how to choose an instrument

How to Choose the Right Instrument for You

Have you always dreamed of playing music but don’t know where to start? With so many instruments to choose from, it can be tough to pick the perfect one. But have no fear – this epic guide will help you uncover your inner rockstar!

I. Consider Your Personality and Lifestyle

Choosing an instrument that complements your personality and lifestyle will make learning much more enjoyable. Do a little self-reflection first before visiting that music shop.

Think About Your Temperament

Are you patient and detail-oriented or do you want instant gratification? How much time can you commit to daily practice? What music genres speak to your soul?

Patient and Detail-Oriented

If you love patterns and repetition, look into string instruments like the violin, cello, harp or acoustic guitar. Mastering technique takes time with these, but the payoff is huge.

Quick Learner

Like immediate feedback and variety? Try piano, drums, xylophone or electric guitar. You can start playing full songs almost right away. But be ready to practice consistently.


Only have 10-15 minutes a day? Opt for ukulele, harmonica or recorder. They’re portable with fast learning curves. Just know that intricate songs will take longer.

Genre Lover

Does country, jazz, rock or classical make your heart soar? Pick an instrument that dominates your favorite genre, like banjo for country or saxophone for jazz. You’ll love practicing songs you adore.

Consider Your Lifestyle

Will you be traveling a lot or mostly staying home? Do you live in an apartment or a house? How much money can you spend upfront and long term?

Frequent Traveler

Love adventures and road trips? Prioritize portable instruments like accordion, melodica, ukulele or acoustic guitar. Bonus points if they easily fit under an airplane seat!

Apartment Dweller

Sharing walls with neighbors? Avoid loud, resonating instruments like drums, bagpipes or trombones. Quieter options are violin, flute, keyboard or electric guitar with headphones.

Tight Budget

Can’t drop more than $150 upfront? Economical starter instruments include recorder, harmonica, ukulele, plastic flute and hand drums. Just prepare for eventual upgrades.

Financial Flexibility

If your budget goes up to $1000+ initially, explore pricier options like saxophone, trumpet, violin, cello or nicer guitars. They’ll last years with proper care.

II. Survey the Sound and Style of Instruments

Now that you’ve reflected on your personality, listen to each instrument’s unique sound and style. Let your ears guide you to promising options.

The Strings

From mellow and rich to bright and punchy, string instruments are extremely versatile. But they require disciplined practice to play beautifully.


This small 4-string instrument produces diverse sounds, from haunting melodies to lively folk and pop. Enjoy complex classical and modern songs after considerable practice.


With a deeper, richer tone than the violin, the large cello is perfect for basslines and moving melodies. From Bach to rock, its genre range astounds.

Acoustic Guitar

The classic 6-string guitar boasts a full, warm sound. Strum chords or pluck melodies to play anything from flamenco to folk to R&B hits.

Electric Guitar

Spike your sound with distortion, effects and driving riffs from the electric guitar. It dominates rock, blues, pop and more. Just be mindful of neighbors!


This elegant 47-string instrument evokes fairytales with ethereal tones. From medieval to new age, enjoy light genres after mastering unique technique.

The Woodwinds

Want to make lively dance tunes or soulful jazz numbers? Give woodwinds like flutes, clarinets and saxophones a whirl.


Small and nimble, the flute produces airy, bright tones perfect for classical and folk. Match your breathing to change notes with ease.


The rich, woody clarinet shines in classical, jazz and pop songs. Use your mouth and finger positions to leap between low and high pitches.


With a smooth, mellow tone, the versatile sax invigorates rock, funk and big band jazz. Master breath control and fingerings to play with expression.


This double-reed instrument hits piercing high notes. With significant practice, enjoy mastering Baroque, classical and modern compositions.

The Brass

If you love being the life of the party, try showstopping trumpets, horns and trombones. Just be prepared to buzz your lips and work those lungs!


The bright, bold trumpet is a rockstar at dance clubs and parades alike. Its high register adds power to any jazz, Latin, funk or pop tune.

French Horn

With a rich, mellow tone perfect for harmonies and melodies, the French horn brings warmth to orchestra performances.


