This section takes a look at some of the basic design and performance issues concerning the three major groups of instruments in the concert band. The idea is to highlight as many common themes as possible so that a non-specialist can get a good overall view of the problems facing players in each major group.

After studying the three sections you should be able to answer questions such as the following:

  • Name three cylindrical brass instruments. How does the sound of these instruments differ from those with a greater proportion of conical tubing?
  • List the disadvantages of wood as a construction material. Why, given these disadvantages, is wood still widely preferred in the manufacture of high quality oboes, clarinets and bassoons?
  • Name three alloys used in the production of brass instruments. Which alloy is believed to produce the darkest sound? Which alloy is the strongest?
  • Would you wash a clarinet mouthpiece or the bocal of a bassoon?
  • Why do you think many music directors suggest that students begin their study of percussion instruments by learning to play the snare drum?
  • List the advantages and disadvantages for a brass player of using a mouthpiece with a large backbore.
  • What disadvantages are commonly associated with (a) reeds that are too stiff, and (b) reeds that are too soft? Given a choice, which would you prefer?
  • What is the cross beat (on a timpani)?
  • How would you attempt to correct the following embouchure problems experienced by brass players: excessive mouthpiece pressure, bunched chin, smile embouchure, and lips protruding into the mouthpiece?
  • Clarinets often emit embarrassing squeaks when played by beginners. List the most common causes.
  • Why should a bass drum player attempt to anticipate the beat?
  • Describe the basic elements of the flute embouchure. Why should the lip aperture be oval-shaped rather than rounded?
  • Why is it important for brass players to practice lip slurs?
  • List the differences and similarities between the clarinet and saxophone embouchures when using the "single embouchure".
  • Why is it important for clarinet, oboe and flute players to rest their instruments with the keys facing upwards?
  • Is saliva a good substitute for valve oil? Why or why not?


A more detailed discussion identifying common problems specific to each instrument can be found in The Band Director's Handbook. See the home page for ordering details.