Renting vs Buying an Instrument: A Parent’s Guide

Part of the challenge of getting your child started in band, orchestra, or private lessons for the first time (besides deciding on an instrument!) is deciding whether you should rent or buy an instrument. As a parent, there are pros and cons to each, just like there are pros and cons for your child, the student. We know how tough it can be for parents. Sometimes the decision can border on overwhelming! That’s why we put together this parent’s guide–to walk you through the two choices so you can make the decision that’s right for you and your future Beethoven.

Renting an Instrument: The Age Factor

The typical age for elementary school or middle school students to start experimenting with musical instruments, whether through school or on their own time, is 4th-6th grade. Some start younger, while others wait until they’re older to pick up their first guitar. As a parent, you should evaluate your child’s responsibility and organization when deciding between renting vs. buying an instrument. Here’s why: many rental programs include maintenance, repair, and/or warranty plans that will help protect you if your child drops their instrument and things go out of whack. If you’re concerned about this, renting is probably the best choice, at least for right now.

Renting an Instrument: The Size Factor

Depending on the instrument (and the size/age of your child), your child may end up going through 2-3 different sized instruments throughout the course of their instruction. After all, you don’t expect your eight-year-old child to be able to hold a full-size tuba now, do you? If you need to brush up on the differences between student and professional instruments, we have a guide for you to check out here. But in short, student instruments are smaller, cheaper, and not intended to be used for life. Intermediate instruments are slightly bigger, more robust, and are the perfect in-between instrument.

Many parents choose to rent until their child is old enough for an intermediate or professional model, since the student instrument won’t be with them for life anyways.

Renting an Instrument: “We’re Just Testing it Out”

If you aren’t 100% sure that your child will play the instrument for years to come, let alone wants to play the instrument in the first place, purchasing would be a mistake. With a rental, you can easily trade in your child’s rental instrument for a larger one or a different one altogether. One of the greatest things about renting, especially for parents of first-time musicians, is the easy exit strategy. Although some rental contracts will charge you a fee for breaking the rental early, this fee is still minimal compared to the cost of purchasing an instrument outright. Unless your child decides to play something that’s easy to sell on Craigslist, rental is your best strategy.

Buying an Instrument: For the Committed

Playing off the above point, purchasing an instrument is the best choice if your child is fully committed to learning, playing, and excelling at their instrument of choice. If your child will play for more than two years, purchasing is a little more cost-effective (but remember! There are no exchange options available when buying!) Another deciding factor is your child’s dedication. If they immediately take an interest in their flute, carry it with them everywhere, and play it for their grandparents whenever they get the chance, these are good indicators that your child is ready for their own instrument.

Buying an Instrument: Better for the Long-Term

When it comes to renting vs. buying an instrument, purchasing one outright makes more financial sense in the long-term (i.e., anything past the 12-month mark.) If your child has been playing their instrument for a year and shows interest in continuing, it’d make sense financially to purchase them one–in most cases, anything spent on a rental after a year or so is money thrown out the window. Essentially, think of renting a short-term ploy–something to hold your child over until they’re able to decide if the saxophone, guitar, flute, or whatever they play is right for them.

If your child has been playing their instrument for a year and you still aren’t sure, talk to their teacher–they’ll be able to help you decide if renting vs. purchasing an instrument makes the most sense.

Buying an Instrument: New vs. Used

If you do decide it’s time to buy an instrument but are concerned about the cost, you still have some options. One of them is buying a used instrument. It goes without saying that buying a used car, instrument, or pretty much anything comes with an element of risk. What if the cello bridge is broken? What if the guitar neck is warped? These are all legitimate concerns, which is why we suggest to always purchase from a trusted re-seller, ask lots of questions, and do your due diligence by doing lots of research. An empowered buyer is an educated one, so whether you buy new or used, learn everything you can about your child’s instrument of choice before doing so.

Rent to Own Programs: A Combination of the Two

Designed for those who are unsure about their child’s future in music but who don’t want their rental fees to go to waste, rent to own programs are a cost-effective way for your child to try out a musical instrument without the up-front cost purchasing cost. With rent to own programs, you can rent an instrument month-to-month with the option to return it at anytime. If you do decide to keep the instrument, each payment is applied towards the purchase of the instrument until it’s paid in full. Once you’ve paid the instrument in full, it’s yours to own. You probably have a lots of questions about this, so we put together these Rent to Own Program FAQs for you to check out.

We’re Here to Help

Whether you choose to rent or buy, investing in your child’s future is a big choice! That’s where we come in. At Music and Arts we are very excited to be serving the nation with everything from music lessons to instrument rentals! We’ve helped a lot of folks make this decision in the past, and would be very happy to answer your questions! Contact us today, or head into your local store and talk to someone about rentals, lessons, or whatever else is on your mind.

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