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Choose an instrument

We all have trouble choosing an instrument from all the different brands, size, colours and sound. Below are tips on how to choose a new instrument by keeping in mind on 7 things.
     1. New or Used?
     2. Budget
     3. Size
     4. Sound
     5. Brand
     6. Value
     7.  Extra

1. New or Used?

New instruments are great but can be expensive.

Used instruments are much cheaper however might need expensive repairs. How can you tell if the used instrument is good? Best way is by getting a teacher or an advanced player to try it out. If not, here are a few things to look at.....

Instruments
 Things to look at
 DON'T
Strings
- Violin
- Viola
[1]wood of the violin must be in good condition. Violin shouldn't look or feel like it is falling apart.

[2] Make sure the bow has enough hair.

[3] Check if the bridge of the violin is still firm enough to hold the strings and doesn't look like it's going to break (however replacing the bridge is cheap).

[4] Violin Case doesn't matter. As long as it is solid enough to keep your instrument. 

[5] Strings can be changed. So don't worry about it

 

DON'T BUY INSTRUMENT FROM THE MARKET 

I had a student buy her violin off the market for a few bucks. She ended up having to spend more money on buying 2 sets of new strings because the original broke and some were already broken (shorter) but put on the wrong peg to make it look like the violin was good. The 1st set of new strings she got were cheap so didn't last long too. 

Woodwind
- Clarinet
- Saxophone
[1] All pads must be sealed perfectly

[2] the action, reflex and movement of the keys must be smooth

[3] keys must be properly adjusted

[4] body of the instrument free of defects. Usually bent keys may alter the sound of the instrument.

 

DON'T BUY 2nd HAND FROM EBAY 

Had a student buy 2nd hand instrument from ebay. I ended up having to change all the pads and the keys were so badly bent, i had to position the pads in odd angles so that it may work. I even had to bend a couple of keys as much as I could for it to be playable. Not worth the hassle but she had just bought the instrument so I did that student a huge favour.

Piano
Keyboard
[1] Open the piano top and check the hammers. Make sure that they aren't too worn out. You can change the felt on the hammers but may be costly

[2] Make sure all the strings are inside the piano and are not too rusty when you open it up. 

They may break especially upon moving or by playing violently on the piano.

[3] Make sure the action and reflex of all the keys are good. Just play each key down all the way into the key in a normal of quick attack.

[4] Tuning may be done after you move it so don't worry if it were out of tune.

[5] chair/ stool.... it is a bonus if you get one that was with the piano

[6] some bad pianos loose their book stand which is usually part of the piano. If you think you can fix that then by all means this doesn't matter. 

 
 

2. Budget

 You should always have a budget when it comes to purchasing an instrument.

BEGINNERS
 INTERMEDIATE
 ADVANCE

Beginners/ cheap instruments (woodwind, strings, small keyboard with 36 keys and above) are usually factory made or mass produced which would cost  AUD$100+ (RM500-1000).

But you'll have to consider the condition of the instrument.

Keep in mind that cheaper instruments don't sound as nice but are good to start of with if you are just trying it out or at a young age. 

When upgrading or if you are serious in tackling an instrument, invest on a better instrument (between AUD$600-1000+ (RM1500+)).

For woodwind instruments like the clarinet, it would be either half wood half plastic or wood.

The string instruments would be in better quality wood whilst the keyboard would have a sound similar to most upright piano. 

When upgrading or if you are serious in tackling an instrument, invest on a better instrument (between AUD$600-1000+ (RM1500+)).

For woodwind instruments like the clarinet, it would be either half wood half plastic or wood.

The string instruments would be in better quality wood whilst the keyboard would have a sound similar to most upright piano. 

When upgrading or if you are serious in tackling an instrument, invest on a better instrument (between AUD$600-1000+ (RM1500+)).

For woodwind instruments like the clarinet, it would be either half wood half plastic or wood.

The string instruments would be in better quality wood whilst the keyboard would have a sound similar to most upright piano. 

Professional models would be roughly AUD$3000+ (RM5000+). Woodwind instruments would normally have pure wood and gold or silver keys.

String instruments would be handmade.

Baby Grand Piano would cost AUD$10,000+ for a good one or AUD$7,000+ for a 2nd hand. 

Professional models would be roughly AUD$3000+ (RM5000+). Woodwind instruments would normally have pure wood and gold or silver keys.

String instruments would be handmade.

Baby Grand Piano would cost AUD$10,000+ for a good one or AUD$7,000+ for a 2nd hand. 

Professional models would be roughly AUD$3000+ (RM5000+). Woodwind instruments would normally have pure wood and gold or silver keys.

String instruments would be handmade.

Baby Grand Piano would cost AUD$10,000+ for a good one or AUD$7,000+ for a 2nd hand. 

