“It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.” – Johann Sebastian Bach
We know that Bach was exaggerating a bit here, however it is not too far from the truth when it comes to picking an instrument. You will find that if you ask the right questions, your instrument will essentially pick itself!
Whether you have decided to rock the electric guitar, tickle the ivories, or lay down a beat with the drums, here are a few essential elements to consider in the purchase or upgrade of an instrument. Aside from price, brand, and quality, there are a number of other determining factors which should ultimately influence your decision, as each instrument poses unique considerations within the vetting and purchase process.
Ask yourself: “What type of music do I want to play?”
Your response will greatly assist in narrowing the field. While many instruments are completely versatile for all genres/styles of music, some are more specifically geared towards one style. Below are just a few instruments you might be considering, and some important things to think about when choosing an instrument.
Choosing the Right Guitar Size
While an acoustic piano is one standard size for all ages, instruments like guitars and drums come in a variety of sizes and styles. For most beginners, a standard size guitar is fine, however younger students may be better suited to a ¾ size or parlor guitar, which features a shorter neck and smaller body, making it less cumbersome for a smaller player. The best way to determine this is by having the student try out both standard and ¾ size guitars at a music store.
If the student is under the age of 10, it may be necessary to start on a smaller guitar as their hands and fingers simply will not reach the frets! Something to keep in mind however, is the fact that the student may eventually need to upgrade to a full size guitar, which brings along with it an additional learning curve in adjusting to the larger full size body and neck.
Acoustic vs. Classical vs. Electric Guitars
Acoustic versus classical is another important choice to consider when determining the best guitar. While acoustic guitars have narrower necks and are easier for smaller hands, the steel strings are often harder on the fingers, especially for those new to guitar. Conversely, classical guitars have softer strings with much wider necks, so while fretting may be easier on the fingertips, reaching the frets and chording can be rather difficult for smaller hands.
All electric guitars feature steel strings, a narrower neck and a typically thinner streamlined body which is often easier for beginners to hold and play. However, electric guitars do require the additional equipment of an amplifier with a power source. Electric guitars also have a variety of sizes and styles dependent on the age, skill and style of player. It is important to weigh all of these individual pros and cons to make the most appropriate choice of guitar.
Because instrument quality is not always directly correlated with price, especially with used instruments, it is recommended whenever possible to have an independent, unbiased player test out the instrument and provide an opinion or recommendation. Your teacher, an older sibling, or a friend who is an accomplished player is an ideal person for this.
Acoustic Pianos vs. Electronic Keyboards
Although the piano may seem like a simpler choice on the surface, there are also several important details to consider when selecting a keyboard instrument. Acoustic pianos look and sound beautiful, however they are very temperamental instruments and require additional care and maintenance, including keeping them at a constant temperature and humidity and regular tuning to ensure their longevity and playability as a quality instrument.
Electronic pianos and keyboards are a terrific alternative to an acoustic piano, as they require no tuning and require little maintenance. Electric keyboards are available in a wide range of styles, from simple space saving models right up to those resembling traditional grand and upright pianos. Most include a wide variety of tones and synthesized sounds and accompaniment which can be directly connected to a computer for recording purposes.
While many of these sophisticated sounds and features are wonderful to experiment with, these keyboards are often not equipped with “weighted touch-sensitive keys”, which are keys with a similar feel and control to that of an acoustic piano. Many also have fewer than 88 keys, the standard count of a traditional piano. Without these two primary features, a student is severely limited in their ability to progress as a pianist. Before purchasing any keyboard, consider whether these features are essential to your growth as a player.
Acoustic vs. Electronic Drums
Up until about a decade ago, drums seemed to be relegated to those homes with soundproof basements, garages and/or plenty of earplugs! However another marvel of today’s technology has been the advent of electronic drums and silent skins. In addition to being silent with the use of headphones, electronic drums are lighter, more portable and in some cases, less expensive than a traditional acoustic kit.
Modern mesh pads can closely replicate the feel of acoustic drum skins, while touch-sensitive trigger pads imitate the various cymbal sounds. Less expensive rubber padded kits are a great alternative as well. However there is no substitute for the feel of a real acoustic drum set, which now feature silent cymbals and skins. If you have the ability to facilitate it, they are a terrific investment in your rhythmic future!
Finally one last important suggestion that many fail to consider in selecting a new instrument is this: Pick something that speaks to you! Your instrument should not only reflect your style and ability, but also your personality! If you truly love your instrument’s look and feel, you will be that much more likely to want to pick it up and play it all the time.
Although it may seem a bit overwhelming at first when you step into the music store and perhaps see numerous models your instrument hanging on the wall, if you take some of these hints into consideration and know what you are looking for ahead of time by asking the right narrowing questions, the selection process will be surprisingly and pleasantly simple, and your ideal instrument will invariably “pick you”!