Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Keyboard & Percussion Edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your keyboard and percussion instrument choices to help you out:

Piano handsKeyboards in general

+ Versatile skill with nearly all genres open to you
+ Teaches harmony and both bass and treble clef
– Not really a collaborative instrument, unless you want to accompany
– Mostly very expensive
– Rarely able to take and play your own instrument at any venue


PianoPiano – Really, it needs no introduction. The Pianoforte, child of the classical age, has become central to Western music.

+ Most versatile instrument around
+ Often need some piano skills for higher level musical study
+ Makes learning theory much easier as uses bass and treble clef and introduces harmony
o Digital pianos have the facility to plug in headphones
– Very slow to start with, taking a long time to get to Grade 1
– Complicated as requires multiple notes to be played together


OrganOrgan – Technically a woodwind instrument, the organ one of the older keyboard instruments usually found inhabiting churches and concert halls.

+ Amazing sounding instrument with fantastic repertoire
+ Great employment opportunities in churches as organists are thin on the ground
– Very difficult to get going as a beginner, some teachers will only take students with piano experience
– Usually have to practice in a church, as small home electronic organs are expensive


KeyboardKeyboard – The cool cousin of the piano, keyboards generally make use of a range of electronic synthesising functions as well as playing the keys.

+ Easier to play than the piano
+ Quicker to access popular repertoire
+ Cheaper than a piano to buy
– Doesn’t give the depth of skills that piano lessons will
– Limited range of styles


Percussion

 

Percussion in General

+ Great for anyone with anger or frustration problems
+ Some can be a really good workout
– Not cheap to buy
– Very noisy for the neighbours


Drum kitDrum Kit – The zenith of percussion’s evolution – a collection of things to hit that all make sounds that work together

+ Great for getting rid of frustration
+ Really good workout
+ Widely used in popular music
o Moderately expensive at £280 upwards
– Where notation is used, it’s usually kit notation, rather than standard staff notation
– Very noisy, even with pads, and electric kits are a poor substitute for regular practice with a full acoustic kid
– Not remotely melodic, so can be dull to practice
– Not very portable, so often have to use what’s at the venue


TimpaniTimpani & Orchestral Percussion – A bit of a hotch-potch category, as orchestral percussionists usually have to be able to play everything from the timpani to the triangle, sleighbells to cannons (in the 1812 Overture, anyway…)

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ great for anyone who wants variety
o although individual items may be cheap, it’s not cheap to build up a collection
– often very dull in orchestral music
– limited solo repertoire
– sometimes uses unconventional notation
– timpani are difficult to have and store at home
– can be hard to find a teacher


GlockenspielTuned Percussion – think glockenspiel, xylophone and the like.

+ hardly anyone plays
+ more interesting than most other kinds of percussion
+ reasonably good number of solo parts and pieces
o each one is not too expensive, but buying several can add up
– can be hard to find a teacher


 

So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the keyboard and percussion family. There are, of course, many other keyboards such as the harpsichord, clavichord and more, but most people who move into early keyboard instruments start out on the piano. Percussion is almost unlimited, but most people train in either kit or orchestral.

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Woodwind] ♦ [Strings] ♦ [Brass] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]

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