Music Learning Collective

Advice when buying a musical instrument

Need a new instrument? Don’t know where to start, or what you need? Keep reading, we’re here to help!

Practising away from lessons is a hugely important part of learning any musical instrument. It helps students remember techniques and parts learnt during the lesson, whilst also helping to build a love for the instrument and music. In order to practice at home, it’s important that an appropriate instrument is owned in order to aid the practice.

Some of the most common questions we get are related to buying new instruments for students. Be that a student’s first instrument, or an upgrade, we are always more than happy to help.

This post centres around basic advice for buying a student’s all-important first instrument. We will discuss buying options for our four core offerings: Piano, Drums, Guitar & Vocals.

At this stage, I would like to point out that while the advice below is a great starting point, we always recommend speaking with a specialist local music store for up-to-date product information and more specific advice for your needs.

How To Buy

The most common ways to buy are second-hand using local shops or online marketplaces, or buying brand new.

Musical Instrument Buyer's GuideWhilst second-hand can save you money and can be a very quick and easy way to get started, buying brand new will also give you a warranty and ensure you receive a fully working product. The choice is of course, totally up to you, but regardless of new or pre-loved, we would always recommend visiting a local store for in-person advice from an expert sales team. Often local stores carry lots of stock to look at and try, including pre-loved/second-hand items.

The MLC also has a fantastic online market place which has just been launched through our friends at Fair Deal Music.

Piano/Keyboards

Initially, any music keyboard will be fine to learn the basics, however, within a few years or at least once into Grade 2, students will need an ’88 Key’ keyboard. Ideally, one which has weighted keys. Whilst it is not needed straight away, it’s worth bearing this in mind in case you choose to go for this straight away as a long-term investment. Initial items needed might include:

  • Keyboard/Digital Piano
  • Music Stand (Often included with the keyboard/piano itself)
  • Sustain Pedal (Sometimes included with the instrument itself – but do check this)
  • Appropriate height stool

Optional Extras:

  • Headphones for quiet practice

Guitars

There are many categories of guitar to look at. The information here is relevant to Electric, and Acoustic guitars.

Up to, and including, RSL Awards Grade 2 – students are able to use either an electric or an acoustic guitar for the guitar syllabus. From Grade 3 upwards they will need to decide on whether to progress with the Electric or Acoustic instrument variant.

In the initial stages of learning, either option is absolutely fine. The necks on electric guitars tend to be smaller than acoustic, though nylon guitar strings can sometimes be easier to press down for smaller hands.

Depending on the student’s age and physical size, it might be best to first consider a ¾ sized guitar. These are ideal for Key Stage 1, and some Key Stage 2 students. The majority of Key Stage 3 students upwards would recommend a full-size electric or acoustic guitar.

The shape, colour, and overall style are totally cosmetic and up to you though commonly guitars will feature 6 strings of differing thicknesses. There are of course less common alternatives such as 7-string & 12-string guitars, or Ukulele/Bass guitars which both have just 4 strings.

Left-handed students should first consult their teacher regarding which variant is best as it may be that a left-handed student feels more confident on a right-handed guitar. (I certainly do!!)

Initial items needed might include:

  • Guitar (Electric or acoustic, with 6 useable strings)
  • Plectrum(s)
  • Guitar Tuner (App versions are available, though physical tuners are always more accurate)
  • Guitar Case (For safe transport to your lesson!)
  • Music Stand

Optional Extras:

  • Guitar Amplifier & Cable
  • Guitar Effects Pedals
  • Guitar Stand/wall bracket
  • Plectrums (Every guitarist needs lots of plectrums, potentially of different thicknesses)
  • Spare strings – These can and do break, having spares available are ideal.
  • Guitar strap

Drums

There are three options here: Practice Pad, Acoustic Drum Kit or Electric Drum Kit.

The bare minimum would be a single drum pad and pair of drumsticks. These pads are often used to practise drum rudiments and techniques, but can also be used to practise full drum beats and fills so long as a little imagination is used.

Ideally, all students should have some kind of full drum set. This kit should consist of 5 physical drums (4 positioned roughly horizontally and hit with sticks, 1 vertically named the Bass drum and played with the foot via a pedal). There should also be at least 2 cymbals, 1 pair of hi-hats, and 1 crash or ride cymbal.

A full drum set adequate for up to Grade 4/5 would include 5 drums, plus 3 cymbals. (1 pair of hi-hats, a crash and a ride cymbal).

At Grade 5, students are expected to use an additional crash cymbal which can be purchased as an add-on to most drum kit options.

Electric vs. Acoustic

MLC Arts Award DiscoverAcoustic drums will always feel the best to play, and can often be purchased cheaper than digital versions, however, they are LOUD. Electric drum kits solve this volume problem instantly, though can sometimes be a little more expensive.

Option 1: Full Acoustic Drum Set & Hearing protection.
Option 2: Full Acoustic Drum Set with silence/dampening pads lowering the overall volume
Option 3: Electric drum kit with either a speaker attached or headphones.

All three options are brilliant ways to get started and depending on the style bought, can last a long time.

Initial items needed might include:

  • Drum sticks (1 x full-size pair, though a spare pair is always recommended as they do break!)
  • Drum Pad or Drum Kit (If kit, featuring 5 drums and 3 or 4 cymbals)
  • Music Stand
  • Ear Protection (For use on any acoustic drum set – builders’ ear defenders are very cheap in DIY stores – protect those ears!!)
  • Music Playback – a speaker or headphone system to allow the student to play along to music
  • Appropriate height stool

Optional Extras:

  • Drum Pad – even if a drum kit is owned, a practice pad is an essential additional tool
  • Drumsticks – a drummer can NEVER have too many drumsticks
  • Drum Stick Holder/case
  • Additional 2nd crash cymbal

Vocals

Many of our students don’t think about the equipment required to learn vocals. It’s true, to start, vocal students don’t necessarily need any equipment, however, we always recommend they invest in a microphone and speaker system as soon as possible.

MLC Vocals

Microphone technique is an extremely important part of being a great vocalist and we believe that this skill should be learnt early. Knowing how and when to use a microphone is an essential part of the learning process, this could also include a microphone stand.

Initial items might include:

  • Microphone
  • Microphone Stand
  • Music Stand
  • Speaker for Microphone to plug into plus appropriate cable to do so.

Optional Extras:

  • PA (Public Address) system. This could be large or small – including appropriate cables.
  • Reverb Effects Pedal (For use with a PA system)

That’s quite a lot of information, which we hope you’ll find useful when you come to start thinking about purchasing an instrument. Remember that we’re here to help, so do speak to your MLC Teacher or Centre Manager as well as music retail staff for further advice.


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