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Classical Instrument Guide - Which Instrument is Right for Me?

Classical Instruments Guide
Classical Instruments Guide

Classical Instrument Guide – Which Instrument is Right for Me?

Thinking about learning an instrument? Classical music is the perfect place to start. Read our guide and choose your instrument here!

By Rob Foden | Published 23.04.20

Studies have shown that classical music can improve sleeping patterns, reduce stress, develop patience, persistence, and improve mental agility; things we'd all like to improve! Learning a classical instrument is a fantastic way of spending time at home, and there are a wealth of books and learning resources available to get you started.

Learning a classical instrument will teach you how to understand music and notation, as well as helping you develop an arsenal of transferable skills which can be used in other genres of music – it’s the perfect starting place for branching out to jazz, pop, rock, and more.

There are lots of classical instruments for you to choose from. You may already have one in mind you wish to learn, or maybe you're open to suggestions. Luckily for you, we're here to help you conduct your decision…

So, whether you’re a beginner getting started or a current musician branching out with a new instrument, read on and see our top recommendations to get you started.

Contents

Click these links to jump ahead:

  1. Piano and Keyboard
  2. Classical Guitar
  3. Violin
  4. Cello and Double Bass
  5. Recorder
  6. Saxophone
  7. Clarinet
  8. Flute
  9. Trumpet
  10. Trombone
  11. Harp
  12. Essential Accessories

Piano and Keyboard

Pianos and Keyboards

A cornerstone of the musical world. The piano is an expansive instrument that straddles all genres of music. In fact, in terms of a musical education, there might be no better starting point!

By its nature, the piano is the perfect gateway to learning about music theory, chords, notation, composition, and songwriting. You’ll even be able to transfer your skills to modern music production, where your keyboard ability and harmonic knowledge can be used to maximum effect. Once you’ve learned the basics of piano, you’ll be able to join almost any ensemble and branch out to any genre of music.

When starting piano, you’ll want to choose between a keyboard, digital piano, acoustic piano or hybrid piano. If it’s your first instrument, you may also think about buying a bundle with everything you need to start playing.

Keyboards may look like pianos, but these affordable digital instruments include a huge range of extra instrument sounds and are perfect for beginners or younger players. Many keyboards offer built-in lessons or musical accompaniments to play along to. Keyboard workstations are enhanced versions of digital keyboards with even more options for songwriting, composition, recording, and creating complete arrangements.

Digital pianos generally include fewer sounds than a digital keyboard, but they replicate the feel of an acoustic piano more closely. If you’re serious about learning classical, popular, and jazz piano, this is a great starting point. Stage pianos are the most compact variety and perfect for taking up little room at home – their pedals come separately, and they require a stand or tabletop. Digital upright pianos look more like a traditional acoustic piano and are just as much a classy piece of furniture as they are an instrument.  

Hybrid pianos are a premium piano option, featuring the convenience of digital technology (many piano sounds, headphone output etc) combined with the real playing mechanics of an acoustic instrument (real hammers, dampers, and more). These pianos feature stunning cabinets and you’d be hard pressed to tell they weren’t ‘real’ acoustic instruments.

Three digital piano recommendations for learning classical music

Shop now | Pianos and Keyboards 

Classical Guitar 

Classical Guitars

One of the most popular instruments for any beginner. With the classical guitar, you can perform solos by John Williams or Julian Bream, or join other musicians - think of the guitar/violin tango duos of Piazolla or the might of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.

Once you’ve picked up the basics, you’ll be able to easily move onto fiery flamenco, rock and pop, acoustic guitar, jazz guitar, or even the exciting nylon-strung sound of Rodrigo y Gabriela. Many classical players also make an easy transition to electric guitar after they’ve honed their technique and musical understanding.

Classical guitars have the added advantage of being strung with nylon strings. These cause less wear and tear on a new player’s fingers, making the classical guitar a great intro to acoustic and electric guitar playing (both of which feature steel strings).

