Rather than learning the traditional piano or guitar, your child might have more of an affinity with a wind instrument such as the saxophone or trumpet. It will be noisy, but fun!
“crikey, that baby’s got a pair of lungs on him!”
Do you remember the first time you were amazed at how much noise can come from a tiny baby? Of course, it’s like that for a very good reason: it’s a cry of need that will attract attention, and loud because it’s designed to travel long distances. When our ancestors found they needed a louder form of communication that would broach valleys or atolls, they turned to nature, adapting seashells into the first wind instruments. Since then, we humans have adapted, twisted and turned all kinds of wood and metal into a wide range of things we can blow.
Typically, music time in today’s schools involves that four-stringed Lazarus, the ukulele; but go back a decade and the poor old recorder was king in all its squeaky glory, smothering as it goes along, the basic human desire to sing. That said, many valuable skills are learnt on recorders so don’t blame the messenger. The fact is that young mouths can blow hard long before they have the patience to understand restraint or finger notes with precision.
when to learn
How early to start learning a wind instrument will depend on each child’s coordination relative to the instrument they’ve fallen for, there are no hard and fast rules. However, as soon as children see the fun in a sliding trombone or the anarchy Lisa Simpson creates with her saxophone, the mechanics become something kids naturally want to explore and overcome.
Developmentally, a child learning this type of wind instrument is causing the mechanical movements of a glorious machine to interact with their own breath and heartbeat. The result is the emotional benefits that spring from both musical joy and a learning achievement. Saxophones, for example, are among the “sing-iest” and most satisfying of instruments, where the same emotional phrasing employed vocally can be harnessed, once the necessary skills are learnt. That’s a pretty amazing chain of events when you break it down like that, isn’t it?
future of music
Most kids love exploring, and many love noise so being shown a way of combining the two can be the doorway to a musical life that’s very different to the serious world of a concert pianist for example. Popular woodwind instruments like the clarinet, flute and saxophone are seen in orchestral settings alongside the trumpet, trombone and tuba etc, but they have other (possibly more glamorous) lives on contemporary-music stages the world over, often at joyful, community-based settings like jazz festivals or brass-band events. While instruments such as the oboe, bassoon and recorder are sometimes overlooked, their unique sounds will appeal to some.
The most useful resource we have in opening a child’s mind is the music itself. Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ and ‘Peter and the Wolf’ both describe the sounds within an orchestra with great finesse, but the dedicated youth programmes run by most of our orchestras will turn education into an event, albeit a traditional one.
If your children would prefer something more left-of-centre, one of Auckland’s finest brass ensembles, The Spoilers of Utopia, played a number of concerts in 2013 on Tiritiri Matangi, a bird sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf. For landlubbers, concerts by The Blackbird Ensemble are not to be missed. This modern classical group plays strongly-themed concerts in full costume and make-up where you’ll hear anything from Vivaldi to Nick Cave.
Dominic Blaazer is a writer who also teaches music at Lewis Eady and performs around the Auckland region.