Dr Downing Music

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions raised by customers which may be helpful to you.

I am 75. Am I too old to learn to play a musical instrument?

Emphatically no! If you want to do it - then do it.

The only time that you are too old to learn to play is when you are dead!

 
   

My child is five. Is five too young to learn?

Every parent wants to give their child a good start in life. Very young children easily get excited when they hear strongly rhythmic music. But to study a musical instrument properly does require maturity. Every child must be able to control their muscles with full understanding which does not start to happen until the age of 9 or even 10. They must also be physically big enough to hold an orchestral instrument like the flute or clarinet, but could still have fingers too slender or hands too small to cover holes or reach keys.
If your child just wants to play anything, as many young children do, then usually they will be able to do so in their school and experiment with a wide range of percussive instruments. As they get older and bigger, they will start to be more interested in specific instruments such as the flute, clarinet, violin etc. In all cases the question of size of instrument and student must be carefully assessed. Far too many "teachers" start children on flutes or clarinets before they are able to hold the instrument correctly and before they can control their face muscles correctly.
It is far better to be patient and not be tempted to pitchfork your child into formal lessons - especially on the piano. The world is full of adults with dreadful memories of relentless piano practice and boring lessons. Most of them were put off music for life. When the desire to play becomes overwhelming your child will let you know in no uncertain terms - but do be guided by a competent teacher who really understands how to teach their instrument.
Unfortunately, there is a myth that "you can never be too be too young to start", but the younger the child, the shorter their attention span. What will take a 6 year old two months to learn, a 12 year old will learn in less than a week. 12 or 13 years is a perfectly good age to start but no age is too late. I started to learn clarinet at 18, the flute at 40 and the trombone at 69. I have been a full time music teacher from the age of 41 - over 30 years - it's never too late.
 
   

I suffer from arthrithis - what instruments can I play?

Naturally the answer will depend on the nature and severity of your arthritis. If your fingers are afflicted, as mine are, then an instrument that does not rely on finger dexterity will be appropriate. As a clarinettist, I started to suffer pain, stiffness and progressive distortion which eventually affected my playing adversely. So at the age of 69 I switched to the trombone which can be played simply by using the slide. No way will I let arthritis beat me!
Other instruments that do not rely on finger dexterity are percussion, such as the xylophone, marimbas, timpani and, don't laugh, the triangle. I used to think that the triangle was a joke until I was asked to play one in a public performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Although I was only required in the final movement, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, despite the nervous strain of standing fully exposed to public view. I also finally learned that every instrument of the orchestra is vitally important - which is why the composer included it!
If your fingers are not too distorted, covered hole instruments such as the saxophone, oboe, clarinet or valved instruments like most brass, including french horn can be most satisfying. To some extent, the electric guitar can also be a possibilty if you can use a plectrum in one hand and play chords with the other hand.
 
   

How do I decide what is the best instrument for me to learn if I cannot play one?

Firstly, desire. If you really want to play a particular instrument and and love its sound, are not suffering from any obvious physical handicap, then that is the instrument to learn. The most important thing to do is decide: "I am GOING to play it - no matter how long it takes!"
Don't even think of the word "can't". Simply "I will!"
If you are determined to practise daily - even as little as five minutes a day - you will succeed.
Before you rush out and buy one, however, consult a few teachers and have a trial lesson or two if possible. When you decide to start, BUY an instrument - do NOT rent one. If you rent one, you are leaving the door open to escape by giving it back at the end of the rental period and you will never succeed. If you have committed good money by buying your instrument you will be more determined to make it work and much more likely to succeed.
 
   

But there are so many different instruments that I like. How do I choose between say flute or clarinet?

As in the previous answer, choose the one you like MOST to start on. You can always add a second instrument when you have mastered the first one. The secret is to start!
Many clarinettists also play the saxophone - it is automatic providing that you learn the clarinet first. The flute has very similar fingering to the saxophone but a different method of making the sound. Nevertheless, many people play all three instruments equally well.
 
   

Is it better to buy a used instrument or a new one?

If you are thinking of playing a bassoon for instance, then price will be a major factor. For example a reasonably good quality new bassoon will almost certainly set you back upwards of £1,000 (US$1,500). A top line bassoon will be in excess of £5,000 (US$7,500), so a good quality used bassoon would be a good option. Be wary of very cheap "new" instruments from unknown makers - they will not be a good purchase - as in everything that is cheap.
For the more popular instruments like flutes and clarinets, trumpets and cornets, they are less expensive to start with. Nevertheless, buy the best instrument that you can afford - it will be much easier to play and could easily last you a lifetime. My preference, if price is a restraint, is to look for a top quality used instrument within my budget. Unlike cars, instruments don't wear out through usage and in the case of good quality instruments, have usually been lovingly looked after.
 
   

One final thought: You cannot fail at making music.

If you can bang, toot, pluck, sing or hum a note in the right place at the right time - then you have succeeded - even it is the only note that you have to play in the whole work!

Learning to make music is a wonderful hobby for life.

 
   

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