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Stepping up from a student instrument. Here's almost everything you need to know!

Q: When is the right time to upgrade your child's musical instrument? This is a question that many parents face at one point or another. Is your child showing enough interest and dedication to practicing and playing music? Are they reaching beyond basic level skills? If so, it might be time to consider investing in a more advanced instrument. Upgrading can provide your child with new challenges and opportunities for growth, helping them to continue developing their musical talents. Keep in mind that not every child needs an upgraded instrument though; if your youngster’s teacher is happy with their current setup, there's no need to change a thing! Ultimately, it's up to you and a qualified instructor to decide when the time is right for an upgrade. Just make sure you're listening to them play and to check in with their teacher periodically to get a professional assessment of their progress, and their possible need to change sizes or upgrade their instrument altogether. Q: How does a better instrument help my child’s progress? An often-asked question and an often-misunderstood topic! Let’s start with an orchestral string instrument such as a violin, viola, or cello; An inexpensive instrument is mass-produced. Our rentals, for instance, are high-quality – student-level instruments, and although they are set up to play quite nicely to enable students an easier start, they’re finished with a durable, but sometimes sound inhibiting finish that is resistant to chipping, cracking, and bruising. The downside to this is that sound quality may suffer a bit. Their polyurethane finish is heavy and thick. The construction is often primarily machine-made and little time is spent on graduating or hand carving the top for optimal sound projection, resonance, and tonal quality. (There are many blog posts and articles written on the detailed construction of fine orchestral instruments. I’ll leave a couple of links at the bottom of this article if you’re interested in exploring this topic in greater detail.) Making you an expert on acoustic properties, the how’s and why’s is not the intention of this post. A basic understanding of what the key differentiators are is the primary focus and goal. So, hopefully, when your child comes home asking about a new upgraded instrument, you’ll have a deeper understanding! Typically, after 3-4 years on a full-sized instrument, your child will be ready to start moving toward an instrument that has better sound quality and is more dynamically responsive. Now’s NOT the time to seek out a $10,000 instrument. However, an instrument that has had more time spent during the construction process and uses better quality build materials can make monumental improvements in your child’s musical development. While many parents have the attitude that “What he/she has is sufficient, we’ve seen time and time again over a period of more than 45 years, that this mindset (although often hard to overcome) has been proven to be wrong! More complex musical passages that your child was unable to play on their entry-level instrument, suddenly become clearer, easier for them to facilitate, and sound much more musical! This makes playing more fun, the instrument more engaging, and oftentimes increases your child’s interest level…..immediately. Additionally, the positive psychological effects it has on your child and the pride that ownership brings are topics we could write another whole blog post on! Q: How about Woodwind and brasswind students? Many of the differences in a Saxophone or trumpet follow the same rules as a stringed instrument. Build quality, setup and aesthetics are greatly improved as you move up from a basic student horn. An intermediate or professional level saxophone for instance typically uses better build materials, heavier gauge metal, more resonant metals, better quality springs, pads, and a more ergonomic key layout. More resonant build materials make for a more responsive instrument. Quiet passages will suddenly become easier to facilitate. Faster runs and scales are more easily managed because the instrument’s key layout is designed to better fit the shape of our hands! Your child’s fingers will feel like they just “naturally fall” into place! The overall tone of the instrument changes. For the player, these advantages are easily and typically immediately recognized. If they’re not, it’s usually a pretty good indicator that your child is not yet ready to move up from their student horn. Here again, after 3-4 years on their student horn is a good time to begin exploring a better instrument! Here's a video explanation for a better audible understanding of exactly what we're talking about here! A pro horn will also more than likely have beautiful custom etching on the bell and/or keys. They also have a much nicer, more protective case. For brasswind players, many of the same rules apply here too. Better build quality, using better and more resonant materials make for a better sounding, responding horn. Other features like a trigger on a trombone which offers alternate ways to reach notes and to facilitate faster passages will ease will be found. The choice of bore sizes (The actual size of the tubing diameter) A pro horn may necessitate more air from a bigger bore diameter, however, the tonal advantages are many and typically immediately noticeable to the player! A pro horn may also have beautifully etched bells and a much nicer, more protective case.

What brands do you carry and how do I decide?

We carry instruments from major manufacturers like Conn-Selmer, Jupiter, and Yamaha. All these companies are reputable and make quality, reliable products. Choosing any one of these companies will always result in a purchase that will last many, many years. Although the lesser-known company of the three, Jupiter makes a terrific product that has gained tremendously in popularity over the last decade. The company stands behind its products and parts availability is excellent. For now, they have a significant price advantage over Conn-Selmer and Yamaha. I don’t believe that this will be the case for long, as they’ve been creeping up their prices on a yearly basis and closing the gap. Yamaha has become the “teachers’ choice” among the three brands. They make a quality product that lasts and maintains its resale value quite well. This is something that may be of concern to a parent of a younger student who’s concerned with them not sticking with the instrument after they’ve purchased it. There will be a higher price to pay for a Yamaha, but many believe they’re worth it! We’re here to help in the decision-making process and offer honest, and time-tested techniques to be certain your student gets the best instrument for them, all while minding your budget! Feel free to contact us at the shop 203.416.6359 or email

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