The initial barriers are often physical
Windblowers has the largest selection of sheet music and wind instruments in the Midlands. The most popular instruments they sell are the saxophone, flute and clarinet, with the least popular being the tuba, French horn and the bassoon: “They are not necessarily more difficult [to learn] nor is there less music, although there are probably not as many ‘cool tunes’ for the tuba and bassoon to play as with the popular instruments. They are big and expensive and can be difficult for smaller children to handle.”
The least popular instruments can also be the most popular
As any musician or music teacher will tell you, the best way to make quick progress on your instrument is to practice, practice, practice. And if you can, start playing with others. If you play an unpopular instrument, you’ll often find more opportunities to do this than you might think. “These instruments are always in demand from a playing point of view,” says Elaine. “As there are fewer players, there are more playing opportunities in bands and orchestras. More playing means quicker progress.”
There is still a demand, but the market is changing
“Sales have remained reasonably stable across the board. The decline in music education has had a negative impact on the ‘beginner’ market in recent years, but we are seeing many advancing players up-grading existing instruments. Also, a rise in adult beginners and people returning to playing after years away from it.”
The future: support from authorities is crucial
There are several initiatives being run by music education hubs around the country to encourage minority instrument take-up, but like so many areas of music education, it often depends where you live.
Leicestershire Music Hub’s scheme is a brilliant example of what can be achieved with concentrated effort. They had a number of instruments available which were not being used, so they launched a campaign in 2014 to encourage interest. With help from a professional bassoonist, they put a promotional video together, and in the space of a year the number of bassoonists receiving tuition rose from a handful to over 50. They are expanding this approach to the oboe, trombone, French horn and double bass. Berkshire Maestros has been running a bassoon program since 2008, and invested in mini bassoons as well as full size ones, to help children start at the same time as any other wind instrument – rather than wait until they are bigger.
Other hubs running campaigns include Buckinghamshire Music Trust, Cumbria Music Service (Oboe, bassoon, cello) Newham Music (French horn) Cornwall Music Hub (bassoon, double bass, French horn, oboe, euphonium amongst others),
Inspiration to learn a musical instrument sometimes comes from knowing a bit more about it or hearing it played on a song you like. Although the oboe and bassoon feature rarely in popular music, they have popped up in more places that you may think.
Here’s some insights into these instruments along with some facts that may surprise you.
Oboe is a double reed instrument. A double reed consists of two flattened blades of bamboo that produce sound through the vibrations of one blade against the other. Despite its minority instrument status, ironically the oboe is one of the most important instruments in the orchestra as it is used for tuning. In the early days of orchestras, instruments were not standardized as they are today, so one orchestra could differ from another in terms of instruments. But oboes were almost always present, and its bright, rather penetrating sound was easy to hear, and its pitch was more stable than strings, so they became the standard instrument for tuning, particularly in the absence of a piano.
Listen to the oboe, featured throughout all of these songs
Original Emmerdale theme tune
Kiss from a Rose – Seal
Handbags and Gladrags – Stereophonics
One Day I’ll Fly Away – Randy Crawford
Like the oboe, the bassoon has a double reed, which is attached to a curved metal mouthpiece called a “crook” or “bocal” which is joined to the main part of the instrument. The instrument is quite heavy. Some players have a neckstrap around their neck to support the weight, but usually they use a seat strap that connects at the bottom of the boot and the strap goes across the floor.
The bassoon has the odd distinction of being the only instrument in the orchestra that requires every finger to play. Any other instrument could be played in some way using only one hand, however a bassoonist needs all of his/her fingers and thumbs to play a chromatic scale up a single octave.
Listen to the bassoon
Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (intro and every chorus)
The French horn isn’t actually French, though it is a horn. Due to its shape, you play it in front of you, but the sound comes out behind you.
To make a sound, the player buzzes his/her lips into a cone-shaped mouthpiece. If you were to watch a french hornist play, you would see that they keep the right hand in the bell all the time. This helps the instrument with tuning and tone production, giving it a haunting and distant sound. The french horn player can also place the hand tightly inside the bell for a special effect called “stopped horn.”
Listen to the French horn
John Williams – Superman theme
Alexander Courage – Star Trek theme
Chicago – If you Leave Me Now
The double bass is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. It’s so called due to the fact that its initial function was to double the bass line of large ensembles. It is commonly used in jazz, dance music, popular music, and folk music. Military and concert bands across the globe use it.
An obvious drawback to learning the double bass is its size, however it can be obtained in different sizes. Most people start on a 1/2 size (although there is a smaller “mini-bass” available) which can be managed well by the average 12-year-old. A 3/4 size bass will last you the rest of your educational life, and in fact some players never bother to move up to a full-size bass – these can be very big and unwieldy. Many young players start at 11 or 12, but there is also quite a tradition of players coming to the bass fairly late, perhaps transferring from another instrument when they realise that there are more opportunities on the bass.
Listen to the double bass
Esperanza Spalding – On The Sunny Side of The Street
Lev Weksler -Flight of the Bumble Bee
The euphonium, which means: “producing nice sounds” is a brass instrument that can be silver or brass in colour. It is very similar to the baritone horn, but it is different because the tubes are wider and it is bigger. The euphonium makes low sounds, similar to the trombone. The musicians make the sound by blowing into the instrument and “buzzing” with their lips.
You can hear the euphonium in a variety of groups, but concert/symphonic bands, orchestra and military bands are probably the most popular ensembles you’ll find them in.
Listen to the euphonium
Jackie DeShannon – What the World Needs Now
Paganini – Carnival of Venice