How did you choose your instrument? I’m not referring to the particular axe you play now, or even your first one…but rather, how did you decide which instrument to play in the first place??!?
I’ve been meaning to write on this for some time, but as a multi-instrumentalist who does much better at a couple and only dabbles with others, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Consider this article a first stab at that.
Let’s take a step (way) back in time, to when I was a small fry – fifth grade, to be precise. At that point, I had been taking guitar lessons for over a year…but while guitar was fun, it just didn’t offer the excitement that I had expected. Ah, but when the band instrument expo announcement was made at school, now that was exciting! There’s just something about those shiny instruments that makes young boys go wild.
From the first time I saw a slide trombone, I knew that was the instrument for me. So cool, the way you can play it just by moving the slide! Yes, from that day on…what’s that you say? I play trumpet? Well, yes. A funny thing happened on my way to becoming a world-renowned trombonist.
While I was standing there staring at the splendiforous trombones, the nice instrument demonstrator came over and popped my fifth-grade bubble. “You’ll never be a trombone player with arms that short. Why don’t you look at trumpets?” Wisdom comes in many forms of packaging, even ugly ones with sharp edges. Going home, I shared this conversation with my parents. Their response? Mom dug around and produced an Al Hirt LP and handed it to me. Before even one side was done, I realized that I was a trumpeter and had always been one; I just hadn’t known it.
Between Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, I had inspiration enough to carry me for years. Other trumpet heroes of all stripes came later – too many to mention – but all cemented in my mind the “choice” I had made. Which brings me to the primary point: I’m not really sure how much of a choice we make. I often think of the idea within the Harry Potter series of books/movies in which Mr. Ollivander tells young Harry that “the wand chooses the wizard”. Somehow, you just…know.
Skipping over the other instruments I’ve enjoyed playing over the years, my discovery of the bass guitar was a similar affair. After medical issues removed the trumpet from my lips for awhile, I picked up a bass guitar to play around with. Expecting it to be a “filler” instrument, somehow less exciting than I find most six-string playing (a story for another time), I was first intrigued, then enthralled. Bass lines suddenly leapt out of the radio, tempting me with their combination of rhythm, melody, harmony, and overall musical glue holding every song together. Like the trumpet, the bass unexpectedly found me.
I’m often asked by parents how to find the right instrument for their kids. That’s a tough one, but I’d suggest letting youngsters see/hear musical performances of several kinds to see what instrument really catches their attention. It may not be the final stop, and I’d still recommend they give any instrument a year’s honest effort before they “move on” to another…but chances are, they won’t be far off. And that advice doesn’t just apply to kids either; adults typically know (or discover) the instrument they love when they really start to think about it. I had idly thought about playing bass for years before I finally gave it a try. Crazy, isn’t it?
Care to share your story? Please do! You just may inspire a future musician in ways you can’t even imagine. Drop us a line or comment below; you’ll be glad you did.