 

3. Size

Strings
 Woodwind
 Piano/ Keyboard

size differs depending on how young/big the player is. In terms of sizing, the only way of getting it right is by putting the instrument on the chin (playing position) and stretching out the left arm to put the left hand over the scroll of the instrument. Make sure the player is able to put his fingers all the way around the scroll. If he can't do so, it is too big. Do not make the player grow into the instrument. If the instrument is too big, you will be more likely to injure the player because of bad posture from an oversize instrument and straining or stretching too much.

Easier way is go to a music shop and get them to size you up. 

sadly only comes in one size. I encourage younger students to get a neck strap which is to be put around the neck to hold up the instrument.

Reeds: I suggest to use size 1 ½. This is easier to blow for a beginner. Gradually increase the size reed over the years. Thicker reed sounds better. Some teachers would recommend students to start straight into size 2 ½ reeds so that students can work on blowing harder straight away. I discourage this because sometimes it discourages a student from continuing to play the instrument. However, do not stick to the one size you start with. The stronger your mouth muscles become it would be better to increase the reed size. It makes the higher notes sound nicer and sometimes easier. 

has only one size as well but vary in terms of the number of keys on the instrument - 61, 76, 88 keys. Although keyboard/piano size are all standard, it is still bad for posture. Many people have come up with inventions changing the keys to smaller keys for smaller players or having the piano pedal adjusted (made higher).

Make sure you have an adjustable stool. Have it in a comfortable height where your arms are at equal height as the keys. Have your bum seated on half of the seat with feet flat on the floor and elbows too the side of the body (don't sit too close to the piano or too far).If you don't have a adjustable stool, have the younger players sit on a cushion on the chair or put a small stool on top of it if needed.

Make sure young players have a small foot stool on the floor to put their feet on. This would create better balance while playing the piano instead of having their feet hanging on the chair. 

 

4. Sound

Not all instrument produce the same sound and not everyone's preference is the same. Individual instruments would produce bright/sharp sound, mellow/ deep sound or the dark sound. 

How do you pick a sound when first starting? It doesn't matter at this stage if you're just getting to know the instrument or just starting. Get the person in the store to try the instrument out and you can decide if you like the sound or not. 

If you are quite experienced on the instrument, try it out and see how the touch of the instrument is. See if you like how the instrument feels with your fingers. 

Strings
 Woodwind
 Piano/ Keyboard

Depends on 3 things:

Instrument: how it's made.

Strings: what kind of strings and brand.

Bow: Bow hair - real horse hair or fake ones. 

reeds help vary the sound (brand and thickness). The thicker the reed is the better the sound. However so, start of with a softer reed (1 ½) first if you are a beginner (young) or size 2 for an adult. The plastic reeds last longer but the sound isn't as nice as the normal bamboo reeds.

Wooden instruments usually sound better than plastic.

Mouth Piece and Barrel of a clarinet can be change and gives different tone as well - only intermediate and advance students should consider this.

 

For the keyboard/piano, some have a lighter touch and some have a heavier one. Some people prefer weighted keys while others prefer lighter keys.

Some keyboards have controllable keyboard touch.

 

5. Brand 

Brand doesn't really matter if you are looking for the sound and the budget. 

Click to edit table header
 
STRINGS
I don't have a specific brand to recommend. I usually just look for the instruments that fit in tip 1 to tip 3 and go with it. In getting a handmade violin/viola, make sure it is in perfect condition before purchasing it. It would be a good investment to get one made from anywhere.

On the other hand, shop assistants would usually recommend a brand. 

WOODWIND
Buffet is known to have a very good sound and touch but can be pricey. Jupiter is a cheap and affordable instrument which is mainly used in asia.Yamaha is a standard brand. But the professional yamaha model is known to be the best to have if you are upgrading your instrument. There are other brands made but it is better to get a well known brand as to know that the quality of the instrument would be standard and you would less likely have problem with the instrument. The reeds also vary in brand. Rico would be the cheapest to get. But once you've tried other brands (which are more expensive) you would less likely return to that brand. I have personally used Vandoren and loved it. Vandoren itself has different kind of reeds which you can easily research on or try (prices vary here). If you are adventuress, you can try other brands out..... 

However if you want to pick on one your own without the help, here are a few things to consider in terms of brands and standards


Student Instrument - Plastic made instruments with plastic/standard mouth piece (should come with the instrument). Wooden clarinets are not necessary at this point. Plastic instrument hold up better to the hard use that young platers sometimes give.