New classical musicians may also want to consider the mandolin: played with a plectrum, this compact instrument has a wonderful classical, folk, and bluegrass repertoire.

You may also consider the ukulele: with its compact size, soft nylon strings, and its quick learning curve for beginners, this instrument is ideal as an introduction to the guitar.

Three classical guitar recommendations:

Shop now | Classical Guitars 

Violin 

Violins

The violin is the leading group of the orchestra. It’s also a prolific chamber instrument and soloist – think the virtuosity of Paganini, the sensual tango of Piazolla, the slippery jazz of Stephane Grappelli, and even the modern pop sound of Clean Bandit.

The violin is a highly expressive instrument. Once you’ve got your bow under control, there’s a world of repertoire and ensembles available to you as a violin player. You’ll quickly become in-demand for string quartets, orchestras, pop groups, and more.

If you’d like to push the classical boundaries even further, you could choose from our collection of electric violins. These contemporary instruments can be hooked up to effects pedals and amps to expand your tonal palette.

Don’t forget about the viola too! These instruments look similar to violins, but their lowered tuning allows them a deeper pitch range. Violas act as the vital melodic link between the violin and cello in a string ensemble.

Three violin recommendations:

Shop now | Violins 

Cello and Double Bass

Cellos

The cello and double bass may look similar at first, but they occupy very different musical realms...

Choose the double bass and you’ll become the foundation of the orchestra. The bedrock if you will. This grandiose instrument produces the lowest notes in the string family and is frequently used for dramatic effect in the orchestral section - think of the harrowing theme from Jaws.

Once you’ve mastered the basics (pun very much intended), you’ll have no problem moving beyond classical music. The double bass is a staple of jazz ensembles, big band, musical theatre, bluegrass, blues, and more. You may even branch out to electric bass for playing in musical theater, jazz, or rock/pop groups.

Choose the cello and you’ll enjoy the best of both treble and bass. While capable of reaching the lowest notes in a string quartet, the cello is equally at home playing soaring melodies of the most expressive kind.

The cello is also a keen solo instrument; this instrument opens up a world of Bach Cello Suites, Beethoven Sonatas (accompanied by piano), as well as singing melodies (imagine Camille Saint-Saëns' The Swan).

Three double bass recommendations

Shop now | Double Bass 

Three cello recommendations

Shop now | Cellos 

Recorder

Recorders

The recorder is a great way to learn the basics of music. This incredibly robust instrument is very common among school-age children, and for very good reason: it’s super quick to get started! The straight-forward pleasure of being able to create a tune you recognise, in an afternoon, is the thrill of playing music.

The recorder is the perfect gateway to playing other woodwind instruments, or it can be truly mastered to a professional level. If you do take your recorder playing to advanced levels, you’ll find the genre of early music performance where great work has been done to revive historical instruments and repertoire.

Three recorder recommendations:

Shop now | Recorders

Saxophone

Saxophones

The saxophone is one of the younger woodwind instruments (invented in the 1840s), but during its lifetime, it has become an icon of jazz.

Saxophones come in four popular variants: from high-pitch to low - soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Due to their size, we'd recommend you start on the alto as it's the most accessible.

While today we see the saxophone most frequently in jazz and big band settings, this family of instruments has become an accepted addition to classical repertoire. Sure, you may not find yourself playing Mozart (he died half a century before the saxophone was invented), but more modern composers embrace the tonal colours that the saxophone can bring – check out Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites as a great example.

If you choose the saxophone, your first notes could begin in the ‘classical’ genre, in the sense that you’ll be learning to read music and develop your technique. In this genre, the saxophone often features with piano accompaniment, in saxophone ensembles, or perhaps as a soloist in a concerto.

Carry on playing the saxophone and you’ll quickly find yourself learning jazz. You’ll become an in-demand player for big bands, pop/soul groups, musical theatre, New Orleans brass bands, and more. Saxophones have even been adapted to modern genres of dance/electronic music (search for Too Many Zooz if you don’t believe us).

