Choosing an Instrument
Don't know which instrument to play? Ever ask how we choose or pick what's best? Ever wonder what we should consider when selecting? While the choices can be perplexing, here's what we think about this fun and exciting topic!
Which Instrument should we learn? All of them! But, if we have to choose just one for now, the answer is simple: choose the instrument that excites the student the most! Don’t worry if their mouth or lips don’t seem to match the mouthpiece. Don’t worry that the instrument may appear too big or too small for the student. Cast away any notion that some instruments are only for boys and that some instruments are mostly for girls. Pick the one that inspires! Which one has the nicest sound in our ear? Which one looks like it would be the most fun? Which instrument is just asking to be picked up and held? That’s the one to give to a student, because they’ll play and practice with it more often.
Typical beginning student band instruments include: flute, clarinet, saxophone (alto or tenor), French horn (also known as horn in F where a double-horn in Bb/F would be preferred), trumpet, trombone, baritone or euphonium (before trying tuba), and drums or percussion. A student with prior piano training excels as a percussionist!
A string orchestra ensemble needs violins, violas, cellos, and a bass or two. Orchestral stringed instruments do come in appropriate sizes for different heights and arm lengths of student musicians; our directors can help guide us to the right size!
There are two instruments which are both band and orchestra instruments and have a high initial cost: oboe and bassoon. Players of these instruments are rare enough that a good player is practically assured of a college scholarship if all other pieces (grades, etc) are there. A good conservatory grade oboe can cost between $2,000 to $4,000 dollars. A Bassoon runs from $5,000 and up for a suitable instrument. NHME has never been able to put the funds together to own these instruments for rental purposes. (We would love to be in that position some day – click the donate page.) We will help anyone interested in these instruments to find a suitable solution for a beginning student. Beginning oboes can be found for less than $1,000; however, they do not have all the keywork and toneholes needed for all notes on the instrument. When the band or orchestra gets to an Eb or F major scale, the student finds that the instrument does not allow them to play in these keys.
Should we purchase or rent an instrument? This is really personal preference. However, if it’s the student’s first ever learned instrument, or if it’s a new start on a second or third instrument by an experienced student, renting makes sense for the first year, because the student may decide at some point in that year that they really don’t like this particular instrument and would rather play another one which is a-ok with us!
NHME does things other groups don’t. We put a real instrument in the hands of a learner; we don’t waste time learning music on plastic toys. Most of our students learn two or three instruments during their time with us, and we encourage that exploration. Unlike days gone by, we don’t pick or select an instrument for a new musician based upon needs of the group. We let the musician decide which instrument to learn. If undecided, we suggest the instrument that sounds the best or is most exciting! We’ll deal with any gaps in the ensembles’ instrumentation in other ways. This means the student is going to learn quickly and have fun at the same time!
After a student has obtained skill and proficiency on an instrument, it makes sense then to purchase a quality instrument – especially if they’re college bound (for scholarship purposes). Even if the student won’t be playing an instrument in college, a good instrument purchased now will give them a lifetime of enjoyment. The instrument could then be passed on to the student’s offspring down the road. If purchasing an instrument, do not buy “student grade” or "band director approved" bargain instruments like those found in bulk at online retailers (Amazon). Not only will they be rejected by college directors, but they’ll make learning more difficult. Student grade horns and such are mass produced with the bare minimal workmanship. Brand and marketing can be misleading too making identifying the lower grade horns difficult. For example, an Olds or Olds Recording instrument is a professional grade instrument whereas an Olds Ambassador is the lower grade counterpart. Same goes for other recognizable brands: Holton vs. Holton Collegiate, The Martin vs. Martin Indiana, Henri Selmer (France) vs. Selmer Signet (vintage US) vs. Selmer Soloist (SelmerUSA, Taiwan), and Yamaha (Japan, Taiwan) vs. Yamaha Advantage (Indonesia, Malaysia). Musical instruments are indeed, precision instruments. When ready to buy, consult our directors, and check out our suggestions and advice article - watch out for shoddy instruments!
Where do we get one? NHME has a few instruments of the usual variety available for rental on a first come, first serve basis. Check out our links page for our favorite nearby stores such as Marshall’s, Oz’s, Shar’s, Kessler & Sons, and Music-Go-Round where instruments can be rented, rented to own, or purchased outright.