A personal choice

Despite the above warnings, buying a musical instrument is very much about personal choice, so long as this choice also reflects your needs and budget.

Actually playing an instrument before you buy it is by far the best way to determine your purchase, especially if you are not an absolute beginner.

As with everything, don't be too swayed by gimmicks; there is no substitute for solid build and playability, no matter how many extra buttons or widgets another may have. That said, modern student instruments often offer fun gimmicks which help maintain children's interest; trumpets with unusual coloured lacquer, flavoured reeds and see-through mouthpieces are just some of the new products available. These are great so long as they don't affect the sound or playability significantly. Remember, too, that whilst that funky red trumpet might look great now, it might not be so cool five years down the line when you're playing in a symphony orchestra! See these things as they are – gimmicks – and act accordingly.

It's worth remembering that whilst on two instruments may look identical and have the same specifications, they may play entirely differently, so where possible, buy a specific instrument rather than just a specific model. Since playing is an innately physical activity, every instrument will be as different as every player, so finding an instrument that you are comfortable with is far more important than buying on recommendation alone.

That said, you should also be aware that if you have been playing for a while and are upgrading your instrument, it can be easy to exaggerate the difference. You will be accustomed to the look, sound and feel of your old instrument and your muscles will be trained in a very specific way, so try not to get too carried away when a new instrument feels entirely different: after a few weeks of 'playing it in', this novelty will be gone, so make sure you are happy with more than just novelty value!

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