Everything you wanted to know about starting an instrument (part 2)

Everyone has that fear – choosing an instrument to learn is like picking fruit. Pick the wrong one and you might eat a maggot, pick the right one and it’s scrumptious. I prefer the more positive approach. Check out my part 1 article to read more about that. But for all the obsessives, and would-be know-it-alls…this article is for you – it’s a full breakdown of all the instruments that you might like to learn.

STRINGS (not including guitar)

Popular instruments: violin, viola, cello, double bass (that’s the big one)
Starting age: five or six
Natural habitat: classical music, chamber ensembles and orchestras, and also folk groups and pop strings in bands
Tips: children can start young as all the instruments come in smaller sizes. Co-ordination can be tricky to start with and progress will be in small steps. These instruments are great for joining in school groups and meeting new friends. The violin and viola are very portable, cello and double bass less so. Violin is the most popular, but the viola, played by fewer people, often offers more opportunities especially later in life. The cello is also popular and the double bass is very versatile across many genres from classical to jazz. For the double bass, stop and think twice whether you want to be lugging this lightish but large instrument around.
Approximate costs: it’s relatively inexpensive to buy or hire beginner instruments, but it can get very expensive as children progress and need better instruments. Prices start from £50 for violin and viola, £200 for a cello and £500 for a bass.


Popular instruments: electric, classical, acoustic and bass
Starting age: five or six
Natural habitat: bands, singer-songwriting and pop music. Classical guitar is also fantastic genre in its own right.
Tips: the guitar is a great starter instrument covering a wide span of musical genres. There are three main types: first, the classical or nylon string – best for starting, will work for all genres and comes in smaller sizes; second, the acoustic or steel string – the ‘singer songwriter’ pop guitar, great for strumming, but the hardest for fingers and beginners so better for older students; third, the electric – for rock, jazz and pop, which will also need an amp and lead.
Approximate costs: nylon string guitars start circa £40 for a 3/4 size, acoustic guitars circa £100 up, and electric guitars £200 up (including amp)


Popular instruments: recorder, clarinet, saxophone, flute. Others include oboe, bassoon, cor anglais
Starting age: four onwards
Natural habitat: most commonly used in classical ensembles, chamber groups and wind ensembles but also in pop and jazz.
Tips: flute and clarinet are the most popular and can be started very young, subject to a quick test with a teacher. Both instruments can be adapted for smaller fingers. Progress is fast initially so you’ll be hearing familiar tunes in no time and both can make a great introduction to the saxophone. Recorder, likewise, is easy to get going on and a great introduction to not only other woodwind instruments but also note reading and general music making. Double reed instruments like oboe and bassoon make a beautiful sound but are much more delicate and can break easily. A commonly recommend route is to start on recorder, clarinet or flute and then consider moving around the age of nine or ten.
Approximate costs: recorders start at £10 and beginner instruments for the other members of the family can be hired, are relatively inexpensive to buy, and can be upgraded at a later date.


Popular instruments: trumpet, trombone, tuba, french horn
Starting age: second front teeth will need to have come through so seven or eight
Natural habitat: classical orchestras, brass bands, wind bands, pop, rock and jazz.
Tips: A very versatile family of instruments. Trumpet is the most popular and is used across many genres from classical to jazz. Younger ages can start on cornet. Likewise trombone can be adapted for smaller arms with a shorter slide. The tuba does not come in a smaller size but the smaller euphonium is an option at the bass end. French horn can be tricky but does make a very beautiful sound when played well.
Approximate costs: similar to woodwind, beginner instruments are relatively inexpensive to buy and can also be upgraded as things progress. Hiring to begin with is also an option.


Popular instruments: piano, electric keyboard, organ
Starting age: four onwards
Natural habitat: the piano is often played as a solo instrument, but can be used in orchestras and, of course, as a much-in-demand accompanying instrument. Many schools offer keyboard ensembles and it is great for bands.
Tips: a great choice for beginners in all genres. The main decision here is piano or keyboard. Pianos sound ‘better’ but take up space, can’t be turned down, are heavy and can be expensive. Keyboards are good for smaller spaces especially if noise is an issue. Either way an excellent way to introduce music, note reading, harmony, understanding music theory and general musicianship, but, perhaps, not so good for playing with others.
Approximate costs: keyboards start around £500 and for a piano worth playing, £1000.


Popular instruments: drum kit, hand percussion, tuned percussion
Starting age: five or six
Natural habitat: drum kit is great for bands in rock, pop and jazz. Tuned percussion is used in orchestras and solo. Hand percussion is used in all sorts of music from classical to samba, pop to West African drumming
Tips: the percussion family is great for rhythm and coordination and bits of beginner hand percussion are cheap to buy. Tuned percussion can be expensive and as the instruments are laid out like a keyboard, learning the piano first may be a better option. With the drum kit, the main decision is whether to have an acoustic or electric kit. Electric kits are lighter, take up less space and you can play with headphones. Acoustic kits are loud, take up space but are the real deal. They sound better!
Approximate costs: hand percussion for under £10, drum kits from £250

If you’ve read down to the end of this article, congratulations. You’re now ready to choose your instrument. Still confused? Just give us a call at MusicMaps – we’re happy to help with any questions.