Choosing an instrument

One of the questions we hear all of the time is, "What's the easiest instrument to learn?" The answer really depends on the person who will be studying. Every instrument requires some learning and there’s really no "easiest" instrument. Our experience shows that the easiest instrument is the one that the student really wants to play.

Choosing an instrument is fun and exciting. But, there are many choices available. We thought it would be valuable to take a few moments to explain some of the most common instruments. The following descriptions provide a basic overview of each instrument and tell you how the sounds are created (blowing air into a mouthpiece, moving a bow across a string, using your fingers on keys or strings, hitting something with a stick, etc.). We hope these descriptions will help you choose an instrument that will be fun for you to learn how to play.

Of course, the employees at Bronstein Music are always able to assist you in choosing an instrument.


Piano

The piano is a keyboard instrument that contains a series of black and white keys. A full-size piano contains 88 keys, but some electronic keyboards contain fewer keys.

Notes are played by presssing the fingers of both hands on the keys. On a traditional piano, pressing a key causes a small hammer to strike a metal string inside of the piano, and the vibration of the string creates the sound. On electronic keyboards, pressing a key causes an electronic sensor to be switched, which then generates an electronic sound (and many sounds are available) that is then amplified and played through a speaker or headphones.

The piano is considered by many to be the fundamental musical instrument due to the fact that all of the notes are visible all at once, and that learning notes and chords is a matter of seeing the patterns of keys. Many musicians get their start on the piano and use that knowledge to better understand how notes and chords work on other instruments.

Students as young as 4 or 5 years old are able to play the piano.


Guitar

The guitar is a string instrument. The strings are made of metal or nylon, depending on the type of guitar. Most guitars contain 6 strings, while some contain 12 strings. The sound is created when the strings are strummed or plucked, either with fingers or with a small plastic or metal device called a "pick."

There are two basic types of guitar: acoustic and electric. Acoustic guitars are comprised of a hollow body section made of wood. When the strings are played, they vibrate. The vibration is naturally amplified by the hollow body and the sound is created.

On an electric guitar, when the strings are played, their vibration is carried to a number of electronic "pick ups," and the resulting signal is sent to an electronic amplifier.

The neck section of a guitar contains a fingerboard with small metal dividers called "frets." These frets help guide the fingers to the correct location on each of the strings in order to play the desired notes.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of guitars available in the store and online.


Drums

There are many types of drums, including snare drum, tom-tom, bass drum, tympani, conga drums, bongo drums, etc. There are also auxliliary instruments that fit into the drum/percussion family, including cymbals, gongs, mallet instruments (such as xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone), tambourine, cowbell -- the list goes on.

Drums are very dynamic instruments and there are many ways to produce sound, including hitting the drums with a stick (there are many varieties) or with your hands.

Those who study drums and percussion get a full sense of the main purpose of these instruments -- keeping and emphasizing the beat in the music.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of drums and percussion equipment available in the store and online.


Voice

The most natural "instrument" of all is the human voice. Those who take voice lessons learn how to train their voice to produce clear, controlled sounds. Whether singing popular music, classical music, jazz, show music, etc., singers get to put their full personality into creating music.


Flute

The flute is a member of the woodwind family of instruments. The use of the word "wood" dates back to very early flutes that were actually made of wood. Today most flutes are made of metal (some rare flutes are still made of wood).

The sound is created by blowing a stream of air across a small hole in the top section of the flute, just like blowing air across the top of a bottle to make a sound. The result is a clean, pure tone.

Different notes are played my pressing your fingers on the correct keys, as well as altering the intensity of the air blown across the small hole.

The ideal starting age for flute is 9 or 10. Younger students are encouraged to play the recorder.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of flutes available in the store and online. We also rent flutes.


Clarinet

The clarinet is also a woodwind instrument. Professional and intermediate level clarinets are made of wood, while student clarinets are made of ABS resin or plastic.

The sound is created by blowing air into a small mouthpiece. The underside of the mouthpiece contains a small and very thin piece of cane (a species of bamboo). This piece of cane is called a reed. As you blow air into the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates back and forth, creating the sound that travels through the clarinet.