Three saxophone recommendations:

Shop now | Saxophones

Clarinet

Clarinets

The Clarinet can be a natural progression from the recorder, or it can be a fantastic starting point to playing reeds. It lends itself perfectly to orchestral playing, where you’ll often be one of a small selection of clarinet players in a section.

The clarinet is capable of highly expressive playing, as well as incredible dexterity. It is for this reason that the clarinet replaces the role of the violin in a wind orchestra. The clarinet is also a wonderful solo instrument, accompanied by piano or orchestra (search the Mozart Clarinet Concerto K622).

If you choose to explore other styles beyond classical music, the clarinet is no stranger to pop (Acker Bilk – Stranger on the Shore), jazz (the iconic opening to Rhapsody In Blue), as well as a large repertoire of big band music.

What’s more, learn the clarinet and you’ll be halfway to playing the saxophone! Both instruments are played with a reed and have very similar fingering. You’ll find many players who double on both instruments.

Three clarinet recommendations:

Shop now | Clarinets

Flute

Flutes

The flute is perhaps the nimblest of all wind instruments. If you seek exciting melodies, delicate textures, and a small but key part of the orchestra, look no further! Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un Faune is a prime example of the huge tonal range of the flute.

As well as orchestral settings, the flute is also found in wind bands, smaller ensembles, and as a soloist. The flute has even ventured into rock music (think Jethro Tull or Van Morrison’s Moondance) as well as contemporary music (The Great Train Race by Ian Clarke).

Three flute recommendations:

Shop now | Flutes

Trumpet

Trumpets

Almost no instrument slides between jazz and classical as easily as the trumpet. Forming the powerful top end of the orchestral brass section, the trumpet frequently shows off its military background in orchestral and film scores – think Fanfare for the Common Man (of which John Williams based his Superman theme), or the film scores of Ennio Morricone.

The trumpet is equally at home in the jazz genre, being an essential part of any big band and a key soloist in smaller ensembles (Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie). The trumpet is capable of a huge range of effects, making it widely called upon for jazz and Latin styles (Strictly Come Dancing), as well as pop (OMI – Cheerleader).

Lower cost options - like the plastic pTrumpet and playLITE range - make the trumpet more accessible than ever before. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll be ready to buy a selection of mutes which not only attenuate the volume of the instrument, but also create a wide range of tonal effects.

Three trumpet recommendations:

Shop now | Trumpets

Trombone

Trombones

Another member of the loud-and-proud brass family. One of the loudest instruments in the orchestra, the trombone is a crucial part of the brass section.

With its unique sliding mechanism, you’ll see trombones in brass bands, marching bands, wind ensembles, and played solo (often with accompaniment). The trombone also crosses genres into pop, soul, funk, Motown, ska, jazz, and much more.

Getting started with the trombone is made more affordable by the pBone and playLITE range. They have the same workings as a brass trombone but are constructed from plastic. This has the benefit of making them weather resistant – perfect for street performance!

Three trombone recommendations:

Shop now | Trombones

Harp

Harps

The harp is a specialist string instrument with a delicate plucked sound. While you may only find a single harp player in an orchestra, the harp is very common as a soloist and small ensemble player.

The harp is also well-known as a folk instrument, with smaller Lyre harps offering a compact alternative to the larger sized instrument.

New players may consider a 12-string Irish harp to master the basics of hand technique, before upgrading to a larger harp with more strings and levers for playing in different keys.

Three harp recommendations:

Shop now | Harps

Essential Accessories

Once you know what instrument you'd like to learn, you may also be interested in some accessories to help you on your way.

There are a few accessories which are essential for learning an instrument. Items such as a music stand, metronome, tuner, and tuition book will all assist your learning and make for a much more enjoyable experience. All of these can be found on our Orchestral Accessories page.

If you're looking for something more specific like a mouthpiece, piano bench, or valve oil, then make sure you check out or specific accessory pages below. Here you'll find an abundance of different accessories from some of the hottest brands in the industry.

Find out more:

Posted on 23 Apr 2020 09:22 to category : Instruments News

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