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A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Since the airing of the fantastic “Tourettes; Let me Entertain You” on Monday, I imagine many parents are now seriously considering getting drum lessons for their young ticcer. So here I am, this time putting my music teacher hat back on and sharing my advice and experiences of being a musical ticcer. If you haven’t yet seen “Tourettes: Let Me Entertain You” it’s a must, we’re all waiting the next episode next Monday to see how Ruth and the others get on.

I’ve always had a passion for music, as long as I can remember I. I finally had the opportunity of learning a musical instrument when I started at secondary school, I rather fancied the clarinet, but I got the last instrument in the cupboard, the viola. Luckily for me also is that Carmarthenshire LEA believed that instrumental lessons were important so therefore they were free. So from then on I had weekly lessons with eccentric Mrs. Sherlock, a tall woman who used to be a professional double bass player. As I progressed opportunities arose for to play with others, town orchestras, string quartets and the Dyfed Youth Orchestra. Ever since my first visit to Mrs. Sherlock’s home for an extra lesson to help me before an exam I couldn’t help but notice her double bass, so naturally I had a go, ever since I loved it’s rich chocolaty tones and wanted to play myself. I wanted that satisfaction whilst playing orchestral music to be at the bottom of a chord rather than somewhere in the middle. I then moved on to another school to do A level music and art and was offered the opportunity to take up a second instrument, so after Mrs. Sherlock hunting me down urgently wanting somebody to play bass for an upcoming performance I was given that job, not being a bass player at that time I learnt the part and pulled it off. Sadly that was the last I saw of Mrs. Sherlock, she went off to Spain to play bass professionally again she sadly passed away a couple of years ago. So that’s how I ended up playing the double bass. What I would say before you start picking an instrument for your child is that different personalities tend to gravitate towards different instruments. The upper strings (violin viola) many children are put off by learning as they can sound REALLY AWFUL in the hands of a beginner. My 12 year old niece is learning the violin and doing well, she’s been playing since primary school, the choice of instrument was entirely hers, and she practices very much off her own back, my sister-in-law and my brother would have liked her to play piano as my sister-in-law is a pianist and her dad was one of the last builders of pianos in South Wales. My brother and sister-in-law aren’t to bothered by her not wanting to play the piano, they’re not sure of the reasons why, if it was the piano tutor she didn’t like or she just preferred the violin.

What I have heard from so many parents of young ticcers is them taking up the drums, agreed playing drums is a good outlet for aggression and tension. Also drums are a quite a sociable instrument, good drummers are always needed by bands and many a band has put up with most mad bad, rock’n’roll of behaviors just to have a band. There was a punk band in Coventry whose drummer was wanted for armed robbery, this was unknown to the rest of the band, the gig started and things went smoothly, for a punk band until the police arrived, the drummer just threw his sticks in the air and scarpered of, the stage full of police knocking of the gear, an almighty fight broke out amongst the crowd and the drummer was never seen again. This story does sound better coming from my neighbour who was the lead guitar in this particular band.

There are quite a few musicians with Tourette’s syndrome that we can take inspiration from, there’s the concert pianist Nick Van Bloss James McConnell, composer and pianist The Marimba player from Tijuana Brass, now marimbas are pretty cool, great sound, and according to my consultant Kurt Cobain had TS, although in a biography I read, it just says that he had tics as a child. Ciao, Cavanna dottore, dove sei? I’m sure the link between musical ability, TS and the way whilst playing (or singing) tics either stop or are greatly reduced would be an interesting thing to study?

Not every child is a mini version of Keith Moon or John Bonham, I certainly wasn’t hence being a viola player. Something else I must stress, NEVER just buy musical instruments on a whim from the Argos catalouge (unless you really know what you’re doing) Luckily for my neice her granddad as well as a workshop for building pianos had a shop in which he sold a whole selection of instruments and has supplied many a violin to kids in Llanelli, so that was simple, but generally when your child starts out most instruments can be either hired or loaned from the child’s school, the LEA (Local Education Authority) or from a local hire company/shop and you should take advice from the tutor with regards to the best instrument for your young musician. Also NEVER buy an instrument without the child present as my parents did. After using a school viola for about a year my mother went out and bought a viola, unfortunately even up to 6th form I never quite grew long enough arms and big enough hands to play it comfortably, also regardless of what strings were on it, it was never a joy to play. Another kindly music teacher, (he never actually taught me) loaned me a georgeous viola built in 1926 in Dresden which was the perfect size for me. Also string instruments (guitars included) would need to be set-up by somebody who knows what they’re doing and also knows the child, ideally their tutor. Instruments should also be insured, this would need to be discussed with your contents insurer or a specialist insurer such as Endsliegh if the instrument is valuble as the instrument will be taken out and about and played.