Different notes are played by pressing your fingers on the correct keys.

Note: Reeds do wear out after repeated use (a few weeks, on average), and can break easily if not properly cared for, so clarinet players are smart to carry a supply of extra reeds.

Most clarinet students begin around the age of 9 or 10.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of clarinets available in the store and online. We also rent clarinets.


Saxophone

The saxophone (sax for short) is another member of the woodwind family of instruments. The use of the word "wood" is a misnomer, since saxophones are made of brass.

Like the clarinet, the sound is made by blowing into a mouthpiece. The underside of the mouthpiece contains a reed, and the vibration of the reed creates the sound that travels through the sax. (Note: Clarinets and saxophones do not use the same size reeds.)

Different notes are played by pressing your fingers on the correct keys.

There are several types of saxophones, and the differences relate to the size and pitch of the instrument. The most common types of saxophone are alto and tenor. The alto sax is smaller and, thus, plays higher pitched notes than a tenor sax. The picture shows an alto sax.

Note: Reeds do wear out after repeated use (a few weeks, on average), and can break easily if not properly cared for, so saxophone players are smart to carry a supply of extra reeds.

Due to the size of the various saxophones, students around 9 or 10 years old usually start out playing the alto sax. Later, as the student gets taller, some may venture to the tenor sax. Some students may play both the alto and tenor saxes. (Some also may play the clarinet and flute, as the finger positions are common amongst these instruments.)

Bronstein Music has a large selection of saxophones available in the store and online. We also rent saxophones.


Oboe

The oboe is also a woodwind instrument. Professional and intermediate level oboes are made of wood, while student oboes are made of ABS resin or plastic.

The oboe is a reed instrument, but does not have a mouthpiece. Rather, the oboe contains two pieces of cane that are bound together (hence the classification of the oboe as a "double reed" instrument). Blowing air into the small opening at the top of the reed causes both pieces of cane to vibrate, which creates the sound that travels through the oboe.

Different notes are played by pressing your fingers on the correct keys.

Note: Reeds do wear out after repeated use, and can break easily if not properly cared for, so oboe players are smart to carry a supply of extra reeds.

Oboe is a difficult instrument to learn, so most oboe players start out playing a single reed instrument such as clarinet. Later, sometimes in middle school or high school, these students will start to study the oboe.


Trumpet

The trumpet is a brass instrument that makes a clear, loud sound. The sound is created by blowing air while creating a "buzzing" sound with your lips. Your lips are pressed against a metal mouthpiece that is attached to the trumpet.

Different notes are played by changing the speed of the air you blow into the trumpet and by pressing 3 valves down in the correct sequence.

The trumpet is the highest pitched instrument in the brass family.

Students typically start studying the trumpet around the age of 9 or 10.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of trumpets available in the store and online. We also rent trumpets.


French horn

The French horn is also a brass instrument. Like the trumpet, the sound is created by buzzing your lips against a mouthpiece, varying the speed of the air, and pressing valves down in the correct sequence. The French horn mouthpiece is smaller than a trumpet mouthpiece.

There are two varieties of French horn: single and double. A single horn has 3 valves, while a double horn has 4 valves and additional tubing. A French horn is pitched lower that a trumpet.

The French horn is more difficult than the trumpet, and is generally not the first instrument a student will play. Many French horn players start out playing the trumpet and make the switch in middle school or high school.

Bronstein Music has a selection of French horns available in the store and online. We also rent French horns.


Trombone

The trombone is another brass instrument. It has a larger mouthpiece than a trumpet and French horn, which makes it somewhat easier to create a sound (once again by buzzing your lips together). Different notes are played by varying the speed of the air you blow into the trombone and by moving the sliding section of the instrument.

Due to its larger size, the trombone is pitched lower than a trumpet and French horn.

Students around the age of 9 or 10 are able to play the trombone, assuming their right arm is long enough to move the slide to its maximum length. Some trombone players start out on the trumpet, then make the switch to trombone in middle school.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of trombones available in the store and online. We also rent trombones.


Baritone horn

The baritone horn is a brass instrument that is similar to both the trumpet and trombone. Like the trumpet, different notes are played by pressing the valves down. But, the baritone horn plays lower notes than a trumpet. In fact, the baritone plays the same range of notes as a trombone. A baritone horn mouthpiece is the same size as a trombone mouthpiece.