This big, sliding instrument pumps up jazz, rock, classical and funk songs. Expect to buzz lips continuously to change its deep, brassy notes.


As the bass anchor of marching bands and orchestras, the tuba impressively amplifies low notes. Sustain buzzing lips and steady air flow.

The Percussion

Drums offer an energizing hands-on experience and let you provide the beat. Just be mindful of noise levels and grumpy neighbors!

Drum Kit

With cymbals, snares, toms and more, drum sets drive rock, pop, jazz and Latin music. Coordinate limbs to master timing and technique.

Hand Drums

Lightweight hand drums like bongos and djembes create infectious rhythms. Quickly pick up basic patterns across many cultures.

The Keys

Do you like harmony, resonance and flowing melodies? Then tickle those ivories with the piano, organ or keyboard.


This versatile string instrument allows rich harmonies, basslines, and melodies all at once. Play gently or pound out intense rhythms.

Electric Keyboard

Portable keyboards with tons of sounds and effects are great for beginners wanting instant gratification. Mimic piano or experiment with fun effects!


With multiple keyboards and vast sustaining power, the organ encompasses everything from gospel to rock. Complement choirs or lead as a soloist.

III. Consider Ergonomics and Physiology

To pick an instrument that feels natural, look at your body type and any physical limitations. Comfort fosters musical passion.

Height and Arm Length

Your height affects which instruments fit you best physically. Long arms also help reach certain instruments.

Tall People

If you’re over 5′ 7″, take advantage with cello, bass guitar, trombone, bass drum or harmonica. You can comfortably reach their full ranges.

Shorter Arms

Look for smaller instruments if your arms are on the shorter side, like violin, trumpet or ukulele. Avoid wide instruments like piano and drum kits.


Kid-sized versions are available for most instruments. Violins, guitars, woodwinds and brass come in smaller sizes perfect for little hands and arms.

Hand Size and Dexterity

If you have large hands, go for instruments with wide finger stretches like piano, guitar and drum kit. Smaller hands suit violins, flutes and trumpets more.


How’s your hand-eye coordination? Fast-moving instruments like drums, piano and saxophone require keen precision skills.

Weak Grip

Prefer minimal grip strength? Plucked instruments like harp, banjo and zither allow a delicate touch. Same for woodwinds like the flute.


Seek modified instruments if you have disabilities. For example: one-handed flutes for amputees or organs played with the feet for paraplegics. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Breathing Ability

Good breath control is critical for brass and woodwinds. But don’t worry, you can strengthen these muscles over time!


Certain instruments like flute, oboe, clarinet and French horn may irritate airways. Avoid triggers and use medication beforehand.

Weak Lungs

Can’t hold long notes? Start with guitar, violin or percussion until your breath strengthens. Monitor fatigue and build slowly.

Vocal Chord Issues

Avoid prolonged buzzing with brass if you have vocal chord dysfunction. Short buzzing bursts on trumpet or French horn may work instead. Check with your doctor.

IV. Weigh Logistics of Owning and Maintaining Instruments

Owning an instrument requires regular care and maintenance. Make sure you can realistically handle the logistics long-term.

Purchase Costs

Lessons, books, replacement parts and upgrades add up. Set a realistic max budget before falling in love.

Cheapest (under $150)

Harmonica, recorder, plastic flute, ukulele, bongo drums, slide whistle, kazoo

Affordable ($150 – $500)

Acoustic guitar, violin, clarinet, trumpet

Moderate ($500 – $2000)

Keyboard, trombone, saxophone, drum kit, cello

Expensive ($2000+)

Grand piano, double bass, bassoon, French horn, vibraphone

Maintenance Efforts

Some instruments need far more TLC. Assess your willingness for daily care and cleaning.

High Maintenance

Harps, violins, acoustic guitars and pianos need frequent tunings and string changes. Woodwinds require meticulous swab cleanings.

Medium Maintenance

Brass instruments only need occasional cleanings, but strings may need replacing. Percussion instruments just require skin tightening.

