If you are a long-time musician, you surely have experienced the phenomenon of having one special instrument feel like a part of you, while others are just, well, instruments. And you have probably noticed that you play better on the one you love. Every experienced musician knows that individual instruments have personalities. You can set two identical instruments side by side and, despite appearing to be the same, they are not.
There are two areas of affinity between a person and an instrument: (1) one’s attraction and ability related to a type of instrument, and (2) one’s relationship with an individual instrument.
Regarding type, I studied numerous instruments, starting from age four: accordion, ukulele, piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin, Appalachian dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, recorder, pennywhistle, Irish flute, bodhran, octave mandolin, fiddle, rebec, harp, autoharp, viola da gamba, and probably several more that I don’t remember. I have them all a good try, learned a few basic skills on some of them, developed reasonable skills on others, achieved advanced skills on four of them. It took 27 years of exploration for me to find the type instrument that inspired me in a way that allowed me to have a career with it.
When an aspiring musician tells me they have trouble making themselves practice, I am likely to tell them, “You have not found your instrument yet.” Too many parents of young students assume that any instrument will do, and that if there is a lack of interest it means the student is not musically inclined. How many parents have refused to let a child play the instrument they are drawn to, substituting something else instead?
I wanted to play violin when I was a kid, but was given piano lessons instead. Not surprisingly, it was a failure. She allowed me to try other instruments (but never violin, for some reason) – and that led to the log search for one that suited me. Had I played violin first, that search may not have been necessary.
If a child has an affinity for a particular instrument, it should be taken seriously. If she wants a harp, don’t get her a lyre or a flute. If he wants a guitar, don’t get him a balalaika. No one should be made to play an instrument for which they have no passion. Logic does not enter the equation, nor does price. A new musician deserves a good quality instrument as much as an experienced one does.
Too many new musicians start out on an inferior instrument and find it too hard to play, never realizing that a resulting lack of skill development is not due to inability on their part, but because the instrument is barely playable. Get a decent instrument if you want to know whether you have a talent for it. Playing a “student model” can squelch your passion quickly, unless it happens to be the one you love.
Regarding the individual instrument, of course there are differences from one model to another, such as size, number of strings or keys, type of material and construction, and so on. But even when an instrument is in every discernable way identical to another one of the same design, you will probably still feel more drawn to one over the other. Your intuition is important, because you will play better on the one you love. Music is about passion.
Your musicianship is not something to be taken lightly, nor its importance in your quality of life to be underestimated. To reiterate, never buy an instrument you are not in love with. Logic is not a reliable factor. Go with your gut. Having the right instrument will inspire you to be the best musician you can be.