for you to choose from.

Above all, your child needs your support and enthusiasm. The first few weeks, before playing his instrument becomes a reward in itself, your child will need your encouragement – overseeing his practice and instrument care, helping him develop good habits, and reassuring him that his hard work will bring years of enjoyment.