All about musical instruments - menu page
So you want to learn a musical instrument? We advise you what instrument to play, where to buy one, how to get lessons, what it will cost - everything you need to know about instrumental tuition

About Pay the Piper
Why play an instrument?
What instrument
to play

How to buy an instrument
Other costs
Where to get lessons
How much progress
will I make?

Doing your practice
Music exams
Upgrading your instrument
Finding opportunities
to play

Switching instruments
What's copyright?
Links to other sites
Your questions answered







































WebCounter says you are visitor number

Copyright © David Bramhall 2005
This site is designed and maintained by PlainSite.

Pay the Piper


Why play a musical instrument?


In a way, you don't need to consider this. You either want to do it, or you don't. And if you WANT to do it, you should. Lots of other people do, so why not you? However, you may need to justify this decision to other people - to your parents, who will be footing the bill, or to your school teachers who will wonder why you should be allowing this "hobby" (as they see it) to interfere with the really important things like Maths and English, or to your friends who wonder why you can't come out to play so often. So here are some things you can tell them ......
Music in our society
By becoming a musician you are joining in one of the most important facets of modern society. Everyone listens to music of some sort for a large part of their life. Some do so deliberately, others do it passively (think of all the music you hear without even realising it, in shops and so on) and most of us do it while enjoying other forms of entertainment - few films and television programmes are made without music as an important part of the action.
This means that music has become a major industry. Even twenty years ago it was the biggest dollar-earner in the UK, and bigger than the British steel industry in the days when Britain still had one!
By becoming a musician you are opening the door to your own understanding and greater enjoyment of something that touches all our lives every day.
A personal achievement
You will be acquiring a skill that will eventually bring you the approval of your parents, teachers and friends (and if it doesn't, you must have very sad parents, teachers and friends!). But, more importantly, there is immense personal satisfaction to be gained from attempting something slow and difficult - and, make no mistake, it will be both slow and difficult - and making a success of it. Think of the pride you will and should feel when you are able to play your first tune, or make it into the school orchestra or band for the first time. Imagine the audience clapping you at your first school concert! And later on, your local youth orchestra, band or jazz group will give you new and exciting opportunities - truly something worth aiming for.
And this is something that will be all your own. Nobody else can do it for you. No matter how encouraging your parents are, no matter how good your teacher is, this is something you have to do for yourself. And once you have made a success of it, you will be entitled to all the credit!
A lasting pleasure
Music will stay with you all your life. You will never lose the skills you learn (they'll get a bit rusty if you don't use them, but they'll come back when needed - like riding a bike, you never really forget how).
And you don't even have to be very good at it. No matter how lowly your achievement, you will always find opportunities if you want them. There are lots of amateur groups all over the country always looking for members. Some are very fine amateur orchestras or choral societies that can perform the same music as professionals, while others are strictly "fun" groups who aim much lower. If you look hard enough, you'll find something to suit you.
And you don't have to be with others, either. Many people get great pleasure from simply playing by themselves at home. These days you can buy pieces of music accompanied by a CD so that you can play along. You get all the pleasure of playing with others without stepping outside your own front door.
The social side
One part of being a musician that brings great pleasure to many young people is the "social" aspect of music-making. To meet and work with other people of your own age and with similar tastes is always enjoyable. It's like belonging to a youth club, only better because working on a common task - like preparing a concert or a show, undertaking a concert-tour or entering a competition - brings you all together so much more.
We have worked with young musicians in bands, choirs and orchestras for many years now, and have been able to observe the many firm and lasting friendships that are formed through these common experiences.
We think this is one of the most important benefits for young people. For this reason on the "Instruments" pages we have made a point of telling you what opportunities each instrument offers for group music-making.
Becoming a professional musician
One very bad reason for taking up a musical instrument is in the expectation that you will be able to make any money at it. True, a few outstanding players do get quite rich, and slightly more are at least able to make a living. Still more are able to make it a sideline to their regular jobs by playing in amateur dance-bands, jazz-bands, orchestras or rock groups. But the number of people who are able to do any of these is quite small.
We have been associated for the last twelve years with a major county youth orchestra - each year the hundred-or-so best young musicians from the whole of a large shire county are selected for membership, and perform in concerts, competitions, festivals and tours all over Europe. Of all the hundreds of fine young musicians that have passed through the orchestra in that time, only a tiny number have made it into the orchestral profession - perhaps one in a hundred. Maybe six or seven in a hundred later make a living from music in an indirect way, perhaps by becoming music teachers.
In the field of popular music much the same applies. There are hundreds of amateur groups, many of them very good. Only a handful ever make it as far as getting a recording contract, although many do manage to make money on a "semi-professional" basis, playing in pubs and clubs etc. So, if you are taking up an instrument with no other aim than to become a professional, forget it.
That's not to say that you shouldn't consider the music profession if you like it and become really good at it. Of course you should. But it's not a good reason to start in the first place.
We'll finish this section with a bold statement. Many people will disagree with this, and no doubt there are many exceptions but in our opinion, in the field of classical music, if you haven't reached Grade 8 standard by the time you are 14 or 15 years old, you aren't likely to be good enough to attempt to enter the music profession. There!
Music makes you clever!
Many young people take their instrumental tuition in school, and have to miss "normal" lessons once in a while in order to do so. Experience shows that in very few cases is their long-term progress in the "normal" subjects badly affected. Partly this is because pupils who take instrumental tuition tend to be intelligent and well-motivated and have supportive parents, and of course these are just the kind of pupils who do well in most subjects. The self-discipline and organisational skills required to learn an instrument (and it does take a lot of discipline and organisation to remember when your lesson is each week, to remember to take your instrument and music to school, to set aside time in each busy day to practise, and to organise that practice time in a useful and productive way) will help in every facet of your school life. By taking up a musical instrument you are more likely to become a better student, not a worse one.
But there is an even more important benefit. Although the idea is still the subject of some debate, recent research in several different countries has suggested that there are strong links between musical experience and reading age, IQ, or the physical development of certain parts of the brain. To put it crudely, many experts consider that "doing music" makes you more intelligent!
In his book The Mozart Effect musician and educator Don Campbell of the American Music Research Centre describes how French research into the use of music with children with speech and communication disorders revealed that Mozart's music in particular can enhance time/spatial perception, and more recent research has confirmed that Mozart's music has a beneficial effect on the development of spatial intelligence. This year there has been publicity about the increasingly-respectable idea of playing music to unborn babies!
In an excellent article (The Music Teacher, September 1998) Sally Goddard Blythe of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology described music as "one of life's earliest teachers", and quoted studies from the University of London demonstrating a clear relationship between musical experience and reading age (Barwick, 1990) and from the University of California showing that music lessons had a beneficial effect on spatial reasoning (Rauscher and Shaw). She concluded that music is "... a primary language; in its most primitive form it is akin to sensory language. In its most highly developed form it is pure art. To squeeze it from the curriculum or sideline it so that only the most privileged or the most determined receive musical training is short sighted and may ultimately contribute to falling standards in both literacy and numeracy .......".
"The Mozart Effect" is a website containing interesting articles and links on the effect of musical training on children's intelligence and general education.