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Buying an instrument for your child? Read this first!
This article covers five important considerations that will help ensure that you make the best decision.
Purchasing an instrument for your child is at once an investment into their continued success, a potentially significant financial expenditure, and likely a daunting decision. After all, purchasing a brass instrument is not something the average person does even once in their lifetime!
A musician’s instrument is their most important tool, their primary means to creating their musical voice. An inadequate instrument can hinder a musician’s true ability and quell their voice whereas a well-matched instrument can allow a musician to flourish and discover more than they previously thought was possible!
When it comes to buying a new instrument for your child, you might be asking yourself questions such as: How much do I need to spend? What makes one instrument more expensive than the next? Do instruments depreciate like cars do? Does my child really need that specific instrument? How long will this instrument last in their development or musical career? Here I’ll answer all of these questions and more.
- “What is my budget?”
You obviously have to know what the price range is for your child’s particular instrument. It varies widely from one instrument to the next. Here are approximate prices for new brass instruments from advanced student level to top-of-the-line. Trumpet: $2,500-$5,000; French Horn: $3,000-$12,000; Tenor Trombone: $3,000-$6,000; Bass Trombone: $4,000-$7,000; Tuba: $11,000-$25,000.
Discounted instruments such as demo models (instruments that have traveled to trade shows or have been floor models for a certain amount of time), B stock (new instruments with minor blemishes), or pre-owned instruments are also available with varying degrees of markdowns.
While we’re on the topic of money, let’s discuss depreciation. While it is true that new instruments lose value, they generally do not depreciate at the same rate cars do. Studies show cars purchased new depreciate on average by 50% over the course of the first 3 years, even if the car is kept in great condition. Cars typically then depreciate at a rate of 10% every year after that.
With brass instruments the fact of the matter is that if the instrument is well-maintained and taken care of, it can still potentially sell for 60-80% of the initial buying price a decade or more later depending on the popularity/demand of that particular brand or model.
Fortunately, brass instruments don’t have odometers and don’t experience the extreme wear and tear that motor vehicles do, as long as they are properly maintained. If your child is able to lubricate their instrument at recommended intervals, avoid careless dings and scratches, and have annual professional ultrasonic cleanings performed to prevent accelerated wear, their instrument has a good chance of maintaining a strong valuation when and if the time comes to sell it. Some parents prefer holding onto instruments even beyond their child’s school years. You never know when they might get the itch to join a local community band or just play for fun at home!
- “Why do instruments differ so much in price?”
It all boils down to the economics of A) the quality of the materials or choice of the parts used, B) the manufacturing process and labor costs in the country of origin, C) import and shipping fees, and D) manufacturer markups and minimum pricing requirements.
Some parts of instruments are made in-house and others are sourced from external manufacturers. When components are secured from outside sources, there is a markup from that supplier which is then built into the price of the instrument the consumer pays. One example is the Swiss-made Hagmann valve, which is a part used in certain trombone models. The use of this valve in the construction of the trombone can drive the price of the instrument up by several hundreds of dollars.
Labor costs are the other large determining factor of instrument price. Oftentimes, higher quality instruments are crafted and assembled almost entirely by hand. Different processes of spinning bells, drawing tubes, and connecting joints take more time but yield better (read: more resonant) results.
Additionally, an instrument that is manufactured in the USA or Germany will cost more than an instrument manufactured in China. The trend of moving manufacturing of consumer goods to China has been ongoing for some time now and it is no different for brass instruments. These instruments are required to pass stringent testing guidelines and hold their own, or else they wouldn’t be as popular as they are!
- “I’ve determined my budget. Now how do we choose the best instrument?”
Now the fun begins and you can go about scheduling an appointment to play-test instruments at our shop. At Houghton Horns, our staff–who are all professional musicians on their particular instrument–will assist you and your child in the process of choosing the best instrument for their own strengths and weaknesses.
Learning an instrument is a highly personalized endeavor, and as unique individuals, we all do things a little differently. Some players have a knack for playing low notes while others naturally succeed in the upper register; some players make a brighter tone while others produce a darker one; some players blow with big, strong air, while others blow more focused and lean. The instrument you choose should fit the musician by ideally, A) matching the player’s approach to playing the instrument, and B) improving the player’s deficiencies.
For example, if a tenor trombonist naturally plays high notes well and possesses a brilliance in their tone, but perhaps lacks a little body or warmth in their sound, it makes sense to play-test instruments or components that balance out that brilliance. There are many ways to go about finding this “sweet spot,” including trying more open valves, experimenting with different leadpipe (where the mouthpiece goes in) venturis (diameters) and lengths, and testing different tuning slides or hand slides.
Ultimately, landing on the right instrument for any musician is a combination of discovering both the best sound (resonance, balanced tonal characteristics, good intonation) and the best feel (ease of sound production, response, balanced resistance).
- “But what instrument does my child need to be successful?”
The answer to this question is fairly straightforward: the best instrument you can afford. (Notice I didn’t say, “the most expensive instrument is the best instrument.” The most expensive instrument is not always the best instrument for every musician.) The only caveat is: how dedicated is your child to their instrument? If you have a student musician who demonstrates a clear passion and love for playing their instrument, they will benefit most from a higher-end instrument as they will learn and discover the nuances of that instrument to make the best tone they can. If you have a student who is not very invested in music at the moment, it’s harder to justify springing for the top-of-the-line horn. On the other hand, a new (or new-to-you) instrument is oftentimes a very inspiring way to jumpstart a student musician’s motivation to practice.
There’s a well-known cycle of practice to experienced musicians: “If I sound
good, I want to practice more, if I practice more, I sound even better which makes me want to practice more, etc.” Finding an instrument that suits your student musician’s specific abilities will make them sound better and ideally make them want to practice more!
- “How long will this instrument last in my child’s musical development?”
The answer to this question is really related to how well the instrument you decide on fits your student musician in the first place. If you are able to purchase an instrument that truly complements your child’s abilities and approach to playing, that instrument can last a long time in their development.
On the other hand, as developing musicians, their approach to the instrument
will likely change over time and as that approach changes, so might their relationship with their instrument. There is no silver bullet to finding “the perfect instrument” in perpetuity, but we will do our best to find an instrument that makes them sound great for where they currently are in their musical journey. The chances are, if your child is in high school, they will easily make it through their high school years playing one instrument that is chosen for their playing abilities at the time. If they decide to major in music in college, their approach to playing will likely have changed and continue to change and a different kind of instrument or setup might be in order. Their instrumental professor will certainly give their opinion on this topic once they are in college.
In summary, we will find an instrument that suits your student musician’s specific needs within your budget. We love helping musicians discover a better sound and ease to playing their instrument they didn’t previously experience. Our purpose at Houghton Horns is to match musicians with equipment that suits their specific needs. If you have any questions, please send us an email, give us a call, or schedule your instrument trial appointment on our website!