Back to School – Choosing an Instrument

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You’ve decided you want to play. There’s an instrument you like the sound and look of. Just jump right in and get one. Right?

Well, actually no.

Assuming you’re aware of the commitment required to learn an instrument there are a few other considerations before choosing.

Instrument Size

You might love the thought of playing the Sousaphone but if you are very young or petite this might not be the best choice.

In the early stages of learning an instrument you want to have as few distractions from learning as possible. If the size of the instrument is causing you concern you will likely not progress as quickly as you might otherwise.

Limitations of breath, fingers ability to stretch, weight and other things will have an impact on what you choose. Fortunately there are smaller sizes available for most instruments which can help to reduce some of these issues.


The cost of a musical instrument is a complete minefield.

You might see a very cheap instrument at your local shop or on eBay. However very often the quality of these is not good so not only will it hinder your progress but you will also end up upgrading sooner than you might otherwise.

If you buy an instrument that is a smaller size (i.e. 3/4 guitar) you will need at some stage to upgrade this to a full sized instrument. This needs to be factored into the overall cost.

You also need to consider the cost of accesories such as stands, music, oils, reeds etc

Some very general guidelines on instrument cost:
Guitars – range from very cheap to very expensive. Those at the bottom end of the range are OK for beginners but you should get them setup by a guitar technician so that the action is suitable. Straight out of the box the action can hinder your playing. You should also allow money for purchase of an amp.

Drummers tend to be collectors of gear. Complete kits can be had for little money. However it’s best to buy fewer high quality items and then add to these over time as your requirements and playing improves.

If you already have a piano then chances are you don’t have much choice in an instrument. If you are looking to buy one then I would recommend getting a good second hand instrument over a new one. Try to play it and get a piano technician to look at it before you buy.

There are a bewildering variety of keyboards to choose from. At the cheaper end these will be poor and not at all good for learning on. Try to pay a little more and go for something with full sized, pressure sensitive keys. If you can stretch to it then go for weighted keys as well. Above all, avoid being swayed by numbers of buttons, often fewer buttons is a sign of better quality.

Beginner instruments can be very cheap but you will need to upgrade. At the other end they can be very, very expensive. More than your car!

These will start at a few hundred pounds or dollars. Saxophones and Bassoons can be considerably more expensive than this. Beginner and student instruments tend to be made from plastic and cheaper metals to keep the price down. Professional quality instruments are made from selected wood and metals and can run to many thousands of ££$$.

Small brass are often a good choice for the beginner as they are cheap. Larger instruments like the tuba cost more but in most cases are not really suited to the very young. A typical scenario is to start on cornet and move to a larger instrument when you are bigger and more certain that you want to continue. At the top end brass instruments can cost around £5000/$8000 which is cheap relative to other families of instruments. Expect to pay a premium for French Horns

Free!! ;)


The rate at which children/people develop does have an impact on the instrument chosen.

The stretches required by fingers on larger instruments such as cello and bass are often not possible by very small children. If these are your chosen instruments perhaps begin with a small violin with a view to moving at a later stage.

Most people can manage something on the recorder and this is in fact an excellent starting point for other woodwind. Stretches between keys can be a problem on saxophones and bassoons. Also breath control on the double reeds (oboe, bassoon) can be tricky. For these reasons most children will move from recorder to other winds around the ages of 8-10.

Short arms can be a problem in learning the trombone and weight impacts ability to play tuba. The less obvious issue is that of orthodontics. Size/development of teeth can have a serious impact on brass playing. Typically students start on small brass around 8 years old and move onto larger instruments around 10-12 years old.

Although singing can and should begin at any age our voices mature relatively late on in life – perhaps as late as our 30’s. You can begin to sing but expect your voice to change over time as it matures.


Are you confident, outgoing and vivacious? Perfectionist? More introvert?

Your personality can have a big impact on the instrument you choose. This is a good thing. When you play you want it to show through your music.

Some instruments require lots of attention to detail (violin) whilst other require lots of energy (drums). Brass players tend to be outgoing whilst wind players have a softer side.

Which is right for me?

If, after reading the above, you are still set on playing the kazoo then you should go for it. The thoughts and suggestions offered above are only guidelines to help in making your choice. There are no right or wrong choices, just one that suits you.

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