~ Buffet B10, B12 or the Accent made by Buffet {has a nice feel but the case does not hold up as well}

~ Vito 7242, 7214 or Vito Reso-tone 3 (7212 or 7213) {they hold up like irons and comes in a great case}

~ Selmer 1400, 100 or 300 or Armstrong, Artley or Bundy (all made by Selmer)

~ Yamaha 20, 24, 26, 250 or Advantage

~ Jupiter 


Intermediate Instrument - Wooden body creates a more characteristic tone.

~ Buffet E11 or International

~ Yamaha 34 (or its twin the 450)

~ Noblet 40 or 45 or newer Normandy 4, all made by Leblanc

~ Selmer 200, 210, 211 or Selmer Signet 100 (make sure you get the one made off grenadilla wood because they do come in plastics as well) 


Professional Instrument 

~ Buffet R-13

~ Buffet pre R-13, made by Buffet before about 1950 

~ any Yamaha professional model

~ any Selmer professional model

~ any LeBlanc professional model 

PIANO
KEYBOARD
Piano: Many people go for known brands such as KawaiYamaha. The most expensive grand piano would be the Steinway which is my personal favourite but has a heavy touch. Here are a list of other piano manufacturers.

Keyboard: Any brand is fine when you first start and you want to go cheap first. However if you want to invest on a good keyboard, I would recommend these brands but as usual they all vary in sounds and functions. Yamaha, Korg, Roland (my favourite). Roland is a nice instrument but they change every year and upgrade pretty quickly. Yamaha always has standard keyboard. Korg can be quite pricey depending on what you use your keyboard for. Make sure you get a keyboard which has an inbuilt speaker unless you plan on getting an amplifier for your keyboard. 

 

6. Value?

If you are thinking about the quality and value of the instrument upon purchase or after purchase, below mentions a little about each instrument. The quality of the instrument will retain depending on how carefully it's used and kept. How long can an instrument last?

STRINGS
 WOODWIND
 PIANO/KEYBOARD

They usually last a very long time - forever if it is taken good care of and not broken. Factory made violins are standard instrument. 

Good quality handmade violins will increase in value.

Bows differ to violins. The hair of the bow does break the more we use it or is rough with it. Bows can be bought depending on how thin it is. Expensive bows may be rehair. Handmade bows also increases in value depending on who the maker is. 

It is impossible to say but usually student instrument last 10 years with constant playing. It may still be usable after 10 years but better to change.

Intermediate last 15-20 years of steady use.

Professional model last longer.

Constant servicing on the instrument will increase the life span of the instrument. If the instrument is not kept or used properly, eventually rust and mold will set in which damages the instrument. I remembered my 1st clarinet I didn't know how to properly take care of it, eventually one of the screws rusted to badly that nobody could unscrew it and it was stuck in my instrument.

Depends on the brand and model, they may decrease or increase in value. The standard ones do decrease in value. I constantly get emails with people getting rid of their pianos for free. However, pianos can last for generations depending on how well it is maintained.

Constant tuning/servicing and cleaning/wiping would be good especially when you use the instrument a lot.

 

7. Extras

After getting a good instrument, you can slowly upgrade it.

STRINGS
 WOODWIND
[1] Strings produces different sound. It is a personal preference. Pirastro is one of the commend ones used. I personally prefer softer strings such as the Dominant strings compared to the harder cheaper ones. But during this decade, there are many different affordable strings you can try out. Here are a list of violin strings and their description.

[2] Different bow also give different sound. The bow hair (horse hair) varies. These days, the bow hair are synthetic which doesn't give a nice sound and it is hard to break into it. I had an experience with one new one where I have to constantly apply rosin for more than a month every week to break into for the sound to come out nice when being played on the instrument. It is better to try the bow out in the store when replacing but bring your violin along to try it out.

[1] mouth piece to different sizes (it gives different sound). Again, check out the different brand and read how the reed may benefit you before purchasing it. Some mouth piece are designed for jazz players to make it easier for them to bend notes while others are made meant for classical players.
Those of you using a Yamaha clarinet, standard mouth piece that comes with the clarinet is size 4C. When you are in a higher grade, it is advised to change the size to 6C. It makes it easier to blow higher notes and gives a better tone. 
Another good one to upgrade to is the Vandoren B45 (higher quality hard rubber mouthpiece). It gives a better tone as well. Just make sure there the new mouth piece fits your clarinet. Try it out first before buying. 

[2] ligature (helps the reed produce different sound),

[3] barrel (shorter or longer): would be good to have both to help with tuning and sound (bright or mellow).

You would have to try it out and see if you like the sound. My personal favourite is the MoBa (Backun barrels)

[4] bell

[5] reed brands and sizes - Cheapest version is Rico. A good one which is commonly used is Vandoren.

Always start with size 1 1/2 for young beginners. Adults may start with size 2 reeds. The higher the number means the reed gets thicker which gets harder to blow but gives a better sound. Thicker reeds are nicer with high notes.