Woodwind and Brass: A Back-to-School Guide

   

As we come out of the Christmas/New Year period, the attention of many parents out there will be turning to their children's musical education during the upcoming school year. Here at Dural Music Centre we understand how difficult it can be to not only choose which instrument to go for, but also which brand and level to choose; each brand has its pros and cons, so we're going to make things as easy as possible for you by giving you a rundown of some of our most popular woodwind and brass brands and models.

Flutes


What better place to start discussing the woodwind family than with one of its most popular members - the flute? Being a relatively small instrument, it can be easily handled by most students looking to join the school band. We are all familiar with its sweet, high-pitched voice, but there is a lot of behind-the-scenes craftsmanship that goes into achieving that signature tone accurately, and our two main flute brands - Yamaha and Pearl - do so very well, with a few important differences.

Our Yamaha range begins with the YFL211, a brilliant student instrument that has the capability to take the student to the end of their secondary education. It's CY headjoint and embouchure hole undercut are designed to help beginners achieve a warm, rich tone easily, and its ergonomic key placement allows for a more natural hand position for beginners. In addition to these great features, the 211's key posts have been thickened and redesigned for improved durability and strength. This means the keys are less likely to go out of alignment when being handled by young hands. However, some of the most desirable features a flautist would ask for in a flute are only present in Yamaha's intermediate and professional models. This is where Pearl takes the cake.

Our Pearl flute range begins with the Pearl 505, which comes equipped with most of the great features of the Yamaha, plus a few of its own which puts it ahead of the competition. Most notable is the addition of French pointed arms on the 505, a feature which is typically reserved for more advanced instruments. Put simply, these arms apply pressure from the centre of the key, as opposed to the edge of the key. This allows for a more even distribution of pressure from those keys which are not themselves pressed by the fingers.This results in a tighter seal between the key and the hole, which means less chance of any unwanted squeaks or missed notes. See below for a comparison between keys without and with French pointed arms.

 

The Pearl range also features a slightly different mouthpiece cut (which you would also usually only find on more expensive instruments), which requires a slight change in playing technique but makes for a sweeter tone. Pearl's pinless construction eliminates the problems of traditional flute construction - protruding needles that snag clothing and give easy entry to perspiration and body acids causing corrosion and binding keys. Besides this unique pinless construction, Pearl flutes have additional bridge mechanisms that add strength to the entire mechanism. Plus, socket-head screws are inserted from the underside of the key work, preventing the entry of perspiration into the mechanism. Finally, the One-Piece Core-Bar construction of all Pearl flutes eliminates many of the wear and tear problems associated with traditionally constructed flutes, specifically in the areas of the high C key and the king post next to the F# key. Pearl has designed one rod that extends from high C through the king post resulting in an extremely reliable mechanism that plays more comfortably, stays in adjustment longer and is easier to service. These features make Pearl flutes our favourite, and our recommended brand for anyone who is unsure of what to pick. And the best part: they're cheaper than Yamahas of the same level!

Flutes require minimal maintenance - proper care, a quick internal swab with a cleaning cloth and rod, and a quick external polish with a polishing cloth after each use will keep the instrument fully functional for 12-18 months, at which point we recommend a full service to remedy any key alignment issues etc. which naturally occur over time.

Clarinets:

The range of the clarinet combined with the ability to adapt its playing technique quite easily to the saxophone makes it one of the most popular woodwind instruments in existence. And we've got a couple of great brands to help any clarinettists get a solid start on the instrument. 

For the younger beginner, the best choice for them is the Jupiter 637. Not only is it the most affordable choice, but its construction - including its specially designed C/G key riser - makes it very easy for beginners to get a good note out of, and is bound to enthuse young players. It is also built to last with a nickel silver bell ring and forged nickel-plated nickel silver keys. It also comes with a 5 year warranty, which quite rightly exemplifies Jupiter's confidence in their craftsmanship. However, the Jupiter's ease of use has a trade-off: a dedicated player will soon outgrow the capabilities of the 637 after 3-4 years of solid development, and the higher and lower registers which become more prevalent in higher grade music won't respond as well as they would in, say, a Yamaha 255.

The 255 plays better than the Jupiter 637, and will serve the average student comfortably until the end of high school. It can more easily achieve the highest and lowest notes available to the instrument, which means there won't be much need for an upgrade for a long time. They are also very easy to handle, and with the new adjustable thumb-rest and improved strap ring, they are now more comfortable to play. By removing the metal ring from the bell, Yamaha have made the instrument even lighter for easy transport, yet it still remains very robust, as you would expect from a beginner instrument.

Most student clarinets are made of ABS resin (essentially the same thing Lego bricks are made of), which is much easier to maintain than the wood of more expensive professional instruments, which require constant maintenance, as wooden components can swell in hot and humid environments, and their joints must be constantly oiled. Resin clarinets only require an internal swab with a pull-through cloth after each use and a weekly application of cork grease to aid in the assembly/disassembly of the instrument, plus a yearly service.

Saxophones:

The saxophone's oddly-shaped body and glossy golden finish, combined with its involvement in just about every style of music, make it one of the most exciting instruments for beginners to consider. But before you go diving head first into a purchase, let us run you through a couple of the best options on which to start learning.

In the battle of the saxes (at least beginner saxes), there are two major competitors: Yamaha and Jupiter. So let's start at the very beginning... of the instrument - The mouthpiece. As with every woodwind and brass instrument, 80-90% of a saxophone's tonal quality comes from its mouthpiece, and Yamaha are the clear winners when it comes to student mouthpieces. The balance of playability, tone quality, and value for money of Yamaha's beginner mouthpieces (as found on the YAS26) are unsurpassed, and they go a long way towards providing any sax equipped with one with its tone.

