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Finding a good match between student and instrument is important. Since music is all about sound, choosing an instrument based on your child's preference and aptitude is a good place to start. Beyond this are physical  considerations — factors such as hand size, dental structure, and mouth shape can have a big impact on playing success. 

No matter whether you start lessons in June or wait until the fall, students should not acquire instruments before checking with a band teacher--this guarantees that a child starts on an instrument they are likely to succeed on and also ensures that we have a well balanced ensemble in the future. Instruments are not needed in class for the first two to three weeks of the school year.


Most fifth graders choose one of the following instruments:

  • Flute

  • Clarinet

  • Alto saxophone

  • Trumpet/ cornet

  • Trombone

  • Baritone

  • Percussion (drums, bells, cymbals, etc.)

5th Grade Band

Other less common instruments:

These instruments are somewhat more difficult to start on than the ones listed above. They may not be a good choice for elementary band unless one or more of the following conditions are met: 1. The student shows an immediate high aptitude for music (good ear, practice habits, enthusiasm); 2. The student can take weekly private lessons on the instrument; 3. The student has a strong background in piano.

  • Oboe

  • French Horn

  • Tuba


Guitar and piano (keyboard) are not taught in band.

*Click on the pictures below to watch a video of the instrument being played!

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This is a small instrument that plays high pitched notes and plays the tune, or melody, in most band music. More than any other instrument, it requires a careful match with the student. Very few students are mediocre flute players — most can either play the flute very well or simply cannot play it at all, due to lip shape. Your band teacher will help determine if flute is a good choice. It is important for your child to have a strong second choice if they wish to play the flute.


This instrument is also small. Like the flute, it often plays the tune in band music. It is an easy instrument to start on, although like all instruments it has its own difficulties later on. It also requires a constantly replenished supply of reeds, which must be purchased and are fragile. The clarinet is also an excellent choice if the student wishes to eventually switch to oboe, bassoon, or saxophone.

Alto saxophone

This instrument is large, heavy, and expensive. It uses reeds, like the clarinet. To successfully play the sax, a student must have larger hands. Although it is rather easy to play if the student is big enough, it is sometimes a better idea to play for the first year on the much lighter and less expensive clarinet, and change to sax in middle school. A few taller, large-handed students can play the tenor saxophone.

Trumpet/ cornet

These two brass instruments are so close to being identical that a choice between them is not very important. The trumpet is small and high pitched. It sometimes plays the tune, especially if the tune needs to be loud. Braces on the teeth make trumpet playing difficult. If the student is a casual band student and refuses to practice, the trumpet is not a very good choice. On the other hand, if they want to play the melody and really be heard, the trumpet is a fine choice.

French Horn

The French Horn is a member of the brass family with a mellow, velvet-like sound.  It plays melodies and harmonies in the band and has one of the widest ranges of any brass instrument.  To play the French Horn, a student must be able to match pitch on the instrument quite well and a special try-out for the instrument will be given.  Many students choose to start on trumpet and switch to Horn in Middle School.

Trombone/ Baritone

These two related “low brass” instruments are really quite similar. They use the same mouthpiece, and can play from the same music. The main difference is that the baritone has valves (it’s like a big trumpet) while the trombone has a slide. These instruments with their low sounds play the very important bass line in band music, like an electric bass in a rock band. They are both easier to blow than the trumpet. The trombone’s slide is capable of some great special effects.


Percussion is more than just drums! It includes struck instruments such as the bass drum, triangle, cymbals, wood block, and claves, as well as melodic instruments such as bells, xylophone, and marimba. All percussion students start on bells and drum practice pad, and are tested on both drum rhythms and bell melodies. Percussion requires excellent rhythm skills and practice. Students are encouraged to use a “percussion kit.”

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