The baritone horn finger positions are exactly the same as the trumpet, so many baritone players also play trumpet. Some baritone players start out as trumpeters, then make the switch to baritone in middle school or high school. Other players, sometimes around 9 or 10 years old, are able to start out with the baritone horn.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of baritones available in the store. We also rent baritones.


Tuba

The tuba is a large brass instrument thay plays very deep notes. Like the other brass instruments, the notes on the tuba are played by blowing while buzzing your lips together, varying the speed that you blow air through the instrument, and by pressing the valves down in the correct sequence.

The tuba uses the largest mouthpiece among the brass family of instruments.

DUe to its large size, the tuba is generally not an instrument for the younger players. Usually by the middle school years, a student is tall enough to play and hold the tuba. (Some tuba players begin on another brass instrument, such as the baritone horn or trumpet.)


Violin

The violin is the highest piched member of the string family. The violin body is made of wood and its 4 strings are made of metal.

Violins come in different sizes. The largest is a full size, or 4/4 size. Smaller sizes are 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, and 1/16. The size you choose depends on the length of the player's arm, so we will need to measure your student to determine the correct size.

The violin is played using a bow that is held in the right hand (see picture). The bow is a wood stick that is connected to a strand of hair from a horse's tail. When the hair is moved across the strings, the strings vibrate and create sound. Different notes are played by using different strings and pressing the left fingers on the strings.

An alternative way to produce sound is to "pluck" the strings with the right-hand fingers (without using the bow).

Students as young as 4 or 5 years old are able to play the violin.


Viola

The viola is larger than a violin and, as a result, plays lower pitched notes. The viola is played the same way as a violin (i.e., a bow is moved across the strings and the left fingers are pressed on the strings to make different notes.)

As with the violin, the strings can also be "plucked" to produce sound.

Violas come in different sizes (measured in inches). As with the violin, the size you choose depends on the length of the player's arm, so we will need to measure your student to determine the correct size.

Most viola players start out playing violin, then make the switch to viola in middle school or high school.


Cello

The cello is also a member of the string family. It looks like a large violin, and in fact its full name is "violincello." Due to its larger size, the cello plays lower pitched notes that the violin and viola.

While the cello stands on a floor peg, it is played essentially the same as a violin and viola (i.e., a bow is moved across the strings and the left fingers are pressed on the strings to make different notes -- or the strings can be "plucked" with the fingers of the right hand).

Cellos come in different sizes, so will will need to measure your student's height when sitting to determine the correct size.

Students in elementary or middle school are the excellent age to start playing cello.


Upright bass

The upright bass is the largest member of the string family and, as a result, plays the lower notes than a cello. The upright bass is sometimes referred to a string bass, bass violin, or bass fiddle.

Like a cello, an upright bass stands on a floor peg. Due to the height of an upright bass, the player usually stands up when playing. There are different sized upright basses, so we will need to measure your student's height to determine the correct size.

The upright bass is played essentially the same as a cello (i.e., using a bow or "plucking" the strings).

Due to the size of the instrument, the upright bass is generally not the first choice for the younger student. Middle school is an ideal time to start playing the upright bass.


Electric bass

The electric bass is a string instrument that is pitched exactly the same as an upright bass. Sound is created by plucking the strings with the right hand fingers, and then amplifying that sound with an electronic amplifier. Most electric basses contain a series of "frets" on the fingerboard (just like a guitar) to help guide the left hand fingers to the correct location to play the desired notes.


Mandolin

The mandolin is a string instrument that dates back to 17th century Italy. It looks somewhat like a small guitar. Mandolins commonly have four pairs of metal strings, which are strummed or plucked with a pick. The strings on a mandolin are tuned the same as a violin.


Ukulele

The ukulele is a string instrument that has its origins in Hawaii. It is a variant of a small guitar. The ukulele contains 4 strings that are strummed or plucked with the fingers.

There are several sizes of ukulele, including soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, and bass.

Bronstein Music has a large selection of ukuleles available in the store and online.