Getting started: Woodwind Playing

Woodwind basics

Woodwind instruments vary widely in size, cost, weight, portability and other factors. These should all be taken into account when choosing one to learn. The following comparison is meant to help you select which may best suit both your preference and your logistical needs.

Recorder

This wind instrument is one of the most popular due to its portability. It comes in various sizes, but a descant/sopranino recorder is best way to get started. It’s very cheap – you can get a Yamaha beginner recorder for just under £10. If you want better sound quality at the beginning you can get Moeck 1023, a decent mixture of plastic head-joint and wooden body. In case you are serious about learning and are looking for a fully wooden instrument, Moeck 1210 is advisable.

It is easy to maintain a plastic recorder. You will usually get a wooden stick to which you attach a cloth. You will use this to remove water after playing. The use of cork grease is highly advisable, as it makes the two parts join smoothly together. Wooden recorders require more care and you will need to oil it every once in a while.

We recommend that a complete beginner use the book series Recorder from the beginning by John Pitts, which is especially fun for children. It ensures smooth and quick progress. For more substantial beginner repertoire, using Leo Alfassy’s collection is advised.

Flute

This woodwind instrument is made out of metal, is extremely durable and popular across all generations. It’s sound is closely associated with bird whistling and singing and you can create an large variety of sounds on it. Here are 7 tips on choosing a beginner flute and buying flute on a budget blog posts by Just Flutes shop in Croydon to give you expert advice.

The flute is a bit longer when put together than the recorder, but when packed away in the case falls into the same category of portability – it is very light and would easily fit in your middle sized bag. Despite it’s length, children can start from a young age, as they can use the curved head-joints to prevent over-stretching their arms.

As mentioned, the flute is very sturdy, but will require continuous cleaning just as the recorder does. You flute should come with a cleaning stick, which should preferably be wooden, and a cleaning cloth which you attach to it. Sheet music suggestions for beginners: A Tune a Day, Abracadabra Flute, Absolute Beginners: Flute

Clarinet

This instrument is said to be the closest relative to the human voice. The range of sounds you can express with it are endless! The most common model is Bb clarinet, although for younger children C clarinet is advised, as it is slightly smaller. The best budget beginning model is called Sonata. For an additional 100 pounds or so, you can secure a very decent student model – either Buffet Prodige or Yamaha YCL255S. To find out more about them, please read Norman’s blog post on 5 best clarinets for beginners.

The clarinet has more parts than the flute and, despite being made out of wood or plastic, is considerably heavier. It can be stored in a compact single case and is easy to transport.

Unlike the two instruments above, playing the clarinet requires reeds, small attachments made of reed plants which vibrate against the instrument to make sound. Usually when you buy a clarinet you will be given a reed to play on, but since they are made out of plant fiber and are fragile, reeds usually don’t last long. They also differ in strength and as you progress you may wish to change your reed strength in order to develop your sound. It is possible to maintain reeds properly and prolong their lifespan, but at the beginning you will have to have a decent supply of reeds. They come in boxes of 10, and it is good to have a box ready to use as you see that you’re running out. Prepare to spend approximately 25 pounds per month on reeds if playing clarinet or saxophone.

Other things to include are: cleaning swabs, cork grease, ligature & mouthpiece cap and optional sling if you find the clarinet too heavy. In terms of learning material, Rubank Elementary Method is our favorite overall book to get you started. For children we recommend using Paul Harris’ Clarinet Basics and Improve your sight-reading.

Saxophone

The saxophone is made out of brass and is known for its vibrant and brilliant sound. It comes in various sizes, but alto or soprano saxophone is the most suitable for beginners. It is a fairly heavy instrument to carry and to play, as it uses sling to take some weight off when holding it. This should be seriously taken into consideration if you have back problems or plan to carry the saxophone often. We recommend reading the comprehensive guide at Sax.co.uk to inform yourself if you are buying your first saxophone.

In order to play this instrument you will require reeds as you do on the clarinet and the extra investment should be considered. Saxophone reeds are a bit thicker than clarinet reeds and therefore are more durable.

You will require also two different cloths, one for the crook and one for the body. Cork grease is encouraged in order to make the connection between the mouthpiece and the crook as smooth as possible. We advise that you ensure you have an appropriate ligature and mouthpiece cap to protect the instrument’s most fragile parts when not playing.

Studying material is very comprehensive and divides later on, depending if you’d like to go down a jazz or classical route. To begin with, we recommend using Andy Hampton’s Saxophone Basics Improve your Sight-reading by Paul Harris and 50+ popular easy solos for sax.

Hiring or buying the instruments

There are several trusted shops that deal with wind instrument sales and provide decent rental schemes. We highly recommend that you always purchase through a store and avoid having to deal with a faulty product from an individual buyer.

  • Dawkes Music – great service and knowledge of all woodwind instruments with several schemes in place: Buy Back Scheme, Rental Scheme, Assisted Purchase Scheme
  • Sax.co.uk – saxophone specialists, best in the country for advice when starting off. Search through their student saxophone range to find what suits you best.
  • Just Flutes – flute specialists based in Croydon with fantastic service on a range of woodwind instruments. Search through their website for their preowned instruments if buying on a budget.
  • Howarth of London – wonderful clarinet and saxophone department with numerous second hand and brand new instruments. Visit their website to find out more.

Invaluabe return for your financial investment

Even though buying or renting an instrument is an expense, the return you get from learning how to play it is priceless. By playing an instrument you will improve your cognitive skills, expand your imagination and creativity, build appreciation for music, make someone’s day by playing for them and boost your own confidence. These are just a few of precious skills that learning an instrument will bring to you, others you will discover as you go along.

Conclusion

We hope that this guide will give you a better idea on how to choose an instrument that is most suitable for you or your child. Everyone’s situation is unique and if you feel you still have some unanswered questions, get in touch, and we will be more than happy to advise you accordingly.

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