Low Maintenance

Ukuleles, plastic recorders and kazoos rarely need tuning or repairs. Give them a quick wipe down and they’re good to go.

Noise Levels

Apartment neighbors and family members will thank you for choosing a quieter instrument, especially as a beginner.


Drums, amplified instruments, brass, bagpipes

Moderate Volume

Piano, acoustic guitar, clarinet, saxophone


Flute, violin, ukulele, harp, xylophone

Portability Perks

Some instruments securely pack up for travel and practice on the go. Others only work at home.

Most Portable

Harmonica, recorder, ukulele, acoustic guitar, violin, trumpet, keyboard


Flute, clarinet, keyboard, saxophone, viola, cello

Least Portable

Piano, drum kits, double bass, tuba, harp

V. Give Potential Instruments a Test Drive

When you’ve narrowed down options, take instruments for a spin! Visit stores, join ensembles, take lessons. Then decide.

Shop Around Stores

Music shops let you hold instruments and discover comfortable fits before purchasing. Ask to try out display models.

What to Ask

  • Is this a good starter instrument at a fair price?
  • How durable is this brand and model?
  • What accessories (shoulder rests, mutes, metronomes etc.) do you recommend?
  • What are maintenance costs and hassles down the road?

Sit In on Classes

Ask instructors if you can quietly observe beginner classes. Watch how students handle their instruments and interact.

What to Look For

  • Do students look engaged and eager to participate?
  • Can you envision enjoying daily practice on this instrument long-term?
  • Does the music spark excitement or indifference? Really listen to your gut.

Schedule Trial Lessons

Many teachers and music schools offer discounted trial lessons. Come prepared with questions!

What to Ask Yourself

  • How difficult does it feel as a beginner?
  • Are you picking up techniques quickly or is it frustratingly challenging?
  • How do your hands, lungs, lips, body feel after practicing? Notice any strain?

VI. Embrace the Musical Journey Ahead!

After considerable thought and exploration, you’re ready to pick your new instrument! Learning takes patience and practice no matter which you choose. But playing music is a lifelong gift.

Stick With First Choice

Commit fully to your top choice for at least 6 months before rethinking. Consistency and time is key, especially as a beginner.

Find Great Teachers

Patient, fun teachers make all the difference. Look for those who connect with your learning style and musical interests.

Set Incremental Goals

Don’t expect overnight mastery! Set small, frequent goals each week while consistently practicing. Celebrate each milestone.

Perform Locally

Prepare simple songs to play for family and friends. Consider open mics at coffee shops. Performance is a joy!

Join Music Groups

Ensemble experiences are hugely motivating and supportive. Try school bands, church choirs, community orchestras and more.

Remain Open-Minded

Be willing to try diverse music styles to expand your skills over time. Step outside comfort zones periodically.

Embrace the Journey

Learning an instrument takes years…but what an amazing, fulfilling adventure. Enjoy each phase of the process and have fun!

Frequently Asked Questions

Which instrument is the easiest to learn?

The easiest instruments for beginners include ukulele, recorder, harmonica, percussion like bongo or djembe drums, and basic keyboards. You can start playing fun melodies and rhythms right away!

Which musical instrument has the least maintenance?

Instruments needing minimal maintenance include percussion like shakers, tambourines and bongo drums, as well as harmonica and recorder. They rarely require expensive supplies or repairs.

What instrument can I play with arthritis?

Arthritis-friendly instruments include percussion (conga drums, tambourine), lap steel guitar, violin/fiddle, dulcimer, autoharp, melodica and recorder. Look for lightweight options with little resistance. Avoid tiring grips and finger stretches.

Which instruments are best for small hands?

Ideal instruments for small hands include violin, flute, piccolo, trumpet, clarinet, recorder and ukulele (soprano size). Child-size versions of cello, guitar and piano are other great options allowing comfortable reach.

What instruments can I play with asthma?

Wind instruments requiring strong breath support may trigger asthma, like flute, saxophone, oboe, trombone and French horn. Percussion, string and keyboard instruments pose far less risk. Discuss triggers with your doctor. Always have medication handy just in case.