So your child comes home at the end of the school year and says:
“Mom, I want to join band next year”.
All of a sudden you panic and think to yourself, How am I going to afford this? I don’t want the expense of buying an instrument. I don’t want to have an extra monthly bill for renting an instrument. But… I really think it would be great if little Johnny learned and instrument and I know that learning to read and play music is a great learning experience. As well, being in band can be lots of fun in high school and a great way to meet new friends. Well, no need to worry. I have some great tips for you to save lots of money on those instruments.
In our home, we are going on our fourth instrument. It all started when our oldest daughter wanted to play clarinet. Her other friends were joining in 5th grade, and she wanted to as well. School started in the fall and the flyer came home to go to the music instrument fair one evening. Well, we are not big fans of renting items in our house, so I went to the fair with the intent of purchasing the instrument outright. When we got to the front of the line to inquire about purchasing a new clarinet, the woman from the music store told us that the cost would be between $450 to $600…. Ummm… excuse me! “Well, she continued, you could rent one for $35 a month, and at the end of the year part of the rental money would go towards the purchase of the instrument.” So, as I stood there, I was doing the math in my head…. approx. 10 months at $35 a month ($35 x 10= $350!!!) and I still don’t own the instrument at the end of the year. Also, if you have young children in the house, visions of a little one opening the case and hitting it against the coffee table speed through your mind. What if another child breaks it, and I’m only renting this.. aaahhhh! There had to be a better way. So I politely said. “We’ll just take the assigned book for right now, Thank You!” We left empty handed and my daughter was a little disappointed, but I reassured her, Mom was going to find a way to work this “clarinet thing” a better way.
So, on the phone I went, calling friends and looking online. A friend of mine said
“Have you tried Sam Ash?? I know they sell used instruments.”
Umm.. No.. No I haven’t, but I sure am going to try now.
TIP 1: SAM ASH
Try calling Sam Ash Music Stores (if there is none in your area, see if they have a store similar). Sam Ash is in 16 states and has 45 locations, so it’s possible they have one close by. CALL FIRST!! If you call first, ask for the used instrument department and ask if they have any of the types of instrument you want in stock. If you wait till school starts in the fall, they might run out of used models. If you call during the summer all those kids who bought instruments but don’t play them anymore.. well… their parents are trying to re-coop their money, so they are selling them back to the store.
I called a local store and asked what they had available. The nice man on the phone said they had used clarinets starting at $60- $250. Now, we are talking my kind of money!! We went down to the store the same day and picked out a great little beginner clarinet (she is not in the philharmonic symphony yet, so it is all a 10 year old needs). It was $79… you heard me $79!!! They took it in the back, to make sure everything was in good order, all the pads were nice and working.. perfect. They even had an insurance policy available for an extra $29, in case anything happened or you wanted to bring it in for extra cleanings. So, now we are up to $109, but have it insured, just in case the vision on my little one banging it against the coffee table ACTUALLY happens. At the end of the day, I walked out of the store with a perfectly working clarinet in a case, with an insurance policy and some new reeds and cork grease for $130. Plus, we own it!! It’s much better than the $450-$600 we were quoted at the music fair, and my daughter doesn’t care, she has a working clarinet to take to band class.
TIP 2: CONTACT THE BAND DIRECTOR
A year passes and oldest daughter says..
“I don’t want to play clarinet anymore, the band is offering violin next year.. I want to learn the violin.”
Ummm… what?? We just bought you a clarinet last year!! OK, shock over, what do we do now?? Call Sam Ash (of course), but I have waited till Fall to purchase and of course they do not have any good prices on used violins (such a bummer). So, I think… I’ll just re-sell her old clarinet back to Sam Ash and put the money towards a violin. NOPE!! That didn’t work out. Sam Ash only wanted to give me $40 for her clarinet, and I knew I could get more for it. So we buy a new violin. It was only $160, so the damage was not too bad. She needed the violin quickly and I was lazy and didn’t want to search for a deal (I will now bow my head in shame) But, here is what we did and it is a great tip.
CONTACT THE BAND DIRECTOR AND SEE IF ANY PARENTS ARE SELLING THEIR KIDS INSTRUMENTS!!
I contacted the band director and said “Hey, Mr.Band Director. We have a great little working clarinet that my daughter doesn’t need anymore. You know it is a good clarinet, since you worked with her and have seen the instrument. Do you know any parents looking to buy a used one. I am selling it for $85.” He put an e-mail out to all the parents and BAM!! I had like 4-5 parents interested in buying her clarinet. No hassle, easy to make arrangements for the sale. They got a great price on a good clarinet. I got more money than selling it back to the store. That is what I call a WIN-WIN. So, basically my daughter played the clarinet all year long for FREE!
