Which instrument should I play?

As the start of a new academic year approaches, many young people will be considering taking up a musical instrument. Choosing the right instrument for you is really important, so there are a few things to consider in making this decision.
What instrument do I really fancy?
What kinds of tuition are available in my school?
How big is the instrument? Can I carry it?


Violin, viola and cello can all be started quite early and violins and violas in particular don't cost as much as some instruments. Later on they offer excellent opportunities to play with other people, as orchestras always need an awful lot of string players.

The cello and double bass can be started early if you can get a small enough instrument, but the usual age is 10 - 12. You’d probably need to borrow an instrument to start off. Later on both of these offer opportunities to play with other people. The double bass especially is always in demand, and it can also be used in wind bands and jazz bands. It is difficult to transport and will make heavy demands on the "parental taxi service"

Guitars are fairly cheap to buy. Learning to play classical guitar well is a good start before transferring to other styles. A good starting age is 8 or 9.

The electric guitar can be used in jazz or rock groups and sometimes in wind bands. Best to start this at secondary school,


Flutes and clarinets are relatively inexpensive and can be started around age 9 or 10, once you have your second teeth. They are used in orchestras, wind bands and some jazz bands.

Oboes and bassoons are more expensive to buy, so again you probably need to borrow one to begin, but they are very satisfying to learn. They can be started at age 10 or 11. Owing to their scarcity, you should easily find a place in an orchestra or wind band once you are good enough.

Saxophones have become a lot more reasonably priced in recent years, and the alto sax (starting on the soprano is not really a good idea) can be started at around age 9 - 10. It is popular but not so much that you will have difficulty finding a place in a band. It is most useful in wind bands and jazz bands and some rock groups.

Recorder is a good instrument to start if you want to transfer to any other instrument later on, but especially another woodwind instrument. The recorder has a bit of a reputation as a ‘school’ instrument, but you should really listen to some proper recorder playing to hear how beautiful it can be.


The trumpet, cornet and trombone are relatively inexpensive, and you can start once you have your second teeth. The trumpet and cornet can be used for orchestras, wind bands, jazz bands, brass bands and some rock groups. The cornet can do the same things as a trumpet and play the same music, but is really at home in the brass band. Trombone is a bit bigger to carry although not particularly heavy

French horn is another expensive instrument for beginners, and a bit more difficult to play. Again you’ll need your second teeth, as for all brass instruments. There are never enough horn players around which is an advantage when it comes to finding a place in an orchestra or band.

The tuba is another instrument you really need to borrow first, and many players start on another brass instrument like the tenor horn or euphonium, which are easier to carry, and swap later on. There are rarely enough tuba players, which is an advantage when it comes to finding a group to play in. It can be used for orchestras, wind bands and brass bands.  


Most people choose to learn drum kit. It’s easiest to do this as an individual lesson, or in a group of 2 at the most.

Piano and keyboard  

To learn piano you need to have access to one for your lessons and/or at home.

Many people start on the keyboard and then transfer, although the techniques are not really alike. The same applies regarding instruments. If you wish to have keyboard lessons at school, you’ll need to be able to get your keyboard there each week.

Both of these instruments can be started early, but if taking lessons at school, Key Stage 2 is probably best.

Teach Yourself Piano

How To Learn in Your Own Time
Andrea D. Vacchiano

So you have decided to learn to play the piano. As do many adult learners, you may be considering some way to teach yourself piano instead of taking private lessons. Self-study is a truly viable option today. Various methods and materials designed for motivated learners are becoming more and more available through online and other resources, and they have never been better. This article presents a few ideas for your consideration while you select a method for self-study.

To pursue your studies, you will need regular access to a piano or keyboard. Most programmes and methods will assume that you will have a full eighty-eight key piano, with a realistic touch and at least a sustain pedal. You will also be purchasing a series of course materials and method books. Expect to spend about £50 - £100 for quality materials. You should also have a metronome. Depending on the nature of your self-study programme, you will probably want a CD player, DVD player or a computer set up somewhere close your practice area.   Your first task will be navigating through the myriad different methods and formats available to help you teach yourself piano. Take the time to find one that suits your goals and learning style. Remember to consider the basic style of music you are interested in. For example, you may wish to study classical music, jazz improvisation, or simply be able to play a few popular songs for your enjoyment. You should be able to find a programme to match those interests. As you make your list of the many possible study paths available to you, take advantage of any free lesson offerings you will undoubtedly come across. An introductory lesson or two will give you a good sense of a programme's focus, style of presentation, and pacing.   You will find many sources for study methods, courses, sheet music, and supplementary materials. One of the most easily accessible sources now is, of course, the Internet. In addition to paid and free study programmes, you will find several repositories of sheet music dedicated to famous composers or particular styles.
Try not to limit yourself to just online resources, but look into your local services as well. Your local public library will probably have a sheet music section complemented by a collection of method books and recordings. Colleges and universities may allow the public to browse and even borrow their music faculty library's collections. A trip to your local music shop will give you the opportunity to browse materials as well.

Once you have selected a method or programme to teach yourself the piano, set up a realistic weekly practice schedule. Four or five fifteen-minute sessions per week are a good starting place. In the beginning, the organisation of the lessons will help you figure out what you need to practise and how to do that. As you progress, you may find that you need to expand your practice time to up to about a half hour or so per session.

