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Things to Consider when buying a New Musical Instrument

Things to Consider when buying a New Musical Instrument

Published by Programme B

Buying a new instrument is very exciting, but it can be overwhelming at the same time.  Even if you’ve bought an instrument before, it might be years ago and it’s likely the range of choices has changed.  If you’ve never bought an instrument before you might not even know where to start. 

You may also be wrestling with the added and rather monumental decision of what instrument you or your child should learn to play.  Here’s a useful breakdown of the choices with some pros and cons: 


The piano 

The most popular music instrument overall is the piano.  Even though a full-size acoustic piano has 220 strings in it, because the strings are hit with hammers, it’s considered a percussion instrument.  It’s easy to find a teacher and there’s nothing to carry around – unless you take a keyboard to a gig.  The advantage of the piano is that you play a melody with full harmony – a one-man band if you will, unlike the majority of instruments that can only play one note at a time. 

There are numerous digital pianos on the market which can make the process of deciding which one to buy daunting.  However, once you’ve narrowed down what type of piano you want to buy and decided on your budget, the best piano keyboards are easy to shortlist.

The string family (violin, viola, cello, double bass)

We’re all familiar with the agonizingly out-of-tune scratching and scraping of a child learning the violin.   The initial stages of learning can be hard on the ears as learning to tune each note with the finger takes time.  However, once past that point, it’s a beautiful sounding instrument.  The violin is the most popular of the string family to learn, but don’t overlook the rest of the string family.   

String instruments come in different sizes depending on the size/age of the student.  The main sizes for violins are: quarter, half, three quarters, and full size.  A child age four or five up to age seven will start on the smallest size and upsize as they grow.  This means you need to plan to upgrade several times, but you can sell the old instrument.  If it’s in excellent condition you might make your money back.  Violins and violas are quite a good size and weight for carrying to lessons or orchestra practice.  Cellos can be carried by an adult, but basses are huge and really need to go by car.  String instruments sometimes need new strings so it’s best to have a spare set on hand.  

The harp 

The harp is one of the more difficult instruments to master.  A beginner can start with a small harp which isn’t too expensive or big.  But as the student progresses, they’ll eventually want a full-size harp which can be very expensive.  They can weigh around 80lbs and need to be taken to rehearsals and concerts in a vehicle that can carry them safely.  

The woodwind family (piccolo, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, recorder) 

If your child learns to play the recorder they can easily move on to the clarinet and even the saxophone, as the fingering is the same.  The flute uses very similar fingering although a note is produced by blowing across the mouthpiece rather than into it as with most wind instruments.   The piccolo is a tiny flute that most flutists play by default.  

The oboe is considered more difficult than the clarinet and the bassoon more difficult than the oboe.  All woodwind instruments are quite portable – (unless we talk about the bass clarinet or contrabassoon, but those are not instruments you’d start with).  

Keep in mind that clarinets, oboes, bassoons, cor anglais, and saxophones require “reeds” to produce a sound which, although not expensive, have to be bought fairly regularly.  

The brass family (trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, saxophone family)

The “B flat trumpet” is a good instrument for a student who wants to play a brass instrument.  It’s arguably the easiest of the brass to get a note out of and smallest for carrying around.  The trombone can be fun to play with its long slider.  The tuba tends to have rather boring parts to play as it is a brass instrument.  

The Percussion Family (drums, timpani, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, Latin percussion)

A professional percussionist can turn his or her hand to any of the percussion instruments, but learning to play a standard drum kit is a good starting point.  The biggest downside to learning the drums is, of course, the noise.  There are electronic drum kits that you can play using headphones, or you can get “practice pads” that lay over the drums to mute them for practice.  However, at some point, noise must be made so if you have neighbors in close proximity, it may not be the best choice. 

A drum kit needs to stay in place ready for practice and takes up a fair amount of room.  Taking the kit to rehearsal or concerts is a bit of a pain as everything has to be dismantled and put carefully into special carrying bags or boxes and loaded into the back of a car.  Of course for lessons, school rehearsals, and concerts at school it’s likely there will be a kit already in place, but once gigging as a drummer, the dismantling and reassembling have to be done.  It’s a lot easier to pop a recorder into your pocket! 

Whatever type of instrument you’re looking to get, first of deciding on an approximate budget.  You want to consider the requirements of the person who is going to playing.  Are they beginner, intermediate or advanced?   This matters because intermediate and advanced players will be much more discerning about the instrument they’re playing.  

Beginners can of course start to learn with a very good instrument, but parents usually don’t want to spend too much money in case their child loses interest or doesn’t enjoy it.  Consider purchasing a good second-hand instrument through a reputable music store. 

There is really good “student” makes of most instruments available in music stores.  They come new with everything you need to get started and some stores offer a rental deal.  After renting for a while, if you decide to buy the instrument, some stores will deduct what you’ve paid in rent from the total price. 

Don’t forget that if you invest in a good instrument and look after it well, it will have good resale value.  But more importantly, learning an instrument is a lifetime of joy that goes well beyond the monetary value.

Photo by Oleg Prachuk from Pexels