There are several different instruments involved in a school or concert band, and each has a unique sound and playing style. Discovering which instrument works best for you is often part of the learning experience.
One significant concern for those entering band is the cost involved.
The cheapest band instrument is the flute. However, depending on which brand you buy, the clarinet and trumpet can also be affordable options. Buying second-hand instruments is also cheaper than buying new ones. Renting can be a less-expensive short-term solution, but this gets more expensive the longer you go.
In this article, we will investigate the most common band instruments and which of them are the least expensive. We will also discuss some factors that could weigh into the decision and how to ensure you receive the best bang for your buck.
Instruments Used in Band
The different instruments used in bands fall under three sections that define the way the instruments produce sound. While there are five different instrument families, your average school band only employs three of them.
The woodwind family of instruments derives its name from a time when they were all made from wood. Now, the materials of “woodwind” instruments include metal, plastic, or a combination of the three.
The second half of the name woodwind comes from the way the instruments function.
By channeling the air through reeds and pipes and changing the pitch, often using a range of holes, these instruments can create beautiful sounds.
In general, woodwinds tend to cost less than instruments within the other groups associated with school bands.
This lower cost is partially due to the variety of materials used in their construction, allowing alternatives to the more expensive options, and their smaller size contributes as well.
They make up a significant amount of any band and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The list of woodwind instruments includes the oboe, flute, piccolo, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, and bassoon (source).
Named after the material these instruments are made from, brass has an unmistakable look to it.
Based on the fundamental horn structure of old, these instruments work by channeling sound down the pipes and expanding their shape towards the end.
Due to their shape, these instruments are the loudest of the band families and make up an integral part of the music. Like the woodwind, they also rely on the breath of the user.
They do not use reeds; instead, they utilize the vibrations created by the lips to produce the sound.
Brass instruments use valves to channel the sound and change the pitch and have similar flexibility to the woodwinds. Included in the brass family are the trombone, trumpet, French horn, and tuba.
Apart from some of the more common brass instruments, this family is generally the most expensive because of its brass composition. With some very elaborate shapes and sizes, these instruments tend to add a beautiful visual presence to the band.
Finally, we have percussion instruments, whose defining feature is that they primarily produce their sound when struck in some fashion (source). This impact creates vibrations that are amplified in different ways.
Due to the sound they make and the way they do it, percussion instruments are vital to the tempo of the band. Some percussion instruments have an inbuilt range of tones, like marimbas and xylophones.
Others have a less fixed tone, determined instead by how you use them.
Percussion instruments tend to fall in between woodwind and brass in terms of price. Some snare drum kits can get quite pricey but, in relative terms, they are cheaper than many other instruments.
Some of the instruments included in the percussion family are the cymbals, triangle, snare drum, tambourine, gong, and piano. In bands, the percussion section can be limited and may offer less choice for the user.
Which is the Cheapest Instrument?
Overall, the cheapest band instrument is probably the flute. Two close runners up include clarinet and trumpet.
There are certain percussion instruments, like the clash cymbals and tambourine, that are cheaper than these in general, but their use is far more limited.
While the flute might be the least expensive band instrument, there are significant factors that play into the final price.
Chief amongst these is the brand involved. Several top brands make great-quality instruments, each with its advantages and varying price tags.
The more expensive brands do tend to provide better quality, last longer, and generally create a better sound. While there are many instrument brands, certain ones stand out in their particular field.
Toward the lower side of the price spectrum, you will encounter brands like Mendini, Jean Paul, and Sky, alongside many more. These instruments can provide great value for someone experimenting with music and not ready for a serious investment.
As they go up in price and general quality, you’ll encounter some of the more popular brands like Etude and Prelude. These can make solid starter instruments, especially when the user is committed to the craft.
At the top of the spectrum, you will find brands like Yamaha, Jupiter, and King. These are finely crafted instruments but will make a greater impact on your wallet.
Renting or Buying
The next decision in calculating the most cost-effective approach to picking an instrument is whether to rent or buy. Renting an instrument can be a cheaper alternative, and it allows you to get better brands of whichever one you want.
However, this largely depends on how long you will use the instrument.
Generally, the renting situation is rent to own, which is often only cheaper if the rental term is shorter than about a year. The reason for this is that you are paying the list price plus interest, instead of the actual selling price (source).
By the end of it, the rental costs can far exceed the purchase costs.
On top of the price gap, there is the consideration of commitment. While you can’t always be sure of how long the instrument will be used, buying it outright provides a sense of commitment that might help your motivation.
Additionally, you can always sell the instrument afterward should interest wane.
Counter to this, if interest does wane, then renting provides greater freedom to change instruments or pick another path entirely.
Renting can also relieve any pressure on the user to stay committed to that instrument, perhaps allowing for greater, more natural enthusiasm toward the chosen instrument.
To help save on some costs and demonstrate commitment, buying second-hand may be beneficial. This option can be cheaper while allowing access to better brands of instruments.
Of course, as with anything, buying second-hand does have inherent risk. Some instruments may struggle to keep up with extended use. New instruments will also have better warranty options and repair opportunities.
Whether you decide to rent or buy, there are other things to consider before getting a band instrument. These factors can make paying that little bit extra worth a closer look.
An integral part of getting an instrument is to make sure it fits the user. The type of instrument makes a big difference, especially when dealing with children.
For example, some flutes and clarinets can be very difficult to play with small hands, and some people may find them more challenging based on the shape of their lips.
In these instances, it may be necessary to acquire something more user-specific or even custom made. While these changes can increase the price, it might be essential to playing ability.
Perhaps the most important step is to speak with any music teachers and tutors connected to the band, and the intended user in question (source).
They might be able to point you toward alternative options for instruments, including possibly borrowing theirs.
With all the options out there, it helps to get as much information as possible from those with experience.
For information on choosing an instrument, read or article, “What Instrument Should I Learn First?“
Once you’ve made your decision, it’s important to ensure your chosen instrument holds up against the test of time. In the long run, this will save you a significant amount of money in repair costs and potentially the need to purchase another instrument.
Each instrument has its own way of being cleaned and maintained. Whichever you end up choosing, make sure to follow those specific instructions. Treating these instruments with care can greatly extend their lifespan.
While it can be appealing to look for the cheapest option when it comes to musical instruments, the price alone shouldn’t be the only factor you consider.
The flute is one of the least expensive options, but you may want to spend a little extra to get an instrument that you will enjoy.
While the price may often be an indicator of quality, it is important to remember that the difference is often more negligible than you might think. There are many good-quality, cheaper options available that will perform very well.