The First-Time Parent’s Guide To Band & Orchestra

The First-Time Parents Guide To Band & Orchestra

Every year, millions of kids are introduced to music for the first time through their school’s band program. For many parents, this is their first experience with band and orchestra, too. The experience doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you’re a first-time band parent, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll get you up to speed on the basics of band and orchestra and everything you need to know to buy your child’s first instrument.

Table Of Contents

Why Should My Child Be Involved In Band?

Learning music provides a variety of social-emotional benefits during childhood development. Here are just a few reasons we think parents should be excited their kids will be learning to play music:

  • Higher Grades and SAT Scores: “Students who participated in music, who had higher achievement in music, and who were highly engaged in music had higher exam scores across all subjects,” according to Peter Gouzouasis, PhD. β€œOn average, the children who learned to play a musical instrument for many years, and were now playing in high school band and orchestra, were the equivalent of about one academic year ahead of their peers with regard to their English, mathematics and science skills, as measured by their exam grades.”
  • Better Communication Skills: – A study from Northwestern University found that music training may be more important for enhancing verbal communication skills than learning phonics.
  • Lower Levels Of Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Students who participate in music have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs among any group in our society. Source: H. Con. Res 266, U.S. Senate, June 2000

There are alot of benefits in learning to play an instrument. If this is your first experience, you’ll need some of the basics.

The Differences Between Band & Orchestra

One of the most basic differences is an orchestra has string instruments while a band does not. With some exceptions, most kids starting out in music in their local school’s program will be introduced to band. This could happen as early as the 3rd or 4th grade depending on your school.


  • String Ensemble: Includes violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. These can be a great first orchestra experience for kids in late elementary school.
  • Chamber Orchestra: Is slightly smaller in size than a full orchestra and can range from 25-50 musicians.
  • Full Orchestra: A full orchestra consists of woodwind, brass, strings and percussion and normally has up to 100 musicians.

School Band

  • Concert Band: Made up of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. Many kids starting out in music in 4th through 6th grade start here.
  • Wind Ensemble: Similar to concert band but smaller. Made up of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments but normally on a smaller scale than concert band.
  • Marching Band: Just like it sounds. Marching bands perform while they march. For most kids, playing in marching band happens in high school.
  • Jazz Band: These can vary depending on the school and the program. Jazz band tends to happen in high school and can include woodwind and brass instruments, along with a rhythm section of drumset, upright bass, piano and possibly guitar.


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B&O Instrument Basics

Now that you know the benefits of learning to play music and some B&O basics, it’s time to talk about instruments. There’s four groups:

Woodwind Instruments

  • Piccolo: Italian for “small flute”, the piccolo is the highest-pitched woodwind instrument in an orchestra or concert band.
  • Flute: A woodwind instrument where sound is produced by blowing against an opening.
  • Clarinet: A single-reed woodwind instrument that’s a standard member of both orchestra and concert band.
  • Oboe: A double-reed woodwind instrument generally included in orchestra and some concert bands.
  • Saxophone: A single-reed wind instrument. The most common saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.

Brass Instruments

  • Trumpet: Possibly the most famous brass instrument. You’ll find a Bb trumpet in virtually all concert bands and orchestras.
  • Trombone: Brass instrument known for its most distinctive capability, the ability to slide between notes. The Trombone slide extends to increase the length of the instrument’s tubing.
  • French Horn: Brass instrument used early on as a hunting horn.
  • Baritone/Euphonium: A valved brass instrument either in Bb or C, with Baritone having three valves and Euphonium being a bit larger, and commonly having four valves.
  • Tuba: Brass instrument that can be found in concert bands and orchestras. The tuba is known for its deep notes and traditionally plays the bass line of the music.

Orchestral String Instruments

  • Violin: A bowed string instrument with a fretless fingerboard that’s the most widely distributed instrument in the world and possibly the best-known.
  • Viola: The middle ranged instrument of the string family with a body very similar in proportion to a violin but slightly longer.
  • Cello: The tenor voice of the string family, the cello can play an octave lower than the viola with a wide range and powerful sound.
  • Double Bass: Also called the contrabass or string bass, it’s the lowest-pitched member of the violin family. It’s a full octave lower than a cello.

Percussion Instruments

  • Snare Drum: Known for its sharp crack-like sound. Usually played with wooden drum sticks. Commonly found in concert band, marching band and orchestra.
  • Bass Drum: The largest unpitched drum in the band. Usually placed on a stand and played with a single beater by a standing percussionist.
  • Xylophone: A percussion instrument consisting of a set of graduated, tuned wooden bars. Struck with mallets.
  • Bells: Similar to a xylophone but with tuned metal bars hit with hard mallets.
  • Timpani: A kettledrum with a copper shell, featuring a foot pedal to change pitches. There are usually 2-5 in a set, and vary in size.

What To Look For In A Quality Instrument

For most kids, their first instrument will be a beginner model. And it will last a couple of years. That instrument should meet certain quality standards so that it doesn’t hinder your child’s progress. Your son or daughter’s band director can be a valuable resource when it comes to finding trusted brands and specific models of instruments. We work closely with educators all over the country to maintain extensive lists of their preferred instruments. Here are some things to look for in a quality band and orchestra instrument:

  • Playability: It should be easy to play. It should stay in tune. And it may sound obvious but low-quality instruments that are hard to play can make learning more difficult.
  • Sound Quality: It should sound good. Your band director’s recommendations can come in handy here. If you need guidance, your local Music & Arts’ associate can help find an instrument that sounds great.
  • Trusted Brands: Brands like Yamaha and Conn-Selmer are well-loved for good reason. They’ve spent decades producing incredibly high-quality instruments.

Renting vs Buying

Not every parent is ready to spend thousands on their child’s first instrument. Renting can be a great way for your child to try an instrument without you needing to make a substantial up-front investment.

  • Educator-Approved: We work closely with educators all over the country to ensure their students have access to educator-approved instruments.
  • Affordability: Some parents aren’t ready to spend thousands on a new instrument. Renting is an affordable alternative to purchasing for many parents.
  • Flexibility: Not sure your child will continue with band? Renting can reduce the risk. It can provide flexibility if your child decides to change instruments or doesn’t continue with band.

Learn more about renting >>

Practical Tips Every Parent Should Know

  • Listen To Your Band Director: Your band director is a great source of information. Most music educators are particular about the instruments their students play and what their students practice.
  • Kids Get Better, Faster with Lessons: A band director is responsible for a classroom full of students and only has so much time for individualized instruction. Students who are advancing faster than their peers and kids who need help keeping up can both benefit greatly from private lessons.
  • It’s Not Uncommon For Kids To Change Instruments: If your child starts off playing the flute, they might wind up changing to drums or saxophone at some point down the road. This is common for lots of kids.
  • Learning Anything New Takes Time and Effort: But we develop neural pathways in our brains when we learn something new. When we learn to play an instrument, we combine the challenge of learning something new with the focused attention required to overcome the challenge. The result is improved neuroplasticity.

Ok So…Now What?

Being a first-time band parent doesn’t have to be stressful. Now that you know the basics, you’re well on your way. Between the information you’ve just read, your band director and your local Music & Arts, you have everything you need to get your son or daughter started in their school band program. And if you’re ready to rent now, find your child’s school using our rental tool.

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