There are lots of factors to consider when deciding with your child what instrument they would like to learn, such as which instruments are taught at their school and which are available to hire out from us. More importantly they should think about what type of instrument most appeals to them!
Instruments come in different ‘families’. You can browse through the instrument families below to find out more.
The family of string instruments consists of the violin, viola, cello and double bass and is one of the oldest families. They are usually played with a bow but can also be plucked.
The strings are the backbone of the Western orchestra as well as playing in many different styles in smaller groups.
The violin is one of the most popular instruments and comes in small sizes for almost any age of beginner, though it is usual to start from the age of 7 upwards.
Interesting fact: the violin is a popular instrument for folk music throughout Europe, America and Asia and is often referred to as the fiddle.
The viola is slightly larger and deeper that the violin and is most often taken up by older violinists who are attracted to its distinctive tone quality and its role at the heart of the orchestra or ensemble.
Interesting fact: there is always a shortage of viola players and a violinist who swaps to viola can be assured of a warm welcome in orchestras.
The cello can also be played by younger players as it comes in smaller sizes, all the down to 1/8 size. The cello is equally at home playing the bass line and melodies.
Interesting fact: although it seems bulky it is quite light and with care a child is able to carry it quite easily.
The double bass plays a vital role, forming the rich foundation for the rest of the group. It is a particularly versatile instrument and has a prominent role in jazz.
Interesting fact: because of its size it is one of the Endangered Species instruments. There is always a shortage of double bassists, meaning they are sought after within group playing.
The family of woodwind instruments consists of the flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe and bassoon. The instruments are blown to produce a sound and provide layers of colour to the Western orchestra.
The flute is one of the most popular instruments and can play very high notes, producing sound by blowing across the hole in the mouth-piece.
Interesting fact: flautists are sometimes asked to play even higher notes which they play on the piccolo.
The clarinet is a very versatile, single reed instrument made out of wood. A reed is a thin strip of material placed on the mouthpiece that vibrates to make sound.
Interesting fact: it is also known as the "little trumpet" and is played by celebrities like Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen.
The saxophone is also a single reed instrument, but made out of brass. It is not taught in primary school as students mouths are often not developed enough to play them adequately. We recommend that any students not yet in secondary school who wishes to learn the saxophone begin learning the clarinet, as it uses the same techniques and allows for an easy transition.
Interesting fact: the family of saxophones are commonly found in popular music, big bands and jazz groups.
The oboe has a very clear sound which is used to tune the orchestra and play prominent solos.
Interesting fact: the oboe is an Endangered Species instrument as it is not commonly played meaning oboists are often sought-after by orchestras and ensembles.
The bassoon is the bass of the woodwind family, forming the foundation for tuning the entire wind section.
Interesting fact: like the oboe the bassoon is a double reed Endangered Species instrument.
Brass instruments are used in the Western orchestra, wind bands, brass bands and often found in jazz ensembles and backing groups for popular music. They are renowned for the power and volume they can produce.
The french horn usually plays the middle parts in ensembles.
Interesting fact: the French horn is an Endangered Species instrument, and often receives a warm welcome in orchestras and ensembles because it is lesser-played.
The tuba has deep, bass-like tone and usually plays the lower parts in ensembles.
Interesting fact: early jazz bands used tubas as a replacement for the stringed bass to avoid exposing the bass to potential damage from bad weather when playing outdoors. Most Tuba players start learning the Trombone or Euphonium!
The trombone uses a slide to change the pitch of notes and usually plays the middle parts in ensembles.
Interesting fact: some say that the trombone was described by famous composers like Beethoven as the "Voice of God". This is because the range of the trombone resembles closer to the range of the human voice more than any other instrument.
The trumpet usually plays the upper parts in ensembles.
Interesting fact: they are commonly found in jazz groups and with their wide range can play 45 notes.
Euphoniums usually plays the lower parts in ensembles.
Interesting fact: the word euphonium comes from the words euph(ony)and(harmon)ium. Euphony means pleasant sounding to the ear.
Singing is a fundamental and universal form of human communication, capable of great expression and used in all cultures. A huge variety of singing styles have developed in different regions around the world.
Singing is part of any music curriculum. Whilst at primary school, children have the opportunity to sing in school choirs and in the Croydon Schools Music Association infant or junior festival choirs that produce large-scale concerts. Specialist vocal lessons are normally not available until secondary school. Primary school pupils who wish to sing should join our VoiceWorks choir. It is important to learn the correct way to produce the sound and to develop good tone without damaging the voice.
Interesting fact: our vocal lessons cover a wide range of styles: classical, musical theatre, folk songs and popular music. Pupils will have the opportunity to develop singing in the type of music they are particularly attracted to.
The percussion family is the oldest family of instruments, contributing to the rhythm, colour and energy of any group of musical instruments they belong to. Some percussion instruments play a definite pitch and can also contribute to the melody and harmony of music, such as xylophone.
There are many types of drums from all over the world, including the snare drum, timpani and bass drum used in the Western orchestra, the African djembe, the Indian tabla and the set of South American samba drums.
The drum kit is the most widely used percussion instrument in jazz and in most forms of popular music, including rock music, rhythm and blues, country and western music, and world music.
Interesting fact: the basis of learning percussion instruments is the technique of playing the snare drum. Good coordination using both hands and both feet is developed playing the drum kit.
Guitar and Ukulele
The guitar and ukulele are stringed instruments that are played by plucking and strumming.
The classical guitar is played with the fingers plucking the strings and is usually used for playing solo repertoire. This is the instrument that most young beginners start on because the nylon strings are kinder to the left hand fingers.
The steel-string acoustic guitar has a larger body size with all steel strings. This produces a brassy sound which is popular for accompanying singers and other instruments. It is usually played with a plectrum (pick) and can also be played with the fingers. Players who study this instrument tend to concentrate on learning chords and popular songs.
The electric guitar grew out of a need for the guitar to be heard in a band setting. It was developed in the USA and was used as rhythm accompaniment in a jazz band. There are two distinct kinds of guitar: single coil pickup (Fender Stratocaster) produces a bright cutting sound (Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix), and the double coil pickup (Gibson) produces a smoother sustained sound (Slash, Santana).
Interesting fact: players at primary school usually begin on the classical guitar and learn the proper techniques for playing solo guitar and reading music. Players at secondary school usually choose to specialise on one of the three instruments. There are different grade exams for all three.
The ukulele is a traditional Hawaiian instrument based on other guitar-like instruments from Portugal. They come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone, with the 4-string soprano being the most commonly played.
Interesting fact: they have also become popular within folk groups.
Piano and Keyboard
These instruments are able to play more than one pitch at a time, and do not need to play with other instruments to create harmonies. Piano and keyboard players aren’t often needed for orchestral groups but can have exciting roles in small and big band settings that play jazz, blues or musical theatre styles, to name a few. Many classical pianists will pursue careers as soloists. There is a difference, however, between the two instruments.
The electronic keyboard creates sound electronically, and can imitate the other keyboard instruments as well as produce many other sounds.
Interesting fact: the keyboard is extremely versatile and has been used a great deal in popular music and also contemporary classical music.
The piano creates its sound by striking strings with hammers and is used in many different types of music, from classical to jazz. Although players will often start on an electronic keyboard, the playing technique for the piano is different, and prospective piano players should obtain a piano for piano lessons.
Interesting fact: it is easier for a pianist to play the keyboard than for a keyboardist to play the piano.