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Stephen's Soundpost: Guide to Performance Level Instruments


Stephen's Soundpost: Guide to Performance Level Instruments

by Stephen


Step Up & Stand Out: Why you should start looking at performance level instruments and when!


Throughout your musical journey the opportunity arises to start looking for your next instrument. There are several factors that make certain instruments “better.”Timing is also a factor in looking for a new instrument we should always be sure that it’s appropriate for a player to begin testing new instruments that will last well into their musical tenure. First let’s look at when a player might be ready to start stepping up!


-How long have they been playing? Are we getting ready to enter high school? If those answers are “at “least three years” and “yes”, now might be a good time to move into a performance level instrument.

-Is the player planning on auditioning for any groups of ensembles?  If the player is trying to get into PMEA Festivals or Jazz band, a performance level instrument can really help their chances.

-Is the player struggling to play some of their pieces? Sometimes, as the music gets more complex a player can outgrow their student instrument and it can actually be more difficult to get the right notes out.


Now, what makes an instrument worthy of being called a performance level instrument? Again we can see some of the most common factors in differentiating a student level instrument from a performance level.

Materials- For this example we’ll use clarinets. A student clarinet is made of plastic, while step ups will be made of wood. Plastic is very durable, but wood is more resonant and has better intonation. Another example is lacquer trumpets versus silver. Silver is brighter and allows the trumpet, as a lead instrument, to cut through the rest of the band. A third example is nickel to silver flutes. Nickel flutes are again more durable, but the silver is more resonant and bright.

Craftsmanship- student level instruments are often mass produced. This allows players in beginning groups to all sound consistent with one another as everyone learns together. As we start moving up, there are a number of features that make the instrument a more custom fit for each player. Using trumpets as an example we can look at bore size a larger bore will put out more sound but will require more air to get there. With clarinets, undercut tone holes preserve the integrity of the wood. This allows the instrument to resonate more fully.

Playability- Student instruments are meant for beginning players to just get some sound. Once we get into a performance level instrument, the better materials and craftsmanship allow less resistance. Less resistance means that those harder pieces become easier to play fluently.

There are many more factors in finding the appropriate instrument for your player. Always ask your band director, they can point you in the right direction for brands and features to look out for. Reach out to a private teacher if you have one. They have the advantage of working one on one with the player to make a solid recommendation. Lastly, you can always reach out to your local Music & Arts to set an appointment. We’ll dedicate the time to help you try out as many instruments as it takes to find the perfect fit for any player!