Buying an instrument can be a difficult decision making process and it's very easy to become overwhelmed or confused unless you are guided through the process in a logical and truthful way. Whether it’s for your first instrument or a professional instrument, it is a very personal decision. While it’s a great idea to get advice from teachers, the final decision should ultimately come down to you, as you are an individual with your own mouth shape, hand size, you naturally produce an airstream which will be unique to you, and that's just the start of it. Different brands and models of instruments will feature different designs and materials that will make your playing comfortable... or not.
There are many things to consider such as tone, keywork, ergonomics, physical comfort, engineering, design features, material and style of music to name a few.
Also known as timbre. When trying an instrument you should play over the entire range of the instrument checking for an even tone throughout the range. You want to make sure that the sound doesn’t thin out at the extremes in range. Also check the instrument playing at extremes in dynamics – from pianissimo to fortissimo and everything in between. Make sure that the sound doesn’t break up at a certain level. This can often be a distinguishing feature between student level instruments and more professional level instruments. This is not so significant for a young student as chances are they will not be able to put huge amounts of air through the instrument anyway, but for more advanced students this is a very important consideration.
Every manufacturer has a different idea about the design of their keywork. This concerns not only the shape of the keys but more importantly the positioning. For people with smaller hands some instruments may be impossible to play with keys that stick out further than on some other designs, or holes that your fingers cannot completely cover.
The instrument has to feel comfortable for you to hold and to play. Remember, chances are you may be playing for a reasonably long time in one sitting whether for a band rehearsal or lesson so your hands and fingers should not be excessively strained to carry the weight of the instrument or to reach the keys. It should also feel comfortable to blow. Different people prefer different amounts of pressure when they blow an instrument. Always try a few instruments to work out what feels right and easy for you.
The engineering and manufacturing process is important to know about so that you know the quality of the instrument that you are buying. For example: Are the keys cast or forged? Casting tends to create small voids within the structure of the metal which makes it more prone to breaking whereas drop forged keys are forged from a solid sheet or rod of metal which makes the metal structure more solid.
This includes things such as finish and materials. The different types of materials used affects the sound of the instrument as does the different types of finishes. Most manufacturers of intermediate to professional instruments offer a range of different options on their instrument models such as lacquered brass, silver plate, gold plate, nickel plate and black nickel plate to name a few. Different types of finishes can help to customise the sound of the instrument.
It may sound obvious but different brands and models of instrument are designed with specific types of music in mind. This does not mean that you can’t play them for other types of music, it just means that the sound may not suit what you are playing. Always keep in mind what you want to sound like. Maybe you really like the sound of a particular musician, and want to try to sound similar.
To see for yourself the differences between all of the instruments on offer, head in to The Music Place and speak to one of our experienced staff. It's a fun journey!