Why sax appeal has strings attached

August 31, 2019

I had lots of fun reading the article below by Marianne Kavanagh (The telegraph) arguing about the right choice of instrument for a child, its social implications and, of course, the old debate about the right instrument depending on the character (and even sometimes the looks) or a child.

Adding to the argument, would it be nicer if we gave children the right exposure the the biggest range of instruments possible (listening, seeing and trying) and let them make the right decision coming from their heart?



12:01AM BST 12 May 2007

Marianne Kavanagh shines a light into the dark corners of school orchestras

Of course you want your child to play a musical instrument. When he first picks up a recorder, your chest swells with pride. But have you really done your research?

There's a lot of sensible advice out there about matching the instrument to the child - pianos are for introverts, so the argument goes, and no one should swamp a diminutive scrap with a tuba.

But social implications are far more important. Peer pressure is the greatest influence on your child in teenage years. In choosing, say, a violin, your child will from now on be hanging out with violinists. Is this wise?

Think about yourself, too. You're going to be socialising with the parents of violinists. Study them dispassionately. Do they look like soul mates or the kind of pushy mums who'll make you furious?

"Without a doubt, different sections of the orchestra have different characters," says Jonathan Vaughan, director of the National Youth Orchestra, who was a member of the London Symphony Orchestra for many years. "Brass players are like the noisy children at the back of the bus. They're slightly belligerent - union shop stewards usually come from the brass section - and they're always last to leave the bar.

"Double bass players are very steady people, probably because it's the nature of their job in the orchestra - like the tuba and the bassoon - to underpin the harmonies. In one orchestra I know, the wind section is known as 'the Royal Family' because the members have a high and mighty view of themselves. Violinists are prima donnas while viola players are the butt of all the jokes. Look up 'viola jokes' on the internet and you'll see what I mean." I did. Q: "Why do so many people take an instant dislike to the viola?" A: "It saves time." Viola players must have very thick skins.

Before your child decides on an instrument, consider the hierarchical structure of the school orchestra. Rebels will be happiest right at the back where they can muck about with impunity, so consider the trumpet, trombone or tuba. To cope with close proximity to the conductor, your child will either need to be well-behaved or an extremely good actor, which may explain why first violins always have a pious air of deep concentration. Percussionists are a breed apart, partly because, like pianists, they have to sight-read vertically as well as horizontally, which demands a certain mental dexterity. 

Because they have already spent years making neighbours very cross, they also have a devil-may-care insouciance and an air of great enjoyment.

If the woodwind section is high and mighty, bassoonists, according to Daniel Jemison, principal bassoonist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, have the reputation of being quirky - "eccentric oddballs", as he puts it. "They're usually very tall, thin people." Most flautists are female, so you might want to persuade your son to take up the flute to give him a wide choice of future girlfriends.

If, on the other hand, your priority is a selective secondary school at the age of 11, push him towards what the Guildhall School of Music and Drama calls "rare breeds" - that is, rarely chosen instruments. These include the bassoon, the oboe, the tuba and the unfortunate viola. School orchestras will kill for any of these, which makes the offer of a place much more likely.

Step outside the traditional orchestral instruments and you will no longer figure on the radar of those who know their Bach from their Berlioz. Eyes will glaze over at competitive dinner parties if you mention that your child plays the guitar (electric or otherwise) or the saxophone. Saxophones aren't posh. This may be because the instrument wasn't invented until 1850, so its repertoire is relatively limited. On the other hand, the saxophone, like the clarinet, is cool because of its association with jazz. A cellist is flamboyant; a saxophonist doesn't need to try that hard.

Consider, too, your purse, your back and your sanity. Some instruments cost thousands. Others are so heavy that you'll be taking your child to school until he's 18, which will dent his confidence and your patience.