Remember to take the time to enjoy music away from the instrument. You can augment your practice by actively listening to recordings, attending concerts, and even finding a few fellow piano students to enjoy a bit of social time with. If you can get up the courage, it is extremely rewarding to play for other students at a similar level to you, as well as hear what they are working on. If you enjoy reading, find a few books on famous composers or music history. The author Charles Rosen has written several knowledgeable books on classical music for musicians.

As you continue your self-study, think of your musical development in long-term goals. The piano takes time to learn. You will probably find a fairly steep learning curve during your first few lessons as you digest its information, style, and work out a practice routine for yourself. To start with, assess your progress after about every three months of study. Look back to your first lesson, and think about what you have accomplished. If you have a solid programme and are able to practice regularly, you may be surprised at how much progress you have made.
If you would like more help with all aspects of learning the piano you can visit Andrea’s website where you can get a free copy of her latest eBook about playing the piano - www.ThePianoExpert.com

Practising Is Boring so I’m Banning It!

By Ian Chalk

“Sorry I can’t come with you to the park and play footy….I have to stay in and practise my trumpet”. And the spiral towards hating and eventually giving up playing the best instrument in the world begins…

Practising anything is dull. It’s repetitive and tedious and no one enjoys it… so I’m banning my students from doing it. There may be some of you out there thinking “But I love working my way through Arban pages 28 to 36! It solidifies my technique, gives me a sense of achievement, cleans up my articulation. I LOVE to practise!!”. No, you don’t. You don’t love to practise. You think you do…but you don’t.
What you love to do is PLAY. ‘Playing’ is great fun…the best thing to do in the world! Everyone loves to play: without the joy of playing, Sony would never have created the PlayStation.
I think this is what gets lost when people are developing their competence on their chosen instrument. There’s a reason why you don’t ‘work’ a trumpet; you ‘play’ it….it’s supposed to be FUN! I think playing is fun whether on a gig, in a rehearsal room or on your own. I think playing is fun whether you’re doing it perfectly or it’s riddled with errors. Too often, I have had conversations with parents where they map out their child’s journey to Grade 8 success like it’s some kind of musical Holy Grail. You can see the fear in the child’s eyes, almost hear them saying “what if I don’t achieve it before going to university? I’ll have failed my parents!”. The stress and worry begins, it all becomes far too important and progress slows.
What’s music for anyway? I’ll wager that the majority of music in the history of mankind was created to give people something to dance to… a fun activity or at the very least something to be enjoyed. Let’s not lose that sense of enjoyment through the fear of failure to achieve.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that playing at home or in rehearsal shouldn’t have a goal. Of course it should. The goal can be as technical as you want (‘I want to play this section at 130bpm using only single tonguing’) or as emotional as you want (‘I want to express my feelings about the dichotomy of the human condition through the medium of free improvisation using my tenor horn’)… it’s all good. Having goals in your playing makes us all better players and improving on your instrument leads to a greater sense of achievement and self-esteem. This leads on to more recognition, more gigs and more enjoyment.
We all have reasons why we play our instruments (including paying the bills) but let’s not forget the main one: because it’s fun to play.

This article first appeared on http://www.21stcenturybrass.com/and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

By David Ashworth, Music Consultant.

I can understand some of the reasons why primary and secondary schools have been so keen to adopt and embrace the ukulele into classroom music making, especially whole class instrumental playing. Ukuleles are cheap to buy, so financing a whole class set is a possibility. They are relatively easy to learn to play and make no great physical or intellectual demands of the student. They can be used to accompany a wide range of songs. They are fairly quiet, so they won’t disturb the maths class next door and if some students aren’t playing the right notes at the right time, the ensemble can still stagger on regardless. Students like them because they are now made in a range of attractive colours and designs so there is an immediate visual appeal…..

But what of the “musical” rationale for making this a standard instrument? Well, this is where I struggle. As a former guitar peri, you would have thought I’d be pleased to see this fretted instrument being adopted wholesale into education. However, I’ve always felt lukewarm about the ukulele in education and have only started to think through my lack of enthusiasm after reading Robert Bunting’s thought provoking blog (on the Teaching Music webiste) on this subject. In my low budget research to try to understand why this instrument now has the country in its grip I also watched the videoclips on Matthew Cain’s Channel 4 blog . Here are some impressions:

•Singer songwriter Misty Miller assures us that this is a ‘cool’ instrument – and then goes on to sing a contemporary ballad, accompanying herself on the ukulele. The result is frankly ridiculous. Sandy Denny meets George Formby…
•Another clip shows an unfortunate uke enthusiast being asked to comment on the ‘expressive potential’ of the ukulele. Even on this low res youtube clip, you see the colour drain from his face as he sets about sidestepping the question.
•A ‘nu-folk’ band is shown in performance with the lead singer playing a ukulele. Yes it looks OK, and makes an alternative to the clichéd hanging on to the mike stand, but we hear no sound. Completely drowned out by the more credible folk instruments in the ensemble which provide all that is required anyway.

Carole Lindsay –Douglas makes a good case for the social benefits accruing from ensemble playing, but that’s not a sufficient argument for herding quantities of uke players together. Social it may be, but musical….?

Of course, it’s good news for music retailers and I’m glad for this hard pressed industry sector, but I do worry about the implications for music education. Because we have so little time for curriculum music, every minute we devote to ukulele playing is a minute lost to the more musically rewarding avenues we could be exploring, as alluded to in Robert’s blog. 

Reproduced from the Teaching Music website, by kind permission of David Ashworth.