Guide to Buying Quality Musical Equipment
Welcome to the amazing world of playing a musical instrument! Playing an instrument can build greater social and team skills. It can improve reasoning capacity and problem solving skills, improve maths and language performance, and also improve memory, concentration, creativity, self-esteem and self-discipline.
Some Truths about Music!
TRUTH 1: Everyone is musical and nearly all of us have the ability to sing and to play an instrument. Of course some of us have more aptitude than others. That’s natural in exactly the same way that some people are more gifted than others in sport, or maths, or any other area of learning.
TRUTH 2: Because everyone is musical everyone can develop their musical skills to the point that they are able to. Very few of us will become professional musicians, but most of us can have a life of enjoyment and achievement through making music.
TRUTH 3: There is no one way to learn to play an instrument. Over the years various methods and approaches have been developed. Each approach will suit one person but not necessarily another. Individuals need to find a style and approach that best suits them.
TRUTH 4: Music is often best enjoyed when it is shared with others. That ‘other’ can be a teacher or a member of the family. They can be friends, or a class of other players, a band or a whole orchestra. The important thing about making music is that you make your music with other people as soon and as often as you can.
TRUTH 5: All music is made up of the same core elements such as melody, rhythm, harmony and tone. These precepts of music are evident in all styles from classical to rock. There is no best music through which to learn nor is there any right order as to which style should come first. Success and enjoyment are more dependent on the learning approach and the student’s motivation and goals than whether you are playing Blur or Beethoven.
TRUTH 6: There are two major aspects to music, playing an instrument and understanding and being musical (some people call it music theory). These two elements are not separate subjects and should be integrated in the process of learning and developing as a musician.
SOME GENERAL THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU BUY
There are many things to think about when choosing a suitable instrument including:
• the age of the student
• the character of the student
• the kind of music they want to play
• the cost
• the practicalities (such as size and portability of the instrument)
STUDENT OR BEGINNER INSTRUMENTS
On the surface it is easy to think that a student or beginner instrument is just a cheaper version of what the professionals play. While student instruments are cheaper they are not what ‘cheaper’ normally implies less well designed or manufactured. In fact a good student instrument offers special attributes that assist the learner to progress and enjoy their music making. This includes things like less resistance (resistance refers to how much pressure or effort is required to make the sound) being built into a student woodwind or brass instrument making the instrument easier to blow for the inexperienced player through the careful design of mouthpieces and bodies. A lower action on a guitar (action refers to the distance between the fret board and the strings) makes playing easier and more fluent for young or inexperienced hands.
ALREADY A PLAYER?
If you are already a player then the best advice anyone can give you is to go out and play all the instruments you can until you find the one that suits you and your budget best. There is simply no substitute for trying and selecting the instrument you will make your own.
BUY, RENT OR BORROW?
You may not wish to buy an instrument immediately in case it turns out not to suit you or your child, you may choose to buy a second-hand instrument. Some music services (organisations contracted by the Local Authority to provide music tuition in state schools and at music centres) and schools offer instruments on loan to beginners; many others (including some retailers) operate rental systems that, for a modest fee, provide for an experimental trial period.
This is invaluable for the more expensive instruments as it allows your child to get a feel for what is involved in learning, playing and maintaining the instrument before actually buying one. The instrument must be appropriate for your child, however you intend to obtain it. Learning on a sub-standard instrument is extremely demoralising and will prevent your child progressing.
You do not have to buy the most expensive instrument, but it must be fit for purpose and properly set up to suit your child – try to consult a teacher or music shop. If you are offered the loan of an instrument by a friend or family member, or are considering the purchase of a second-hand instrument, a teacher should check it for suitability before it is used.
However good an instrument is, it may not necessarily be appropriate for your child. Most young string players, for example, begin learning on specially made smaller instruments and will find it very uncomfortable (if not impossible) to play an instrument that is too large.
The best advice is to talk to other musicians, music teachers and music stores to advise on the brands and models to look out for. These are the people with the experience to direct you to the kinds of products that they trust to do the job for them. There is no shortage of great products and brands so you will usually be spoilt for choice.