How to Choose an Instrument

As a music teacher, I am often asked for advice on selecting an instrument for someone to play while they are learning. The conventional logic goes like this: "I don't know if I (or my child) am going to be any good at this, or want to stick with it; so I plan to get the least expensive instrument I can, for now, and if the lessons 'take' I will get a better one."

The problem with this approach is that your instrument is an important part of the learning process. A high quality instrument will play easily and respond beautifully when you play well, and you will know you're on the right track. You catch a glimpse of the way you really want your playing to sound, and you pursue it. The good instrument takes you there. Its rich tone is a constant reward for the work of practicing.

The mediocre instrument responds about the same - just OK - whether you play just OK, or really well. And when you're first learning, you won't really know what you're missing because of the instrument's lack of response. No matter how hard you work, the sound is just OK. Less reward, less inspiration, less motivation to practice. If you then decide not to keep playing, will it be because you really didn't want to learn, or because your instrument did not support your learning process?

The worst case scenario, the student trying to learn on their own, while playing a truly bad (or badly adjusted) instrument, sometimes ends happily when the struggling student finally comes in for a lesson. I have been through a number of first lessons like this:
Student: "I've tried and I've tried, but I just can't get this instrument to play easily/ stay in tune/ sound good!"

Teacher: "Hmm, let me see that...Guess what? Neither can I! It's not you that's the problem, it's your instrument, or the way your instrument is strung or adjusted. Here, try this one..."

Student: "Wow! This is much easier! Maybe there's hope for me after all!"

The bottom line is: you're better off getting the best instrument you can, right from the start. Doing so sets you up for success. When it comes to playing music, why would you want to do anything else?

©2003 Beverly Woods

Beverly teaches piano, guitar, hammered dulcimer, ukulele, autoharp, folk harp, accordion and other instruments. Find out more about taking lessons with Beverly here.