Tag Archives: instruments

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?]

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Brass 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 brass instrument choices to help you out:

Brass-instrumentsBrass in general

+ Wide range of styles
+ Less popular than other woodwind, and so more opportunities for collaboration
+ Less ‘mechanical’ than other woodwind as they’re essentially just a tube
– Difficult to get to the stage of really playing melodies
– Fingering on all instruments is difficult
– Can be quite grim due to all the spit
– All are very expensive


TrumpetTrumpet – The highest pitched brass instrument, the trumpet can be heard everywhere from the Messiah to sounding the Last Post

+ Regularly gets to play the tune so a great selection of music
+ At the cheaper end of brass instruments at around £200-300
+ Can be used with a mute for practicing so less awful for the neighbours
– Very difficult to get going as a beginner
– Loudest instrument in the orchestra requiring accuracy and control
– Transposing instrument


Trombone – For the more adventurous, the trombone uses a slider to change pitch.

+ It slides in a way the vast majority of instruments just can’t.
+ Not a transposing instrument
+ cheaper than other brass instruments at £200-£300
o Uses bass clef
– Much larger than some other brass instruments, awkward to carry, and gets in the way of the music/other instruments/everything when playing
– Not a very interesting role in orchestras – lots of 80 bars rest…


French HornFrench Horn – Works in a similar fashion to the trumpet, but not as high in pitch. Usually provides orchestral harmony.

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ also offers a wide range of styles, though limited solo music
– often very dull in orchestral music
– limited solo repertoire
– transposing instrument
– not cheap at all, cost is easily £500 upwards


Tuba

Tuba – the big Daddy of the brass instruments, with a sound that could probably cause a mild earthquake

+ hardly anyone plays
+ not a transposing instrument
o uses bass clef
– very expensive, costing around £1000 plus
– very little solo music, and usually very dull bass parts or long rest periods


 

So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the brass family. There are, of course, many other options which include the didgeridoo, and the cornet, but most other brass instruments are very similar to one or more of the above.

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

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

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Strings 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 string instrument choices to help you out:

Strings in general

Strings+ loads of opportunities for group music especially in orchestras
+ widest range genres other than for piano
+ no spit involved
o some don’t use conventional notation, but TAB or chords instead
– not the cheapest of instruments, and replacement strings etc can make it even pricier
– can be heavy to carry around


UkeleleUkulele – The latest fashion in classroom instruments, the ukulele has quite a following for something that is essentially a very tiny guitar

+ cheap for a string instrument at under £30 for a starter instrument
+ very easy to get going with simple chords
– not likely to encourage learning of notation
– usually only taught in large group lessons
– limited options for progressing past beginner level (exams are only offered by Victoria College)


ViolinViolin – The classicly popular cut-gut strung instrument. Sounds rather like you’re strangling said cat for a while in the beginning, but gets beautiful.

+ plenty of opportunities to play with others – orchestras need lots of them
+ wide range of styles from renaissance to modern as well as folk music for “fiddle” styles
+ great opportunities for young players through Suzuki method etc
+ uses conventional notation
o starter violins are reasonable to buy (around £100-150), but they quickly become pricey
– harder to get a good sound out of than woodwind and can be unpleasant to listen to
– needs a good ear, or training, to really be pitch accurate



Viola
– the butt of many a musical joke, the viola is an essential instrument in orchestras and string quartets.

Viola01

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ also offers a wide range of styles, though limited solo music
+ uses conventional notation
– more expensive than the violin with entry level instruments around £50-£75 more
– challenging to start with, and needs a good ear for accuracy
– uses the alto clef which may be confusing to begin with
– teachers may be violinists doubling up


Cello – bigger, floor-resting stringed instrument with much lower, richer tone.

Cello+ often considered to have the most pleasant sound of all strings as similar in range to the human voice
+ good for group music, though less in demand than violins
+ has a good range of styles including plenty of solo music
+ uses conventional notation
– very expensive with outfits starting around £400-£500
– similar need to have good accuracy in pitch to other strings
– uses not only the bass clef, but switches to the tenor clef at times too


DoubleBass

Double Bass – the grandaddy of all strings, and a stalwart fixture in all kinds of music

+ an in demand instrument as not many people play
+ essential in a wide range of styles of group music
+ uses conventional notation, albeit bass clef
– very large and a pain to carry around
– expensive with outfits starting around £750+

– not terribly exciting roles in group music, and limited solo music
– teachers may be cellists doubling up


ClassicalGuitar

Classical guitar – not to be confused with acoustic guitar, classical guitar is the acoustics slightly geeky cousin. Uses plastic strings and is primarily plucked.

