Are woodwind instruments suitable for all ages?
Ages 4-8 - Usually I would suggest that woodwind instruments are not so suitable for this age group. One main reason is the pure physicality of these instruments. Often young children's hands and arms simply aren't long enough to reach the keys successfully, or the instruments are just too heavy! Their mouths may be too small to form a correct embouchure or they may not have their adult front teeth in place, which would be a hindrance.
However, there are options before moving onto the trickier wind instruments: a budding flautist may start on the fife or the recorder, or use a curved headjoint; a keen clarinetist may start on a smaller C clarinet. Any good music teacher will be able to advise you on which option would be best for your child, especially if they have met them in person and performed an assessment.
Ages 8 onwards - if you've got your two front teeth and can manage to reach all the keys and hold the instrument with ease - go for it!
Should I buy or rent a woodwind instrument?
There are a number of options when it comes to acquiring an instrument:
1. You can buy a brand new instrument. This of course will be the more expensive option, but you will be getting a fantastic new instrument! Karen at 'The Music House' in Harrogate (
www.windstruments.co.uk) will help you make the right decision when looking at purchasing options. If you're in Leeds, I'd suggest 'All Brass And Woodwind' (
www.allbrassandwoodwind.co.uk) on York Street near the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
2. You can look for a second hand instrument to buy. There are a number of second hand selling sites (Ebay, Gumtree, Shpock, local Facebook selling sites) where you can purchase an instrument. It is advisable to do your research when purchasing an instrument this way. Find out why they are selling the instrument and ask for the model number. Look this up online and ask your teacher if it is a good buy - even better if you can take them to have a look at it first. Be very careful of anything being imported from abroad, much better to buy local, especially if you have the chance to see before you buy.
3. You can hire an instrument for a trial period, with the option to buy. This is a great option if you don't want to commit to a new purchase before you've had a few months of lessons. There are plenty of hire to buy schemes around. I would recommend asking Karen at 'The Music House' in Harrogate (
www.windstruments.co.uk) or having a look online - simply type in 'Flute Hire to Buy', 'Saxophone Hire Scheme', etc.
How easy are woodwind instruments to learn?
When learning a woodwind instrument, you will only have one stave to read, or one clef, which is a lot easier than learning two on the piano. So you may find you make quicker progress with your note reading.
Another skill to master is learning the fingerings of the different notes. There are often patterns to follow and this shouldn't pose too much of a difficulty to the beginner.
Probably the hardest thing to master as a beginner would be the control of the breathing and building a correct 'embouchure' - the position of the tongue, lips, jaw and teeth to make and control the sound. The embouchure of the double reed instruments (oboe/bassoon) can present more of a challenge to grasp.
Which brands would you recommend?
When making the important decision of buying a woodwind instrument you can't beat going into a music shop, speaking to an expert and trying out the instruments in real life. Some brands to look out for are: Yamaha, Selmer, Buffet, Gemeinhardt and Emerson. If you want to shop online, then there are plenty of woodwind comparison and information sites to be found. I would strongly recommend buying your instrument in person though, and from a reputable dealer who can advise you. See my page on local music shops to find your nearest shop.
Are there different types and sizes of woodwind instruments?
Yes, there are many different types and sizes. I've outlined the differences below:
Orchestral woodwind instruments (from highest to lowest sound)
English horn (Cor Anglais)
Types of saxophone (from highest to lowest sound, bold most common)
What social opportunities are there when learning this instrument?
Learning a woodwind instrument provides many opportunities to get involved with other musicians:
Flute / Saxophone / Clarinet choirs
Pop / Rock bands
Your teacher will be able to advise you about local groups.