Buying a new instrument for college-level study

If you are preparing to start a college music degree, you may need or want a new instrument. I strongly suggest that you contact your professor before making this purchase. Every professor is of course different, but here are some things that you are likely to discover in most cases:

Photo, Andrew Shieh
Photo, Andrew Shieh
  • The professor will be happy and relieved that you are seeking their advice before making a purchase, and will be anxious to work with you on finding the right instrument. They have seen previous tragedies involving students arriving on campus with new, expensive, and totally unsuitable instruments.
  • The professor will likely encourage you to start the semester with your current instrument, even if it’s not really college-worthy, so that you can take the necessary time to pick out a new instrument together. The professor will in many cases want to try out instruments with you to help you pick out the very best one.
  • The professor in many or most cases will have a variety of suitable makes and models in mind, including some (relatively) budget-friendly options. They are likely to have a favorite—probably the model they play on themselves—but will likely concede that the same instrument is not suitable for every single musician. Still, some may require a specific model.
  • Serious college study will require a professional-grade instrument. If you are window-shopping at a music store or online retailer, you can likely assume that anything marked “student” or “intermediate” will not be adequate for the rigors of college study. On the other hand, be aware that not everything labeled “professional” by the seller is high-quality enough for true professional use, even if it’s that maker’s top-of-the-line model. Additionally, instruments that were genuine professional models several decades ago might not be considered such anymore.
  • You may need to prepare yourself for some sticker shock. Depending on your personal financial values, it may be appropriate to use student loan funds to cover this educational expense.
  • The professor’s opinions may not jive with your opinions, the opinions of your old private teacher or band director, or opinions you read on the internet. Be prepared to learn your professor’s way for now, and make better-informed decisions on your own after graduation.

The same advice holds true for mouthpieces and other paraphernalia. Have a great semester!

6 thoughts on “Buying a new instrument for college-level study”

  1. -while trying an instrument out, a professor might find a critical flaw in an instrument that the student otherwise would miss.
    -a teacher might be able to get a better deal, or might know of a quality used instrument that would be suitable

  2. “Be prepared to learn your professor’s way for now, and make better-informed decisions on your own after graduation.”

    Once you have studied and worked with your professor and the methodology presented and graduated you are free to totally disregard everything you were taught. Only then will you really be in a position to effectively judge the merits of the method.


    If you disagree so strongly with the professor that 4 years of study is highly disagreeable, you might need to re-evaluate the criteria you based your school choice on and consider carefully where and what to pursue in college.

  3. +1 on Cooper’s comment. My teacher came with me when I was shopping for clarinets last week (I’ve only been playing for a few years). While I probably would have made the same decision without him, he noticed a pitch issue with a particular note that I wouldn’t have noticed. I may have had to get it repaired if I decided on that horn.

    Plus he put them through more thorough play tests than I could have so I know I’m getting a horn capable of what he’ll put me through or what I’ll end up having to play.


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