"My six-year-old was desperate to learn the harp," a friend confided. "I held my breath for months until he decided he wanted to play the piano instead." But, as you sit like a witch in Macbeth, plotting your child's musical career, chance encounters may put paid to your plans. As a boy, Brian Thomson, a trumpeter with the Royal Philharmonic, joined the brass band in his village in Scotland and was given a cornet. It sealed his musical fate. "If it had been a pipe band, I'd have ended up playing bagpipes." Try to influence your child's choice of instrument. But, if it all goes horribly wrong, put on a brave face. Any instrument is better than no instrument, as many a musically-thwarted adult will tell you. One thing's for sure: if your child insists on a harp, you'll need a bigger car.


The link between Music and Dyslexia

May 25, 2019

The link between music and dyslexia

by Marc Wilson / 09 March, 2019

Mick Fleetwood: distinguished drummer and dyslexic. Photo/Getty Images

Musical prowess has spinoffs for people with reading difficulties, not to mention video gamers.

There was a time when I wasn’t a slouch on the video-game front, but newer games are a different cup of bitter failure. Compared with my 15-year-old son, I’m embarrassingly slow at Rainbow Six Siege, for example, a game in the “tactical shooter” genre.

Nor do I shine at Beat Saber, a game that’s remarkably simple in conc...

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Finland's Music Education System

August 21, 2018


Finland’s Music Education System: How It Works

Graham Strahle
 | JUNE 6, 2017

In an earlier article, Music Australia presented an overview of the Finnish school system and how music teaching is delivered by a highly successful network of governmen...

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Children should have more experience playing music, say half of UK adults

August 1, 2017
CLASSICAL FM / 1 August 2017, 09:46 By Lizzie Davis In a survey carred out by YouGov, 47 per cent of people surveyed said more children should be inspired to learn an instrument and have experience playing music. The research, which was commissioned by Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham, also found that 39 per cent of UK adults thought music should feature more prominently on the school curriculum. By contrast only 11 per cent thought ‘classical music is too often dumbed down’. ...
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Key of life: music gives children academic edge and social skills

April 3, 2015

By: Emma Cowing

IN THE summer of 2003, a community newspaper in Toronto carried an advert offering free weekly arts lessons to six-year-olds. For 36 weeks the children attended classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music in the city, where half were taught to play keyboard, and half were given drama lessons.

Before they started they were given IQ tests, alongside a group of six-year olds receiving no arts lessons at all. At the end of the year, their IQs were tested again. For the children learn...

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Let the Children Play music lesson campaign success

September 7, 2013

ON 2 September last year, violinist Nicola Benedetti told this newspaper: “The last thing that should get in the way of children making music is money.”

Her comments were accompanied by exclusive Scotland on Sunday figures showing that a shocking 24 local authorities across Scotland were charging children between £95 and £340 per year to learn a musical instrument.

No fewer than 11 councils had increased fees for the new school year, while five local authorities were also ch...

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Instrumental Music Tuition in Scotland

September 7, 2013


June 2013


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Scottish schools to get extra £1m for musical instruments

December 22, 2012

Schools are to be given an extra £1m by the Scottish government to buy musical instruments for pupils.

Ministers will also set up a working group to look at music tuition fees, which can vary across councils.

Among issues it will examine is the question of charges for pupils sitting SQA music exams.

The EIS teaching union, which has been campaigning for "fair access" to music education for pupils in all parts of Scotland, welcomed the announcements.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said ever...

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Music for all: Scotland on Sunday’s campaign for free tuition

September 12, 2012
"TODAY Scotland on Sunday launches Let The Children Play, a campaign for free instrumental music tuition for every Scottish school child.

It comes after an investigation revealed 11 local authorities across Scotland have raised their fees for the 2012-13 school session – meaning children are being charged more than ever before to learn a ­musical instrument"

Read the full article from The Scotsman here

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Charging for musical tuition in Scotland’s schools ‘is extra tax on parents’

September 12, 2012
Music Tuition in Scotland is always a subject in debate.
How do we make it broadly available for all children independently of their family income?
How do we achieve a quality music education throughout?
Do we need a more consistent music education through primary and secondary schools?
When should a child start to learn music and an instrument?
Who should pay the costs of a proper education?

Read this article in the Scotsman:

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