Susan Spain » Stepping Up

Stepping Up


The beginner instruments that most students start with at the beginning of the 6th grade year are well constructed and made to be durable and relatively inexpensive. These instruments work well when they are maintained properly and handled with care. However, they will only allow the hard working student to progress to a certain level of musicianship because of the materials used in their construction. Therefore, once students have made a commitment to band and have developed some skill on their instrument, it is time to consider stepping up to an intermediate or professional model instrument. Think of the beginner instrument as a child’s bike with training wheels and the intermediate and professional instruments as a ten speed road bike. Both bicycles will get you from point A to point B, but the ten speed enables you to get there faster with less energy and more savvy.


It is important to remember that an intermediate or professional model instrument will NOT turn an average musician into a fantastic musician, but they will allow a good musician to achieve a new level of excellence and mastery without being held back by the limitations of their beginner instrument.

Student musicians are ready for an intermediate or professional model instrument if:

  • They practice regularly without having to be asked
  • They plan to continue in band at least through the end of middle school
  • They consistently score “A’s” on your playing tests

If "stepping up" doesn't fit your budget, consider purchasing an intermediate mouthpiece. A better quality mouthpiece will improve tone quality and enhance the sound of your beginner horn until your child and your wallet are ready for a "step-up" instrument.

Instrument manufacturers go to great lengths to produce quality instruments that are well constructed from top to bottom, with one exception - THE MOUTHPIECE. Most instruments, from beginner to professional models, are equipped with a stock mouthpiece. Playing on a stock mouthpiece is the equivalent of wearing a unisex garment where one size is supposed to fit all. If you have ever worn a "one size fits all" baseball cap or t-shirt, you probably know that it is nearly impossible to make one size fit all people and that somewhere, someone is going to have an ill-fitting garment. Stock mouthpieces can also be ill-fitting, which manifests itself in the form of a poor or mediocre tone quality.

Luckily, there are mouthpiece manufacturers who specialize in designing and crafting a wide variety of high quality mouthpieces to meet the different needs of different mouths. Investing in a mouthpiece upgrade is one of the best ways to enhance your child's musical development. Please refer to the list of recommended mouthpiece upgrades below and consider purchasing a mouthpiece for your child:

CLARINET/BASS CLARINET - Vandoren B45 mouthpiece
ALTO SAXOPHONE - Selmer C* mouthpiece
TRUMPET - Bach 5C mouthpiece