Woodwind and Brass instruments can be great to learn, Brass players as well as sitting at the back of the orchestra making a mess (they always seem to leave loads of choclate wrappers and drinks cans around) and being a gregarious bunch have a lot of opportunites to play and many have had access to learning and loan of an instrument via a local brass band, if your child reaches a certain standard, your child may have opportunities to travel both in the UK and overseas for competetions and performances. Many doctors who treat children with ashtma suggest learning a brass or woodwind instrument to help with lung capacity and breath control. Woodwind instruments can vary incredibly in price, whilst flutes, clarinets and saxes can be reasonably prices oboes and bassoons can very prohibitally expensive, however, those who opt to learn bassoon, oboe, french horn or double bass will always find it easier to get into orchestras. Whilst studying for my A-levels within a class of four, a bassoonist, a french horn player, a clarinettist and myself, our clarinet playing friend was always feeling left out and these feeling known to us due to the fact that the rest of us were garuanteed a place with the county youth orchestra, the bassoonist played with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and myself and the horn player were reserves for the NYOW.

Piano is also a very good choice of instrument, buying a piano and getting me paino lessons is something my mother regets as I did struggle with having very basic keyboard skills (piano playing ability) when I first went to uni but now obviously I know my way around the keyboard but I’m no pianist. However when I lived in Earlsdon with my ex we did buy a cheap second hand piano from the back of the local paper, if you’re child fancies himself as the next Nick Van Bloss you don’t need to spend lots on a piano for them to start on, as I said you can find them in free ads papers, on your local freecycle group etc. Even if your child opts for another instrument it’s nice to have a piano at home just for general doodling, that was the purpose of my piano, to bash out ideas on and for writting.

The tutor of course is very important and it is imperitive that your child gets on well with their tutor, I would say the relationship you have with your tutor is very different to any other teacher you have. This is probably why my neice is sticking with her violin. This is roughly the converstation between her and her violin teacher, even though we should call her Mrs Smith, everybody refers to her affectionately by her first name Judith. She taught me bass after Mrs Sherlock left and taught my brother violin. (my neice wasn’t aware of this at the time)

Judith – I know your Dad

Neice – Really?

Judith – And your Aunty

Neice – How ?

Judith – I was going to chop your aunty’s hands off (shallow threat for not practicing, then have to clean blood of bass)

Neice – eeewwww

I used to often baby-sit the Smith children. Their hands were very much intact.

However I had a very different relationship with my viola tutor when I went to Colchester Institute, I never got on with her, it got the stage where I would dread Thursdays because Thursdays would lead on to Fridays, which in turn lead into the weekend and then the worst, MONDAY, first thing on a Monday was my viola lesson. When I left Colchester I never wanted to play the viola again, I think gouging my eyes out whilst listening to Basshunter (sorry another “musical” ticcer) would be more fun. My bass tutor was the opposite, a helpful, patient man who also played at Covent Garden Opera House who had the genius idea of pairing up 1st years with 2nd and 3rd year students as mentors, so I had a new friend in Orah, from Lewisham.

The easiest and best way to get instrumental lessons for your child is via their school, the school should have a team of peripatetic teachers who will come in and teach children either on their own or within small groups of up to 4. Some LEAs such as Carmarthenshire did when I was younger, they offered instrumental lessons for free to any child. However a lot of LEAs now charge for lessons, Coventry LEA does, although if your child is part of a small group you will pay a proportion of the full cost, so for example if your child starts the sax along with 2 others at the same time the cost will be split 3 ways. Parents or carers who are in receipt of certain benefits will get a further reduction. The cost of these lessons, even if your child has a lesson to themselves the cost is still much cheaper than if taught privately. The peripatetic instrumental teachers naturally are all CRB checked and many still play professionally and many are ex-session musicians etc so are the best in your locality.

Going back to what I was saying about different instruments suiting different children, please think about your child’s personality and how they get on with others, this article doesn’t say much about double bass players, but I’d say double bass players tend to have a good sense of humour, enjoy other people’s company and working as part of a group and are reliable steadfast types. .

Here’s a film about Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” for primary school kids.

Please feel free to ask me any questions, I'd be more than happy to ask.

6 Replies

I made the mistake of buying an Argos violin! I can't play it at all and it sounds like a cat being murdered! I'm better at the keyboard and as a child I discovered I enjoyed that by myself rather than mum telling me what to do.


Tut Tut, what would Mrs Smith say? Luckily for my brother his original teacher aquired an old English violin, he still has it, it improved his playing, but he also took up the guitar, his DCT teacher taught him and sold him his old telecaster copy, although it's a copy it's nice, he still plays it sometimes, he's actually a better guitarist than a violinist but our stuffy class music teacher wouldn't let him do GCSE playing electric guitar even though he was a regular at the county rock school project. But now he's a genius scientist and invents things. Keyboards are pretty instantaneous so after a shhort period of time you can get results and with some recomenation you can get them from Argos, lol. The sound of a bowed string instrument can be improved by the strings and the bow.


Here's my Soundcloud page -


Hey guys - guilty of jumping to the drums! But after chatting with u cath on the fb site I've had a chat with james and he wants the guitar. Which is great for me cos his father is a wizard on it! He took james last night to get one and can honestly say haven't seen james so happy and excited in a long time. I'm also going to speak to his school cos they do lesson as well. Thanks again cath x


That's great news, otherwise you could have had a mini Keith Moon on your hands, before you know it you'd find the car in the bath. (I imagine like me you have neither a Rolls or a swimming pool).


I've just come across this article, I thought that everyone, Doctors and their students included may find this interesting.