Learn About Instruments

With so many options, it can be difficult to choose which instrument to play. Watch and listen as musicians introduce each instrument. There's a good instrument for everyone. Which one will YOU choose?

Musical instruments are divided into various groups known as instrument families. The four main instrument families are woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings. Woodwind instruments are not necessarily — as one might imagine — made of wood, but they do all have many tone holes that are covered by either keys or fingers. Brass instruments are long tubes bent in various shapes that are made of a type of metal alloy called brass (though they may be lacquered or plated with silver). The percussion family includes a variety of pitched and non-pitched instruments that are typically struck by a stick or mallet to produce a sound. String instruments produce sound by means of a string that is stretched across the instrument, which the player either bows or plucks.

Learning to play a musical instrument will require practice. It is rare for someone to be able to pick up an instrument and produce a high quality sound immediately. The very act of producing a sound on an instrument involves using muscles that may not be fully developed. Practice involves exercising these muscles, as well as developing aural (listening) skills and gaining theoretical skills, like how to read music. Music notation is a language of its own. The great thing is that music is a universal language, so once you learn it, you will be able to make music with people anywhere in the world!

Explore Individual Instruments

Ellis Music Instrument Introduction Videos

A series of short educational films were produced for Ellis Music by Jim Giberti of The Imagination Company in August of 2021 to help young students choose an instrument to learn at school. In them, the instruments most commonly found in concert bands and orchestras are demonstrated by students and adults of varying ages and experience. Each musician tells a bit about why they chose their instrument and the nature and unique characteristics of that particular instrument. It is an inspirational collection that also shares these musicians' passion for music and its importance in their lives.

In 2023, another feature was produced for Ellis Music by Jim Giberti of The Imagination Company. The film re-visited a trio of flute players featured in a 2018 Ellis Music commercial who continue to study music together. Their lesson teacher shares the girls' story, talks about life skills learned through music study, and reflects on how music and music educators can change lives.

Watch a Band Instrument Demonstration

Introduction to the Band Instruments - members of The United States Army Field Band demonstrate and briefly discuss the instruments of the concert band

Explore Musical Ensembles

Welcome to Band - an introduction to playing in a school band

Welcome to Orchestra - an introduction to playing in a school orchestra

Why Play an Instrument?

First of all, it's fun! Secondly, playing an instrument provides a positive and unique way of connecting with other people. Humans have been making music for over a thousand years and developing a rich cultural history. Beyond that, music has been scientifically proven to improve physical and mental health, and studying a musical instrument (particularly beginning at a young age) increases brain power and efficiency. The resources below are just a small sample of the information available about music's many benefits.


from PBS: "The Benefits of Music Education"

from INC.: "Want Smarter Kids? Teach Music, Not Coding, According to MIT"

from Learning Liftoff: "10 Ways Music Education Benefits Students"


from TED: "How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain"

from NAMM: "The Benefits of Music Education Extend Beyond Childhood"

from CNN: "Music Lessons Benefit the Brain"

Additional Resources

These links to other websites are provided for the benefit of Ellis Music website visitors. As with any external resource, the pages below are not managed by Ellis Music, so we can take no responsibility for their content, and the links may stop working at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions about Choosing An Instrument

The answer is different for each person. Playing a particular instrument might be relatively easy for one person and extremely challenging for another. This occurs because of differences in body structure, individual development, and natural abilities.

In addition to differences in people, there are differences between instruments. For example, an alto saxophone has lots of keys (which make producing the correct pitch easier but require dexterity of fingers on both hands), whereas a trumpet with its three valves requires less work by the fingers but much more effort by the player's lips to control the pitch produced.

Learning to play any instrument well requires practice and dedication. So, for the greatest chance of success, choose an instrument that appeals to you... one that you are excited about learning to play.

At the beginning, when you’re starting out, 10 or 15 minutes a day might be all it takes to be successful. As your muscles develop, longer practice sessions will be possible and recommended. Everyone is different but — generally speaking — more practice time (as long as you are focused and practicing correctly) will typically lead to faster improvement. Your teacher can provide guidance regarding practice sessions.

With band and orchestra instruments, you should choose just one so you can focus on being successful. Later on you might have the opportunity to learn other instruments, and doing so will be easier and quicker if you have developed strong skills on your primary instrument.

Certain instruments are common for "doubling", such as flute and piccolo, or clarinet and bass clarinet. Many advanced saxophone players have experience playing alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone (and maybe even soprano sax). People who decide to become music educators learn to play all the instruments eventually!

If you are already taking piano or guitar lessons, don't stop! Many of the skills you learn in those lessons are applicable to your new instrument as well.

Piano and guitar are wonderful instruments and provide an opportunity to play music on your own because you can make several notes sound at the same time. However, they aren’t typically part of a school band or orchestra, and lessons might not be available during school for these instruments. For more information, talk with your music teacher.

Instruments in the woodwind, brass, and percussion families typically come in just one size; the alto saxophone or trumpet that a 4th grade student plays, for example, is just as big (or as small) as the one played by a professional. String instruments, on the other hand, are made in what’s known as “fractional sizes”, which means you can start out with a small version and gradually move up to the full size over time as your body grows.

Not everyone finds their ideal instrument on the first try. Have a conversation with your music teacher. It might take several months to know whether a particular instrument is a good fit, and some schools require students to commit to playing for a certain length of time.

If you like music but just didn't like the instrument, consider trying a different type of instrument. (Your teacher can help guide you based on the your experience.) One of best things about renting an instrument from Ellis Music is that you can try an instrument without investing a lot of money in it.

If you are renting and want to switch to a different type of instrument, you can do so by simply completing a new rental form online or in-store. Or, if you want to stop playing altogether, you can return the rental instrument to Ellis Music.