playing trombone at age 6
October 30, 2012 at 11:53 am #14651
Like so many of us, I teach private lessons outside of school to make ends meet. I usually work with younger kids, but on piano/percussion instruments. I don’t typically work with beginning wind instruments until age 9 or 10. However, this morning I had a request from a parent of a 6 and 1/2 year old who is passionate about playing the trombone. My first thought is the arm length, but then I began thinking about embouchure strength. I’ve never taught a student this young to play a brass instrument and I’m not even sure it’s a good idea. What are the thoughts from the community? Especially brass people? Thanks!October 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm #14654
I would say that unless the kid is large for his/her age, it will be impossible. You can always try, but they won’t be able to play a Bb scale (low C), and I would highly doubt they would have, at this age, the cognitive ability to understand how to change the embouchure properly to get higher and lower notes.November 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm #14707
I’m 42 and I can JUST barely reach 7th position 🙂 Holding the brace for the trombone with the left hand might be uncomfortable for a younger child with smaller hands, too–it sometimes tires my hand. What would also concern me is lung capacity and breath support–most of my kindergarten/1st graders don’t have the lung capacity to sustain even their singing voices for very long, just because of their size and their stage of physical development… and a child that young might not have success fill a wind instrument and having control over the air stream. I’ve never taught a student that young to play a band instrument… however, you might want to try explaining to the parent that, unlike the string instruments that are available in half size and quarter size for smaller students, band instruments are only made in adult sizes and that trying to start a child whose body is too small or not at the right stage of development to have success might just result in frustration. And personally, with my 16+ experience teaching elementary music, many kids are still developing their sense of steady beat and ability to match pitch at that age. They will have much more success on an instrument at a later age if they’ve had the chance to develop their musical skills away from an instrument first when they are younger. It may well be that this child already has developed a good musical ear and rhythm skills, but unless you’ve had experience working with the child and know that he/she is especially advanced and could handle the challenge (because in addition to all of the physical issues, brass instruments require an excellent sense of pitch and particularly trombone, since the child would have to hear intervals in the octave below his/her own singing voice), I would generally encourage them to wait until they are older.November 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm #14748
Another thing to keep in mind is what type of music they would want to play. Probably all simple melodies that kids know use the first three or five notes of a scale, and youngsters will always begin with music in the key of Bb. So the child would not even be able to play simple nursery rhymes because he/she would not be able to play low C.November 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm #14760
I would strongly advise against starting a 6 year old on a brass instrument. Like you, I teach private lessons outside of school (trumpet and trombone) at a community music school. A few years ago, I got a similar request from a family for trumpet lessons for their 6 year old. It was much the same story, child loved the brass sound, grandpa was an accomplished trumpet player and still plays in lots of local bands so the child has been around trumpet his whole life, wanted to start music lessons but the child had no interest in piano, plus the family had other siblings taking lessons at the school so they really encouraged me to take him on. I agreed to try it (if the child is enthusiastic, why not harness it?)……. and it was just a disaster. They got him a cornet to play which was a bit smaller and easier for him to hold, but still he could barely hold the instrument up for very long, he got the buzz alright but even after months of lessons and apparently consistent practice could only play C-D-(sometimes) E, the concept of adjusting his embouchure, tonguing, supported air were way above his level of cognition and physical control at that age. And, I don’t blame him, but he got pretty bored with the material. I gave him all kinds of different mouthpiece buzz exercises, but with only three notes it’s really hard to keep challenging and engaging a student. As a teacher, I mostly just felt frustrated and a little guilty for agreeing to take on the student in the first place. Luckily, I didn’t have to break it off, the family moved out of town after a few months and that was the end of that. But I certainly learned my lesson. At that age, I will teach piano, I might even teach guitar, but no brass! 4th grade is the youngest I will start.November 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm #15040
It’s nice to know I wasn’t alone in having doubts! The other two brass teachers at my private lessons school were full up, which is why I wound up with the kid (I usually teach beginning piano, but being a band director, take on beginners of other instruments too). Both of those teachers said they started playing when they were in 2nd grade, so 1st grade should be no problem. I kind of got backed into a corner and went through a trial lesson. The kid is huge for age 6, could already explain mathematical concepts through division and square roots, and is reading “The Hobbit” for the 3rd time. I was a little blown away by his cognitive abilities. However, he did not have the breath support to sustain pitches for very long, though he was able to maintain partials. I’m still on the fence, but unfortunately it comes down to money – as in I need it and the parent is willing to give it to me. As this is my first time beginning a kid this young, any and all advice you’ve got for me would be huge! How can I go about increasing his lung power?
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