Every holiday, many parents want to find gifts to encourage their children on their instrument, but do not know what to buy. This is especially true if you are a parent who has never played a musical instrument yourself. To help, here is a list of ideas for gifts for brass students, along with links to buy them.
The Go-to Gifts for Brass Students: Books
The gift idea many people think of is books with new music. However, finding the right match can be more challenging than it seems. Make sure to take your child’s experience into account. Many song books require 2-3 years of experience to play the pieces in it, even some of the ones marked “easy.” Unfortunately, this is going to limit the books a first- or second- year child can play, but it can give them something to work toward. SheetMusicPlus.com has a wide variety of sheet music for all levels.
In addition to regular songbooks, additional method and exercise books make great gifts for brass students as well. Some standards include the Arban’s books for trumpet and trombone and the Maxime-Alphonse series for horn. The Resources page lists a variety of such books along with appropriate levels.
The Sound-Changing Gifts for Brass Students: Mutes
Many brass students love receiving new mutes, especially trumpet players. Each new mute gives the instrument a totally new sound to experiment with. Many mutes have limited or very little practical use, but are still fun for the students. One mute that is nearly universal, though, is the straight mute. Any time a piece of music says only “mute,” this is the mute the composer wants. It is a very common mute, and any player with a couple years’ experience will need one eventually. These mutes come in a variety of makes and materials which affect their tone. The cheapest mutes available will get young students by in early classes, but honor band and older students should make sure they have a high-quality metal mute. One of the most common brands is Denis Wick (here for trumpet, trombone, horn, euphonium, and tuba).
Other mutes include cup mutes (used in concert and jazz), wah-wah or “Harmon” mutes (used almost exclusively in jazz), bucket mute, and stop mutes (for Horn only). One other cheap gift for trumpets and trombones: plungers! These are used to get that old-timey wah sound in jazz. Plungers made specifically as mutes are available, but literal sink plungers (trumpet) or toilet plungers (trombone) can work as well (unused, of course!).
The Practical Gifts for Brass Students: Oils and Maintenance
These make perfect stocking stuffer gifts for brass students! Every brass instrument needs oil of some kind. For trumpets, and student euphoniums and tubas, this means some kind of valve oil. Trombones need slide oil for their main slide, and can also benefit from a small spray bottle to fill with water. Horns, along with some higher-end trombones, euphoniums, and tubas, need both a lighter rotor oil and a heavier bearing oil. All instruments also need some slide grease for all their tuning slides.
Additionally, if they do not have the brushes they need to clean their horn, this would be a great time to get them. All players should have a mouthpiece brush and a bore brush (sometimes called the “snake”) for their respective instrument. Valve casing brushes are available for some instruments, but I do not generally recommend these for young students. Cleaning supplies should be available at any music store.
Other Necessary Gifts for Brass Students
Tuners and metronomes are two indispensable tools for all musicians. In the age of smartphones, the standalone metronome is quickly becoming obsolete. However, if your child is too young for a smartphone or does not have access to one regularly, a metronome will greatly enhance his or her practice. Some also double as tuners. Smartphone tuners are improving in quality, but can still be inaccurate. Also, they are not usually usable in a school rehearsal. I recommend that all students get a standalone tuner. Make sure it is a chromatic tuner, as some models are made for guitars and will only tune the notes of open guitar strings. A transposition function will help trumpet and horn players whose instruments sound different pitches from what they are named. Some models can be clipped directly to the bell of the instrument, so the student can tune even when the rest of the band plays!
The Ultimate Gifts for Brass Student: A New Horn!
If you have a young student, most likely they started with a student model instrument, or you are borrowing a school-owned instrument. If your musician has been playing for three years or more, and especially if he or she is first chair or making local honor bands, then it may be time to consider an upgrade. Higher end instruments will not only get a better sound, but for most brass players they will offer mechanisms and options to make their playing easier.
Intermediate vs. Professional
Most instrument manufacturers offer “intermediate” level horns. With horn, euphonium, and tuba, this may be a necessary step, as professional models can be very expensive. However, with trumpet and trombone players, I say this: if you can afford a professional model, skip the intermediate and buy a professional model. Trumpets and trombones have the least expensive professional instruments of anyone in the orchestra, often by thousands of dollars. Intermediate horns often do not have that much advantage over student horns compared to professional models. Also, the price difference between an intermediate and professional horn is close enough that it is worth saving for a little while longer to buy the professional horn. Well-maintained professional horns will last for as long as the student continues playing.
Choosing a Horn
Buying a new horn is a big investment, and can be very personal to the player. If you have access to a music store with several different professional model instruments, I recommend taking the student in to try them out and see which works best for him or her. Many instructors are willing to join this tryout process to give an objective listen and make recommendations. Below are a few makes and models of professional instruments that are renowned throughout the world, and are usually guaranteed to be of high quality:
Trumpet – Bach Stradivarius, Yamaha Xeno, Jupiter XO*
Trombone – Conn 88HO, Bach Stradivarius, Yamaha Xeno
Horn – Conn 8D, Hans Hoyer 6802, Holton H279/H179
Euphonium – Miraphone, Willson, Yamaha**
Tuba – Miraphone, Meinl, Yamaha**
* XO is one of the newer kids on the block, but they are making very good trumpets. Because they are newer, they usually run a little less on price as well. I have played XO’s in some stores that outplay their other Strads and Yamahas in stock. Though I didn’t list them here, some of their trombones are really good as well.
** Professional euphoniums and tubas are often only available to try at trade shows or boutique music stores. Because availability is a concern, plus the expense of the instruments, I simply listed brands that are known for their quality rather than specific models. Also, with both instruments, many students play school-owned instruments. In this case, just owning an instrument of their own would be an upgrade, and student horns may be considered as gifts.