School Band or Orchestra: A New Parent’s Guide To Getting Started

Music allows a person to express themselves in a profound way. It’s an art form that can touch another human soul. Learning an instrument expands the mind and is just as beneficial as learning a new language. Taking part in a band or orchestra can be even more valuable by helping children develop friendships and skills they can use later in life. Whether your student has joined the school band or orchestra: a new parent’s guide to getting started is exactly what you need as you embark on this journey.


The Instrument Selection Process

Each school’s method varies, but typically, a student will have made the decision to join band or orchestra the previous school year. The director will usually visit and give a presentation on what to expect when joining, and they’ll demonstrate and discuss each instrument students can play.

Students will have the chance to come in and be up close and personal with the different instruments. They’ll be allowed to hold, play, and ask questions about certain ones to find the right fit. This introductory meeting also provides a way for the student, director, and parents to get to know each other personally and begin to develop a rapport with one another. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions about instrument costs and where to buy them. Typically, you’ll have a few options. You can either buy band instruments online or rent them through the school. Now is the time to ask any other questions you may have because you have the director’s full attention.

You may not be familiar with the different types of instruments that make up a school band or orchestra. Let’s introduce them:



As the name suggests, these instruments used to be made of wood and require wind (namely breath) to operate. Now manufacturers can make them from wood, metal, plastic, or a combination. You’ll find the flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, piccolo, English horn, e-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon in this group.



The instruments in the brass family are all made from, you guessed it, brass. In this category, you’ll encounter the trumpet, French horn, tuba, and trombone.



The stringed instruments all have strings, if you can believe it. Most of these instruments use a bow—but not all. You’ll find the violin, viola, cello, double bass, and harp in this family.



This section includes a mixture of different instruments that make sounds when you strike, shake, or scrape them. It’s is the most prominent family of the orchestra and band. Beginner percussionists will often start off by learning the snare drum, bells, and xylophone.


Getting To Know the Instrument

It’s a good idea to get your student comfortable with their instrument before the school year begins, if possible. If their instrument comes in pieces, have them practice putting the instrument together and taking it apart. Most are fairly simple to put together, but some have a few components. Have them hold the instrument and get comfortable with where they need to place their fingers. Most instruments also require different accessories for cleaning and maintenance. Accessories will depend on which instrument your student chose. Woodwinds need extra reeds, a reed holder, a polish cloth and swab, a mouthpiece brush, and cork grease. Brass instruments require valve oil (trumpet, French horn, baritone, and tuba), slide oil (trombone), grease, and a mouthpiece brush. Percussion instruments need a set of mallets for bells and drumsticks, while strings require rosin, a dry cloth, and extra strings. If your student has chosen to play a string instrument, you may want to purchase a tuner as well.

It’s typically not mandatory, but you can begin music lessons with the instrument over the summer. This step is beneficial because your student won’t be starting from scratch when the school year begins. If it’s not a feasible option, orchestra and band directors are there to teach your student how to play.


Caring and Maintaining the Instrument

Instruments are investments and, with the proper care, will last a long time—several generations, even. Whether you buy or rent, maintenance will factor into how long the instrument lasts and how well it sounds. A neglected instrument will have issues tuning and could completely break down. Your student should get into the habit of caring for it each time they put it away. Rented instruments generally come with a maintenance plan.

After each practice session, get into the habit of swabbing and wiping down the instrument. Woodwinds will need interior swabbing to remove excess moisture. You’ll also want to make sure to wipe around each key because condensation will build up. Brass instruments have a water key that you’ll need to empty after each use. You’ll also need to flush and clean them annually. If your student is playing the alto or tenor saxophone, there is an octave key to keep an eye on. Most times, with the proper handling, you won’t have issues.

String instruments will need more care and attention since they’re the most fragile of the instruments. After each session, your student should wipe down the body and strings. They’ll need to check for broken hairs on the bow. Also, the bow and strings need replacing every six months to a year. Stringed instruments rely on good care to stay in tune. Consider purchasing is a small humidifier, as moisture is damaging to stringed instruments.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Just as young athletes practice for sports, your child will need to maintain a practice schedule for their instrument. Most orchestra and band directors will be clear about how much practice they require. In fact, this practice time is their homework for the class. Frequent practice sessions tend to make a more significant impact than a few long sessions. Success in music is built on repetition, unlike academics, where you can cram for a test. It takes focus, determination, and reiteration. Your student will begin to develop good habits when repetitively practicing the same rhythm and care. It might also be beneficial to set up a designated area for your student to practice—someplace quiet and out of the way.

Learning and perfecting a new instrument can be intimidating, overwhelming, and loud. It’s hard work, and it may not be soft on the ears. Finding your way as a parent won’t be easy, but refer back to this parent’s guide to getting started in school band or orchestra when you need some direction. Be their cheerleader, and support them on this fun, exciting journey.

School Band or Orchestra: A New Parent’s Guide To Getting Started