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Purchasing A Musical Instrument For A Child - What to Look For

Updated on November 28, 2014

The gift of music is a skill your child will enjoy their entire lives whether they choose to make a career of it or not.

If your child is just beginning I recommend renting an instrument. That way if they don't enjoy it you can either switch instruments or return it. Once you know that your child likes their instrument and wants one of their own, where do you look for the correct one? I cannot emphasis this enough, buying a low quality instrument will hinder your childs success. I have seen it many times. A parent proudly proclaims how little they spent on an instrument only to find they got exactly what they paid for. That's not to say it's not possible to get a good deal on instruments, you just have to know what to look for. The video below speaks of a specific music store but does give great information on possible problems with purchasing an instrument without knowing what to look for.

Buying A Musical Instrument (3:15)

Common Mistakes

Not Playing An Instrument Before Buying

It is imperative the student can successfully play the instrument before buying it. They need to play several song, over and over to get a proper feel for the instrument. Playing one or two notes is not enough. If you are buying an instrument for a student who cannot play yet or if you are unsure, ask your music teacher to play and evaluate it before purchasing.

An example of a purchase gone wrong was a parent of a former flute student who purchased a flute from Craigslist for $25. No one tried the flute before purchased. It turned out to be a very old, not well made unknown brand flute. I've played flute professionally for years and I could hardly get a sound out of it. Not surprisingly my student fell behind because she had to work so hard to make a sound. She couldn't keep up with the new lessons. Unfortunately in the end she quit.


Not all instruments are equal. They vary in material used (nickel plated [avoid!], silver plated, brass, solid silver, etc) as well as how each mechanism is crafted. Before purchasing find out the name brand as well as model number (not serial number). For example, Yamaha sells several different model instruments ranging from student model through professional models. You don't want to buy a student model Yamaha at a professional model price. Once you know the name brand and model number do some research. Find list price, see the price the local music store sells that model for, and ask your music teacher what they think of that brand instrument. If it is a brand no one has heard of then avoid it. Musicians are aware of all good brands of their instrument.


Pad with padworms

Notice how the pad looks torn or chewed up. This is what the damage of padworms look like. Check the keys for this look.
Notice how the pad looks torn or chewed up. This is what the damage of padworms look like. Check the keys for this look.

Normal pads


Specific Problems to Look For In Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, and Saxophones


Padworms are very small bugs (you won't see them) that eat the padding (pads) under each key (see pictures). Having padworms can be repaired. The instrument will need to be repadded and you will need to buy a new case since the bugs also infest the case. If you purchase an instrument with padworms keep in mind in addition to what you paid for the instrument you will have to factor in the cost of new pads and a new case.

Keys completely covering keyholes


Index finger hole not completely covering


All Keys Cover Keyholes

If you push a key down and it doesn't fully cover the keyhole air will leak while playing the instrument. This effects the ease of play as well as the sound produced. Sometimes this is a problem that can be fixed, other times the cause of the leak cannot be fully corrected. If you notice this problem in an instrument you're looking to purchase, without a professional telling you it can be fixed I recommend not purchasing it.


Other things to look out for are sticky keys(keys that don't open and close without sticking). This is also a problem that ranges from easy fix to big problem. Lastly, look for dents. A few small dents may not pose a problem but dents can affect the quality of the instrument.

If you are a professional reading this please feel free to add other things to look for in the comment box below.

Specific Problems to Look For in Trumpets, Trombones, French Horns, Baritones, and Tubas

Bent or Sticky Valves

Bent valves or trombone slides are a problem which could be difficult/impossible to fix. Sticky valves or trombone slides may be as simple to fix as oiling the valve (or slide), but could also be a symptom of something more serious. If you are not sure have a music teacher examine it or look for a different one to purchase.


Dents may or may not be a problem but is another thing to be aware of when purchasing an instrument.

If you are a professional please feel free to add other things to look for in the comment box below.


When it comes to buying an instrument most of the time you get what you pay for. Educate yourself and consult with your child's music teacher before buying an instrument. Don't buy a poor quality instrument, it will hinder your child's success.

Have you purchased a musical instrument for a child?

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    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      What a great thing you did for your son Joe! Such a proud moment being picked to play a solo. Thank you for sharing your story.



    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      You're so right on with this idea of buying a quality instrument. We did this for our son, and in high school, he was picked to play a solo from the Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) Theme at a major concert. Had we purchased an inferior instrument, he might have been discouraged at the outset. Thanks for sharing, Heather! Aloha!


    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      Very true! Glad you read and commented. :)

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I think often parents believe that teachers can do miracles even on broken instruments. On top of teaching respect for music, it's also important to teach respect of the instrument itself.

    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      Thank you! As a music teacher (former) it used to drive me nuts when kids would bring broken instruments that barely work. I understand the cost, but they are setting their kids up for failure by expecting them to be able to play well on broken instruments.

      Sounds like a great plan you had for the violins! And, great job on your flute investment. Your kids always have that skill because of what you provided them. :)

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      When my son was growing up and playing the violin, we had to buy several violins along the way. The Susuki association would organize to have someone come to Ottawa and bring used violins so the kids could try them. I remember that he even took back the smaller size violin; so it was a kind of exchange and less expensive than a brand new one. When our son was at the full size, we exchanged it for a better and more expensive violin! I think that idea made good sense.

      For my other son, we bought the flute in a music store in Ottawa and we had the flute cleaned professionally on a regular base to avoid (or clean) the sticky keys :-)

      Interesting hub, Heather! Thanks for sharing!

      Voted up and useful!