+ more interesting than the chord strumming of the acoustic guitar
+ reasonable in cost to buy starting at under £100
+ uses conventional notation
– not terribly cool
– primarily a solo instrument
– not a popular choice, so teachers may be harder to come by


AcousticGuitarAcoustic guitar – the hip relative of the classical guitar, the acoustic uses metal rather than plastic strings and is generally strummed as well as plucked

+ the height of cool in instrument terms
+ reasonable starting cost of £100 upwards
– doesn’t teach conventional notation as primarily uses leadsheets, TAB or aural learning
– limited range of genres


Electric GuitarElectric guitar – the out-there rock and roll dude of the string family. Uses the plucking techniques of the classical guitar combined with modern amplification to produce face-melting solos

+ coolest of them all
+ use of an amp means it can be practiced with headphones
– more expensive than most guitars, and an amp is required as well so you’re looking at £200+
– doesn’t teach conventional notation
– limited range of genres of music
– not very useful as a solo instrument – much better in a band


BassGuitarBass guitar – if the classical is the geeky cousin, the acoustic the hippy and the electric the wild child, the bass guitar is the slightly dim but solid one

+ simple to play most things (though I am assured being a really good bassist is hard!)
+ use of an amp means it can be practiced with headphones
– more expensive than most guitars, and an amp is required as well so you’re looking at £200+
– doesn’t teach conventional notation
– limited range of genres of music
– can be very dull to play as not really a solo instrument


So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the string family. There are, of course, many other options which include the harp, and the viol, but they are substantially more unusual.

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

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

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Woodwind 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 woodwind choices to help you out:

Woodwind Instrument PileWoodwind in general:

+ many among the cheaper instruments
+ easy to learn to play
+ smaller to carry around
– lots of spit involved – though not as much as brass
– not many of each one in orchestras (one flute, thirty violins…)


RecorderRecorder – simple wooden or plastic wind instrument with a range of about two octaves. Popular during the Renaissance period, but has since dwindled in popularity as an orchestral instrument. Comes in four sizes, but most start with the descant.

+ cheap to buy – a starter recorder will cost under a tenner (though nice wooden ones cost a lot more)
+ very easy to get sound out of and start playing melodies
+ helps with learning to read notation
– sounds an octave above the notated pitch so can be, uh, piercing
– limited options for progressing past beginner level as not many teachers specialise in recorder


elkhart-100fl-fluteFlute – metal instrument played in the same fashion as a milk bottle (broadly speaking!). Popular orchestral instrument throughout history, and considered a good instrument for young musicians to learn. Has smaller and larger versions for the adventurous.

+ light and easy to carry
+ quick to get playing real melodies
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
o moderately expensive at around £150
– doesn’t teach multiple clefs or harmony
– very popular, but not many needed in orchestras


ClarinetClarinet – originally wooden, but now plastic single reed instrument (reed vibrates against the body of the instrument rather than another reed). Used in orchestras since Mozart.

+ light and easy to carry
+ quick to get playing real melodies
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing, including more styles than the flute
o moderately expensive at around £150
– transposing instrument, so it sounds differently to the notes on the stave – can result in some tricky keys for group playing
– doesn’t teach multiple clefs or harmony
– very popular, but not many needed in orchestras or bands
– noisier than a flute and prone to random squawks


SaxophoneSaxophone – newer metal instrument, appears in the later romantic period, and not used in most orchestral music. Comes in a range of sizes – most start with the alto sax

+ quick to get playing real melodies
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
+ transferable skills to/from the clarinet
o limited styles of music
– quite expensive at £280 upwards
– very popular, but not many needed in orchestras or bands
– on the nosier side


Oboe – the first of the double reed instruments (two reeds vibrating against each other). Popular in orchestras throughout history. Has older siblings in the form of the Cor Anglais and Bassoon.

+ unusual choice, so lots of options for collaborative playing
+ wide range of styles and genres of music
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
– difficult to play as double reeds are hard to get sound from and require strong lungs
– reeds break easily and aren’t terribly cheap
– very expensive at £700+
– very loud as it has no ability to be muted for practice


BassoonBassoon – also a double reed instrument, the bigger brother of the oboe. Popular in orchestras throughout history.

+ very unusual choice, so lots of options for collaborative playing
+ wide range of styles and genres of music
+ teaches notation, including bass clef
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
o young children may need to start on a mini bassoon
– difficult to play as double reeds are hard to get sound from and require strong lungs
– harder to find teachers for
– reeds break easily and aren’t terribly cheap
– very expensive at £1000+
– not a very wide range of solo music
– very loud as it has no ability to be muted for practice


Bagpipes – ancient traditional instrument popular in celtic countries. Not generally used in orchestral music.

+ engages with traditional culture
+ variety of sources of income, such as playing for weddings etc
+ practice chanter means it’s actually pretty neighbour-friendly to practice
o finding a teacher may be difficult depending on location
– expensive with a good set costing around £400 (and the costume to go with can cost much the same if not more!)
– double reed instrument in the UK, so has the associated challenges including the need for strong lungs
– limited range of musical genres (you’re scuppered if you like Mozart…)
not tuned to equal temperament so can sound jarring to modern ears


So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the woodwind family. There are, of course, many other options which include many traditional instruments like the ocarina and the tin whistle. However, there aren’t many teachers for the ocarina. Victorian College do offer exams in the subject though!

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

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