So Many Instruments, How To Choose?

Just to be clear, there are no wrong choices when it comes to picking a musical instrument to study, maybe pick up the chapman stick?. Pick the instrument that you enjoy the most. But there are some considerations to be aware of when picking your first instrument, especially in school.

The Top Instruments (in no particular order)

GuitarPianoVoiceSaxophone – Drums Kit – Violin


  Pros: Low Entry Cost, Portable, Quick Proficiency, Wide Genre Appeal. Cons: Frequent Maintenance Required (low cost) Recommended Starting Age: 8+   The guitar is one of the most popular instruments for a lot of reasons; it’s got a really low entry point with super cheap ISO (Instrument Shaped Objects) being well below $100 and decent quality used instruments right around the $100 mark. It is an instrument that transcends beyond genre lines, allowing you access to nearly all of western civilizations music. It is very quick to be able to play your first song. The guitar only has one sort of con in its need for fairly frequent string replacements and adjustments, but in reality, guitar maintenance is as affordable as the instruments themselves. We recommend that a student be at least 8 years old to start learning Guitar. The instrument requires a certain amount of muscle strength and fine motor control rarely found in students younger.


Pros: Can Be Started Young, Quick Proficiency, Wide Genre Appeal, Transferable Knowledge Cons: High Entry Cost, Maintenance is Expensive, Not Portable Recommended Starting Age: 3+ The piano is a favored starting place for beginners & professionals alike. While advanced proficiency of the piano takes many years, students can learn their first song in a matter of only a few minutes. The skills developed while learning piano transfer to other instruments extremely well providing a solid foundation for other instruments. The piano is an extremely large and expensive instrument, with high maintenance costs. It is recommended for beginners to invest in a digital keyboard instead, a suitable digital keyboard can be purchased for under $500, still making piano one of the most expensive instruments to begin. We recommend starting piano lessons after a student turns 4, though there certainly are students studying younger progress in all young students should simply be measured in enjoyment and not in skill progress.


Pros: No Start-up Costs, Required For Most Genres, Portable Cons: Conceptually Difficult, Unrepairable Recommended Starting Age: 10+ (See below) The Voice is the only instrument that is free to start, and you already have. It is required for almost every genre of music in existence and has universal appeal because of it. Because of the internal physiology of the voice, it is a difficult instrument to learn and everyone’s journey is different. We recommend starting voice lessons after a student has turned 10.


Pros: Super Cool, Portable, Low Entry Cost with Rentals Cons: Popular, Repairs can be Expensive Recommended Starting Age: 10+ The Saxophone is without a doubt one of the two most popular high school band instruments. It has a home for itself in many different genres and styles. It has a low start-up cost due to being rentable from many local music shops. Due to its popularity in some high schools, students will be asked to learn a different instrument. We recommend starting lessons once a student has turned 10. Saxophone requires muscle strength and fine motor skills rarely found in students younger.


Pros: Super Cool, Portable (sort of), Used in All Genres, Loud Cons: Less Rental Options, Frequent Maintenance, Portability, Loud Recommended Starting Age: 8+ Percussion, either orchestral percussion or drum kit is the dream of so many teenagers and the fear of their parents. A percussion kit for band or orchestra is typically rentable from local music stores but drum kit is usually not. Depending on the size of your kit everything can be very portable or may need the back of a minivan. With percussion, you will run into recurring costs for sticks and drum heads. Like the Saxophone spaces in school bands are typically limited for percussion. We recommend waiting until a student is 8 to start percussion lessons.


Pros: Young Starting Age, Rentable Cons: Difficult Beginning Proficiency, Fragile Recommended Starting Age: 5+ The Violin is another beginner favorite because of how young studies can begin. Violins come in a range of different sizes allowing for students to change sizes as they grow, and most sizes are rentable from your local music shops keeping initial costs low. The violin is a sturdy but fairly fragile instrument and students will need to be conscious of the instrument. Unlike many of the instruments on this list, the violin has a very long difficult beginning period. Students and parents should be prepared for slow progress that will at times sound much more like a cat than a musical instrument. We recommend students wait until age 5 to begin studies so that their hands are large enough to learn a correct bow hold instead of needing to unlearn a modification.
There is no wrong instrument to choose to learn, it is all about picking the instrument that you will find the most joy in learning. Once you have decided on your instrument be sure to find a great teacher to guide you down the path (like the ones you’ll find here at Manuel Creative Arts Academy). It is tempting to go to youtube for instrument instruction but nothing can replace the guidance you will receive in your weekly (at minimum) lessons.
Headshot photo for Josh Manuel owner & voice lesson teacher at Manuel Creative Arts Academy Dayton, Ohio

About the Author

Josh Manuel is the owner of Manuel Creative Arts Academy. He has been involed in music for his entire life, and everyday you will find him working to improve music education in Dayton, OH and everywhere. At Manuel Creative Arts Academy, Josh teaches voice & piano lessons for students of all ages.