When is the best time to start thinking about a better quality instrument for your student musician? They quality of name brand student instruments has improved greatly in the last several years and most students can be well served by them for a number of years assuming they are well cared for. On the flip side, if the student started on an E-Bay special with no part support and questionable acoustical properties you can’t up-grade soon enough!
New instruments are very exciting and will typically cause a nice up tick in practice time. Is the student ready? How much do they practice at home? Their internal motivation is probably the best indicator of future success. A new instrument alone will not help an unmotivated student and will not automatically make a mediocre player an all-state player. A band composed of top level players all using student level instrument will still sound far better than a student group all using top line instruments. However without question better instruments will allow motivated students to advance more quickly.
There are many options when seeking a step-up instrument for your student. Ideally you would want to find a store with a wide selection and plan on spending at least an hour or so trying different models. Come prepared with a variety of music that the player knows well. Usually fact technical passages are not the best for trying new instruments. Lyrical music that spans the playable range often works best but you will want to play articulated passages as well as slurred. Even 2+3 octave scales work well when testing instruments. Trying to compare more than 2 instruments at a time can get rather confusing so do head-to-head match ups and eliminate one instrument then add a different one to the mix. The player will likely use this instrument for a long time so be sure you get to audition a nice selection of instruments. Playing just one or two can be quite limiting considering the investment involved. Ideally you would want to try at least 4 different instruments to get a feel for what will work best for you.
The big question-how much do these cost? There is quite a range so below I have listed prices starting from entry level step-up to professional. Custom, hand made instruments will often cost 3-4 times what standard instruments cost but there is no need to go there yet! One word of cation regarding some “special” model instruments that large chain stores may have made especially for them. Often these instruments have very similar features to other standard models and will play quite nicely. The only draw back is on potential re-sale or trade-in value. Non-standard models will bring a fair amount less than the traditional models when on the used market.
Flute -$1,200-2,500 (fully professional flutes can run to $20,000 and more pretty easily!)
Violin and viola- $800-$3,000 (top level violins and violas will start in the $20,000 range!)
Cellos-$1,500-$5,000 (as above for top level instruments!)
Please feel free to post any questions!