Understanding The Difference: Student Model Instruments vs. Advanced Instruments

updated 4/10/2022

Finding the right instrument is incredibly important. And while student instruments can be great for beginners just getting started, they can eventually hinder the progress of students who are further along their musical journey.

If your child has become comfortable with their instrument and is committed to playing, it may be time to upgrade to a more advanced instrument. To determine the best instrument for your child, it is important to understand the differences between student instruments and “step-up” – or more advanced – models.

What Is A Step-Up Instrument?

Students who join band will start with a beginner-level instrument. A “step-up” instrument, is the next step a student will take from their current instrument, to a higher quality instrument. As the student learns and grows, their skills will require a better, more advanced instrument. “Step-up” is referring to intermediate and professional instruments. You may hear the terms intermediate, professional or step-up interchangeably. With every student’s musical journey progressing differently, sometimes it makes sense to jump from a student instrument to a professional model. Other times, it makes sense to step up from a beginner to an intermediate instrument.

Upgraded Sound Quality

While student models produce a decent sound for beginners, the sound is nowhere near as crisp or clear as a higher quality instrument. Obtaining a quality sound is an important next step for a student, especially once they have learned the basics of their instrument.

When children play an instrument, their brains begin to hear and process sounds they couldn’t otherwise hear. Your child’s musical progress will greatly benefit from this development. Not only that, developing a distinction between sounds can also aid in literacy and improved academic standing as a result. Listening and responding to an instrument with minor adjustments is vital to growing as a player.

While starting out on a student instrument might be right at the beginning of a musical journey, it is important to upgrade to an advanced instrument as your child develops.

The Instrument’s Materials

An instrument’s materials determine the characteristics, tone quality and resonance of the instrument. For instance, the material used in string and woodwind instruments is extremely important because it can have an effect on the tone of the sound that we hear.

Professional instruments use high-quality materials. A professional instrument is almost always constructed with techniques that go way beyond what goes into making a beginner model. Manufacturers rely on more cost-effective materials for student instruments to keep prices low. Student violins, for example, typically use boxwood or other cheaper hardwoods in place of ebony.

While this may be a great choice for beginner players, advanced models with high-grade materials are much better for students who are a few years into their musical journey. Lower quality hardwoods may fade and have a diminishing sound quality over time. But instruments made with higher quality materials are able to last for decades with the appropriate care and maintenance.

The Instrument’s Longevity

Professional instruments can last for decades. Student models provide an adequate sound while a student becomes familiar with them. Though student models can last for years, professional models will last much longer.

The enhanced quality of your child’s instrument will allow them to further develop their abilities as a player without worrying about upgrading their instrument again. So, if your child plans on playing an instrument for a long time, whether that be into college or into adulthood, you can’t go wrong with investing in a professional instrument.

The Price

Another difference between student and advanced instruments is the jump in price. Professional models can be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more than student models. With this comes the latest features, best materials and highest level of attention to detail.

However, because of the difference in costs, it important to have a deep understanding of your child’s musical journey before making the investment. Until your child is sure of their commitment to progression on their instrument it’s best to stick with a student instrument before moving onto a professional model.

Instrument Care & Maintenance

A professional level instrument is a work of art. They should be handled with great care. Professional instruments are manufactured from top-quality materials and need to be maintained regularly to ensure peak performance.

Intermediate Instruments

You may also want to consider intermediate instruments. As the name suggests, intermediate instruments provide a stepping-stone. They merge the affordability of student instruments with the more advanced features found in professional instruments.

Though your child will not sacrifice any aspect of their learning experience by opting for an intermediate instrument instead of a professional one, many people prefer to skip over intermediate instruments to avoid purchasing two instruments. This is especially true if you see instrumental music as a lasting pursuit for your child and wish to avoid buying two instruments.

For those who want a budget-friendly gateway to a higher level instrument, intermediate models are the best choice. It is important to note that most students will need to upgrade their instrument once in high school.  Beginner models are rarely appropriate for this age and skill level.

The Takeaway

The right instrument will feel comfortable and help your child produce the best possible sound for their skill level. New students typically rent or purchase a pre-owned or student instrument from their school or a local retail store. But, eventually the time will come to leave that instrument behind in for a more appropriate model.

When your child is ready, stepping up to an advanced instrument will make it easier to play, improve their sound quality, and is likely to make learning their instrument more enjoyable. As a result, your child will likely gain proficiency on their instrument more quickly. Be sure to accurately gage your child’s commitment, skills and future plans before investing in their next instrument.

Curious about whether or not the time is right to upgrade your sound? Learn more about upgrading here!

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