TIP 3 Craigslist
The next year roles around, I have another child in 5th grade and wants to join band. Of course, he gives me two weeks advance notice before he has to have an instrument. He wants to play the Saxophone. Well, I didn’t realize there was such a price difference between clarinets and saxophones. Wow!!! are they expensive!! I tried the Sam Ash route, I tried the band director route… nothing. I even inquired into renting one. They are $65-$75 a month to rent. So now, I had to resort to Craigslist. Craigslist can be a little tricky, because you want to make sure the instrument is in good working order. Repairs can run into extra costs and you don’t want that. Luckily, I played flute for 5 years in school and have some experience around instruments. I was able to find my son a used Saxophone on Craigslist for $240. It was from a man who’s son played it during high school and had just graduated and moved onto guitar. It was in great working condition and came with the cleaning insert, it just needed a neck strap.. easy enough. So here goes the calculations in my head again. If my son played this saxophone for at least 4 months, It will have already come out better than renting. (4 x $75=$300) this sax is only $240. DEAL!
This is what you want to look for when you buy a woodwind instrument on Craigslist.
Check the underside of all the buttons/keys.. whatever you want to call them. The underside has pads on them that cover the holes when they play and make the different notes. You want to make sure none of the pads are starting to peel or are loose. You also want to press all the keys to make sure they are not sticking and pop back to open as soon as you release it. A tiny dent is not really a problem. Check the cork areas. Make sure the cork area is still intact where the mouthpiece connects and between any other connections where there should be cork. Saxophones only have cork at the mouthpiece area.
Are you counting?? That is 3 instruments in 3 years. It’s a good thing this Mom supports music in school or I might go crazy!! But…. we are not done yet!!
TIP 4: ASK AROUND
We kept the violin, since my middle child said when he gets into 5th grade he wanted to play violin. Great!!! I thought, we already have one of those. Good boy! Going to save your mom some money. WRONG! Middle child will be in 5th grade next year and has decided he wants to play the trumpet. Umm… we don’t have one of those lying around the house. What to do?? Well, my niece played the trumpet in Junior High and her first year of high school. She is now graduating, so I’m guessing the trumpet thing, is a thing of the past. On the phone I go, to call my sister.
“Hey sister! Do you still have niece’s old trumpet?”
They sure do!!! Except it is missing the mouthpiece. No problem. Mouthpieces are very easy to purchase separately at most music stores. So ask your friends and family if they have or know of anyone who has an instrument the are not using. The guidelines I mentioned above about checking the instrument out still applies when getting them from a friend. A lot of people hold on to instruments just for the mere fact they don’t know what to do with them. The thought of passing down their child’s instrument to another child who needs one is a great feeling. So, put those feelers out. Who knows you could get lucky.
TIP 5:NO BUYING ONLINE
I love to buy items online. It’s easy and it saves money, but instruments are tricky things. Let’s go back to our daughter’s clarinet. We looked online and saw all these cute clarinets in different colors and they were only about $100-$120. I thought, maybe this is an option! Until, the band director sent the e-mail home. DO NOT buy the colored instruments you see online. They are all not reliable and he has had issues with them in the past. Since you can’t actually see and feel the instruments sold online, you don’t really know what will be arriving on your doorstep. It could be great, and then again it may not be so wonderful. Returning a not so great instrument online is a hassle too, so if possible I would try my first 4 tips first.
TIP 6: CHECK WITH THE SCHOOL FOR BIGGER INSTRUMENTS
This tip is for all you lucky parents that have the child that wants to play something like the Tuba, Baritone and sometimes even the french horn. Check with your school. Sometimes the schools already have these instruments and your child can just loan them from the school for the year. A school band, especially in Junior High and High School need all different types of instruments in their bands and realize parents can not afford such large pieces. They need the players and you need the instruments. It’s another WIN-WIN. Although this is not usually the case for elementary school. Elementary School band teachers usually travel from school to school in the district to offer the classes (at least that is the case in California).
As you can see, there is no need to stress too much when the music bug hits your little ones. There are ways to lighten the burden of the costs involved. I have been through them all, and still have 2 kids left to go!! Music is such a great way to enrich the lives of your children. I have wonderful memories and friends from my time in high school band, most of them I still talk to today. The trips and performances build friendships that last a lifetime. Plus music is a great math tool and improves the grades of some students. So, get those earplugs, get ready for the squeaks, honks and ratta tat tats. There soon will be beautiful music filling your homes.
You can do this… IT’S A CAKE WALK!!