piano music

Choosing an instrument

Buying a new musical instrument can be a daunting and expensive experience if you have never played one before. Your child comes home from school one day with the dreaded words “I want to learn the saxophone !”

Do you :

  • go to a music shop and buy whichever is recommended by the sales person
  • go online and buy the cheapest thing you can find
  • do some online research to see what a saxophone is  – then proceed with one of the above !
  • ring the school to complain !

I have seen all of the above.

“Can you not learn the triangle, I know what that is…”


Ok, so first of all have you decided which instrument you or your child would like to play? Be realistic. If your child wants to play the saxophone but is only 7 or 8 years old and is not very big then they are really going to struggle to hold a sax. You could suggest a clarinet which could then lead to a sax when they are a bit older and bigger.

Also if it is a younger child that has lost their front teeth then they are not going to be able to form the correct embouchure (how you hold the mouthpiece in your mouth) until their new teeth grow in.

Buy the best you can afford


My general advice to parents is to set your budget and then buy the best instrument that you can afford. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from your child’s (potential) new tutor (I always make myself available to speak to parents and offer any help I can). Go to your local music shop and ask….though be aware that you are speaking to a salesperson ! The vast majority that I deal with are really nice, honest people that are happy to help…but ultimately they want your money so do bear that in mind.

I was once witness to a salesperson who was advising a couple of parents that they really should be buying a £2,000 clarinet for their child. I could see the joy in his eyes, after he had baffled them with jargon, and they agreed to purchase said clarinet. While he disappeared to the back of the shop to get the instrument I had a quick word with the parents. It turned out their little girl was only 7 years old and had simply expressed an interest in playing the clarinet ! They didn’t know any different and thought all clarinets cost that much. I advised them otherwise…..just as the salesman returned. They decided not to part with £2,000 (sensibly), he lost his sale and I was barred from his music shop !

Ok, so that is an exception, but the question remains…..how much should I spend. Woodwind instruments usually come in 3 categories :

  • beginner – up to about £400/£500
  • intermediate – £400 to about £1,300
  • professional – £1,300 to limitless !!!!

This is a very rough guide and there will be obvious variations between the price of say, a flute and a saxophone but as a general guide hopefully it will give you some idea.

Stick with well known brands


There has recently been an influx of really cheap and lets face it, rubbish instruments onto the market. This has been largely driven by the internet. Please please please do not be tempted to buy one. It may seem that £400 is a lot to spend on what could just be a “passing interest” but it could also prove to be a great investment. One thing is certain, spending £50 on a new flute that does not work properly and drops to bits after a few weeks will certainly not encourage a passing interest. On the other hand a good quality instrument that works well and sounds great may just turn that interest into a passion !

Some good quality beginner brands (this is a generic list covering flute/sax/clarinet) to look for are :

  • Yamaha
  • Jupiter
  • Trevor James
  • Elkhart
  • Gemeinhardt
  • Buffett

This is by no means a comprehensive list but will give you a good starting point. All of the above provide good quality instruments that will last for years provided they are looked after….AND PRACTISED EVERY DAY !!

The first sax I bought (all of those years ago) was an Elkhart. It was a terrific sax that really did the job for me as a beginner. I then bought a Trevor James. I really loved this sax and had it for quite a few years. I now use a Yanagisawa which is a really good solid pro model.

My first clarinet was also an Elkhart which again lasted me years and was perfect for a beginner. I now use a yamaha YCL-650.

My one (and only) flute is a Buffet. I have had it over 2o years now and it is still going strong (admittedly with a little TLC from time to time!).

Hope this helps (a little). Please feel free to comment or get in touch if you would like a bit more advice/help. Also it would be great to hear from other players. If you have a preferred brand of instrument please comment below with the reasons why.




6 thoughts on “Choosing an instrument

  1. Hi Andy,
    This reminds me of my son when he was 5 years old. Told me he wanted to learn to play drums. Don’t know where he got the idea from.
    Anyway, I did take him to a music school for enquiries and the teacher/owner was very kind and honest. Since my son was still young, she recommended him to start off with a music appreciation program called “Music for Little Mozarts”. After completion, let him choose his preferred instrument.
    Well, my son is 12 years old now and still playing the piano. Now, I am beginning to wonder if I should ask him if he would like to take up another instrument. Drumming perhaps?
    Thanks for sharing your experience and tips on choosing an instrument.
    Good Day!

    1. Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for that. I’m glad that you and your son had a good experience when he first showed an interest in learning to play. As I’ve mentioned in a few of my blogs a good teacher at the start of your musical journey can make all the difference. I guess as your son is still playing 7 years later then he must really enjoy his lessons and of course his music ! I find that a lot of younger learners tend to naturally diversify as they become teenagers and choose to take up a 2nd instrument to compliment their core instrument (in your sons case piano) as their musical tastes develop. As for drums…of course….as long as your neighbours are forgiving ! 

      Best of luck to your son and I’m sure music will be something he now enjoys for the rest of his life !


  2. Hello and thanks for sharing your post is really informative and is a great help to those who are faced with these challenges. My sons at one point in their lives also played a few instrument. I remembered that one of them played the guitar and he wanted and electric one that was so expensive However my wife found one that fitted our budget. What you are sharing here will surely make life more easy for those that needs this kind of help.

    1. Hi Norman,

      Thanks for that. Yes I agree that learning a musical instrument can seem to be a quite expensive pursuit especially if, as a parent, you have never played an instrument and so are not sure what is the correct level/budget to aim for. The thing is, as you say, with a little research it doesn’t have to be and generally there are instruments for every budget. 

      Hope your son enjoyed playing guitar (hopefully he still plays !).



  3. Thank You

    Very good advice on choosing an instrument, when I was in school I wanted to play the trumpet. After many sessions of practice I still was not able to master this instrument at all.

    The school talked my parents into having me learn to play the saxophone instead, I hated playing this instrument with a passion it was not the instrument I wanted to play and eventually gave it up despite my parents unhappiness of wasting their money.

    I never chose this instrument it was pushed upon me, so I hope other parents never do this to their child

    1. I totally agree. Pushing a child into something they don’t want to do is never going to work out well! It’s one thing to try to encourage a child to try something new that they maybe had not considered before but I agree that its unfair and pretty pointless to force a child to do something…especially if they hate it with a passion !!

      Have you ever considered going back to the trumpet as an adult? I have quite a few adult pupils that didn’t quite get to grips with music as a child but have since come back to it as an adult and really enjoy playing !


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