However, when it comes to the best instrument for a beginner, the battle is fought and won by the Jupiter JS567. For starters, it's substantially cheaper than the Yamaha equivalent, so those purse strings don't need to be loosened quite so much. But its true advantages come in its playability, which is paramount for any beginner. Where Yamaha start with a fully-loaded professional model and then work backwards, stripping features from the instrument to achieve a beginner model, Jupiter retain all of those great features in their JS567, such as the high F# key, the articulated G# key with tilting Bb rocker arm, and waterproof pads for extended pad longevity.

Both manufacturers produce beginner instruments that will stand the test of time, both in terms of ruggedness and player development, but don't be afraid to go for the cheaper option, especially if it comes loaded with all the features and accessories that you would usually only find in an intermediate/professional sax! And when it does finally come time to upgrade, the difference between the intermediate and pro saxophones are small in terms of playability, features, and price, so we recommend skipping over the intermediate stage and going straight to pro level, which also saves having to upgrade again later.

Much like clarinets, saxophones only require a quick per-use clean with a pull-through swab, a regular application of cork grease to the mouthpiece/neck cork, and a yearly service to keep them in full working order.

Trumpets:

Now that we've covered the three main members of the woodwind family, it's time to move on to brass. Now, there are plenty of brass instruments, and plenty of variations of each to choose from, but we're going to cover the two most prominent brass instruments available, starting with the trumpet.

Much the same as their clarinets, Jupiter make a great student trumpet in the 408 that will give any beginner a healthy start on the instrument. The 606 model, which is classed as an intermediate instrument but at a student price, is another popular choice for many beginners, as they can get their hands on those great intermediate features for a much more affordable price. Their ergonomic design and rose brass components give them a big, warm tone with minimal stress and strain. However, much the same as their clarinets, the player will outgrow Jupiter's student trumpet after 3-4 years of dedicated practice and playing. The intermediate model, will last longer, but since it is placed towards the lower end of the intermediate scale, it may not suit an advancing player in the higher levels as well as that of another manufacturer.

Yamaha once had quite a bad reputation when it came to trumpets, but they have recently upped their game substantially, particularly when it comes to their student trumpets such as the YTR2330. Thanks to the addition of monel valves to such instruments, Yamaha have risen to the top of the table of student trumpet manufacturers. These valves are well-known for their great, consistent action, and minimise the need for maintenance . Furthermore, their 2nd and main tuning slides are also produced using the same method as high-end Yamaha models, which provides stability, a more refined tonal color and added durability. Finally, the newly redesigned, durable yet light two-piece bell offers optimal playability and promotes good technique. Yamaha also utilised their partnership with Australian trumpet virtuoso James Morrison to develop their pro-level trumpets, which has had a trickle-down effect on those less exorbitantly-priced instruments. This relationship has since ended, however, and Morrison have formed a partnership with our final trumpet brand.

Schagerl may not be as much of a household name as Yamaha or Jupiter, but they have a worldwide reputation  to support Morrison's decision to team up with them. Together with the traditional craftmanship of their technicans, James Morrison developed the JM421L - an instrument with a powerful, brillant tone, and improved tonal projection. It's gold-brass bell and monel valves make it delight for players of any skill level, as well as making it suitable for most styles of music with its fat, brilliant tone.

When it comes to cleaning and maintenance, it doesn't come much easier than a trumpet. A (roughly) monthly full clean is all it takes. This includes submerging the instrument in lukewarm water with a small amount of disinfectant and/or detergent, then drying and lubricating the instrument with valve oil and slide grease. Regularly cleaning the mouthpiece with disinfectant and a mouthpiece brush are also recommended. A yearly service will then cover all other issues that might arise from general wear and tear.

         

Trombones:

Finally, it has come time to address the trombone. Being the largest of the standard brass instruments, one must take into consideration the physical size of the student before choosing to take up trombone; they must be able to extend the slide to almost twice its retracted size in order to play all the notes on the instrument, which can be quite a stretch for students with shorter arms. Naturally, most students will grow into the instrument and be able to reach these notes eventually, but they might not be able to take up the trombone as early as they could take up a smaller instrument. 

We carry two main brands of trombone, the student models of which are the Yamaha YSL-154 and the Bach TB600. Unlike the instruments previously discussed, of which one brand held the advantage over the other, these two trombones are almost perfectly matched. Their construction quality and playability are equally impressive, as emphasised by the 1:1 ratio of instruments we see both leaving the shop and coming in for their yearly servicing. The only discernibly dividing factor between the two is their cost; the Bach trombone costs less than the Yamaha, but there is no trade-off in a loss of quality. Being relatively simple in their mechanisms and construction, the main factors contributing to an increase in trombone quality are the mouth piece and the materials from which they are made. Intermediate and pro-level trombones are made of higher grade metals, resulting in a better tone as they interact better with each other. But as long as the student can use a good quality trombone, and take good care of its slide, it should last them a decent amount of time before they move towards an intermediate/professional instrument.

Maintenance is roughly as extensive as that of the trumpet, involving a weekly cleaning of the mouthpiece with a mouthpiece brush; the slide with a slide rod and cloth; and the application of slide cream/oil (usually depending on player experience). Then, every six months, a flush with lukewarm water and disinfectant/detergent, and the application of lubricants to the main slide and tuning slide.

We hope this has given you some insight into the world of brass and woodwind instruments, and that you now have a little more information to work with when it comes time to picking the perfect instrument for the budding virtuosi of tomorrow!

For more information, please feel free to drop in and have a chat, or give us a call (02 9651 7333) or contact us via email below.

Enquire online

Mandatory fields are indicated with a *

Name:*
Email:*
Phone:
Enquiry:*